Stadium’s 2019 National Championship Karma Power Rankings: Part 1

Once the 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed on Selection Sunday, we’ll be able to break down which matchups and potential paths to Minneapolis are conducive to the latest batch of national title contenders.

But until then, we took another approach at examining this year’s top programs: karma.

There’s no stat for karma, but in a 68-team, single-elimination tournament where madness ensues on an annual basis, can you really be sure karma isn’t sometimes at play?

Inspired by Bill Simmons’ NBA Draft lottery karma power rankings, we’re applying the same concept to the NCAA Tournament.

We examined teams’ karma based upon their seasons thus far, their injury situations and their recent and extended histories in the NCAA Tournament. Developing under-recruited players into stars, unselfish play, strong shooting and lockdown defense can lead to a team having a lot of karma in the bank.

So can the presence of season-altering injuries in past years when a school may have had a team that could have contended for a national title had it not been for an injury.

Teams with recent high-level NCAA Tournament success might have spent most of their karma on recent tournament runs.

We ranked the 18 teams that have 50/1 odds, or better, to win the 2019 national championship, according to Vegas Insider.

But before we dive into Part 1 of our 2019 National Championship Karma Power Rankings, remember to be on the lookout for Part 2 — which will be released this Saturday afternoon.

Now we can get started…


18. Villanova

The Wildcats are last on the list only because of their own unprecedented success, as they won two of the last three national championships.

‘Nova did lose their top four scorers from last season’s national championship team — to the NBA. All four players shot above 40 percent from 3-point range, including Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman at 43.5 and 43.3 percent, respectively, which fueled a historic level of 3-point makes and attempts during the Wildcats’ six-game title run.

So maybe it’s alright that Villanova (which was in sole possession of first place in the Big East entering Wednesday, by the way) is 22-8 and on pace to earn its worst NCAA Tournament seed since 2013. The Wildcats enrolled a top-10 recruiting class – headlined by five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly – last summer but ironically, only three-star, 138th-ranked Saddiq Bey has carved out a significant role as a freshman.

Besides fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, who were starters on Villanova’s 2018 national title team (and Booth was a key reserve on the 2016 team), seven of the team’s next eight players in terms of minutes played and points scored are freshmen and sophomores.

It might only take Villanova a year or two to climb back to nationally elite status, but for this year, there’s little karma in the tank for a miracle national championship run.

17. North Carolina

The Tar Heels have played for two of the last three national titles, winning the 2017 national championship over Gonzaga. So while they might earn a No. 1 seed this year, they’re in a similar boat as Villanova – from a karma perspective – as North Carolina has recently had a high level of NCAA Tournament success.

The Tar Heels squeaked out a win over No. 8 seed Arkansas in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament after the Razorbacks missed several key free throws, as well as a game-tying three, and North Carolina benefitted from a no-call on a potential charge in a one-point game in the final minute. Two games later they beat No. 2 seed Kentucky on Luke Maye’s game-winning jumper in the final seconds of their Elite Eight matchup.

North Carolina beat Oregon 77-76 in the Final Four after Oregon forward Jordan Bell missed a box out on North Carolina’s Theo Pinson on a free throw, so instead of the Ducks getting the ball, down one, with roughly five seconds left, the Tar Heels got a new possession, got fouled and ran out the clock. A missed out-of-bounds call in the final minute of the national championship game against Gonzaga, which we’ll discuss in more depth later, went in the Tar Heels’ favor.

That’s not to discredit North Carolina’s 2017 national title by any means. Almost every national champion has at least one close game in the NCAA Tournament and catches breaks along the way.

But the Tar Heels’ tank of karma might be running on empty.

Sure, sophomore forward Sterling Manley (knee) and freshman guard Leaky Black (ankle) have missed time with injuries, but both were low-usage, rotation players and North Carolina has managed to reach a top-five ranking without them.

16. Duke

National Player of the Year frontrunner Zion Williamson blowing out his Nikes, which resulted in a knee sprain against North Carolina, might have boosted Duke’s basketball karma, assuming Williamson returns to the court healthy. He is literally so powerful and explosive of an athlete that his shoes couldn’t contain him.

If that’s not the textbook definition of a freak injury, I don’t know what is.

On the other hand, Duke’s horrendous 3-point shooting – 30.9 percent, which could be the worst in the entire tournament field – isn’t great for the team’s karma.

The Blue Devils signed the No. 1 2018 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, which featured three top-five prospects and four five-star recruits. Duke won the 2015 national championship after landing a similar haul in the 2014 recruiting cycle with top-15 prospects Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow – a roster that started the season with eight future NBA players on it.

So Duke isn’t hurting for another national title.

Duke’s “best” is probably better than any other team’s best this season, and the Blue Devils are the favorites in Vegas to cut down the nets. So they’re far from The Little Engine That Could.

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15. Iowa State

The Cyclones will be back in the NCAA Tournament this season after having their six-year streak of tournament appearances broken last season. They’re much-improved with now-eligible transfers Marial Shayok and Michael Jacobson, who sat out last season after transferring from Virginia and Nebraska, respectively. Freshmen Talen Horton-Tucker and Tyrese Haliburton have been immediate-impact players as well.

Iowa State takes care of the rock, shoots a high percentage from all three levels and shares the ball on offense, which is worth some level of karma, but where does the Cyclones’ big boost of karma come from?

They’ve been inconsistent in Big 12 play despite having a top-10 offense, having lost four of their last six games after beating Kansas, Texas Tech and Ole Miss in January – those last two wins coming on the road.

Iowa State Coach Steve Prohm has made the Sweet 16 once in his first seven years as a DI head coach and the Cyclones’ deepest tournament run was a Final Four appearance in 1944, when the tournament only had eight teams. They also made an Elite Eight in 2000.

So perhaps Iowa State is overdue for a deep NCAA Tournament run given the relative success in Ames that was launched by former coach Fred Hoiberg and has been continued by Prohm.

14. Marquette

The Golden Eagles have won one national championship in school history, back in 1977 under coach Al McGuire. Since then, they’ve lost in the first weekend in 14 of their 20 NCAA Tournament appearances with one Final Four appearance (2003) and one Elite Eight (2013) to show for it.

You could say they’re due for another run and the makeup of their team allows your mind to wander as you think about the best-case version of Marquette in the NCAA Tournament.

Marquette’s 2003 team was led by a future NBA Hall of Famer by the name of Dwyane Wade, who was flanked by a pair of future pros in Travis Diener and Steve Novak.

Wade had a 34 percent usage rate that season, which was the sixth-highest nationally, and Marquette is even more singularly focused on offense this season with junior Markus Howard and his 35.5 percent usage rate. Howard is averaging 25 points per game, and he has scored at least 30 points in nine games this season, including a Big East-record 53 points against Creighton.

His junior year statistical profile compares to that of Jimmer Fredette’s 2010 season and his sophomore season was similar to Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard’s sophomore year at Weber State, according to kenpom.com.

When you think about the qualities that lead to team success in March, elite guard play immediately comes to mind.

Here’s how Howard’s junior year stats compare to former UConn guards Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, when each player led the Huskies to a national championship as a junior and senior, respectively.

They’re two of the faces of recent, elite college basketball guard play in the NCAA Tournament and the best-case scenario for Howard and Marquette is the stuff of March legend.

Player Points Per Game Offensive Rating Usage Rate eFG% Assist Rate Turnover Rate FT Rate FT% 3-PT.%
Markus Howard 25.5 ppg 113.3 35.5% 54.7% 27.1% 18.5% 40.2% 90.7% 43.0%
Shabazz Napier 18.0 ppg 115.8 28.0% 51.7% 30.8% 17.7% 48.0% 87.0% 40.5%
Kemba Walker 23.5 ppg 116.7 31.4% 47.8% 28.0% 11.6% 42.6% 81.9% 33.0%

 

Marquette has a top-35 defense in addition to its top-30 offense, and turnovers – too many committed and too few forced – are probably the team’s greatest statistical weakness, along with the lack of another proven ball-handler to ease the burden of Howard.

He’s a First Team All-America candidate and one of the most electric players in the sport, but he only has one NCAA Tournament appearance (and a first-round loss) to his name in his first two years of college.

Luckily for him, if Marquette’s roster, including 3-point-shooting bigs Sam and Joey Hauser, shows up in time for the Big Dance, we might be witnessing another Cinderella story.

13. Kansas

The Jayhawks’ karma situation could go either way.

They were ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll and started 10-0 with wins over Michigan State, Marquette, Tennessee, Wofford and Villanova. That would be a pretty impressive list of marquee wins for an entire season, let alone from just the first month and a half of the year.

But in early January, Kansas lost starting center Udoka Azubuike for the rest of the season due to a torn ligament in his right hand. Senior guard Lagerald Vick also took a leave of absence from the team a month later and has yet to return to the Jayhawks. Sophomore guard Marcus Garrett suffered an ankle injury and missed nearly a month from late January to late February. Kansas was eventually forced to pull the redshirt off freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, who ironically might be the team’s best NBA prospect.

Then “The Streak” of Kansas’ 14 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles finally came to an end on Tuesday.

So maybe the Jayhawks, who are 6-3 since the start of February after going 5-4 in January, are due for a lucky break or two after preventing the season from totally falling apart.

Or maybe Kansas was simply due for a down year after their ridiculous stretch of dominance with Bill Self at the helm.

12. LSU

LSU Coach Will Wade will be subpoenaed for college basketball’s massive corruption trial, according to Yahoo.

Let’s get that out of the way first.

But while the Tigers’ lone season with 2015’s No. 1 overall prospect Ben Simmons could have lingering effects of bad karma, Wade has turned LSU into a Final Four contender in Year 2 in Baton Rouge.

LSU has made the Final Four on four occasions – 1953, 1981, 1986 and 2006 – and the last two times were as a No. 11 seed and No. 4 seed, respectively. The Tigers also have a total of 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, so LSU has a relatively rich history of postseason success for a school that hasn’t won a national title.

This season’s wins over Kentucky and Tennessee indicate there might be some good karma floating around for a tournament run for LSU. LSU (at least in part) won at Rupp Arena thanks to a missed basket interference call as Kavell Bigby-Williams’ tip-in allowed the Tigers to steal a valuable road win.

LSU also beat Tennessee after reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams was called for running into LSU’s Javonte Smart in the final second of overtime in a tie game, sending Smart to the free throw line for the game-winning free throws.

Both late, game-deciding plays were unusual to say the least. Both also went in favor of LSU.

Is that a sign of things to come?

11. Kentucky

Does one national championship in Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s first nine seasons in Lexington feel low?

Not asking from the “they’ve underachieved” angle, but more so pointing out just how tough it is to win a national title and the unpredictable nature of March Madness, even for a program like Kentucky that has had so many teams capable of winning it all.

The 2010 Wildcats were good enough to win a national championship. So were the 2015 ‘Cats. UConn prevented Kentucky from winning the national championship in 2011 and 2014.

Kentucky was a No. 2 seed in 2017 and lost to eventual national champion and No. 1 seeded North Carolina on a game-winning jumper in the final seconds in the Elite Eight.

The point being, when you get enough swings at the piñata, eventually you’re bound to break through.

This year’s Kentucky team (with a healthy Reid Travis) is good enough to win a national championship, and after taking a 118-84 beating at the hands of Duke in the first game of the season, there would be something karmic about the Wildcats cutting down the nets in April (especially if they beat the Blue Devils along the way) after settling on freshman Ashton Hagans and grad transfer Travis as starters, surviving the fallout of Quade Green’s decision to transfer, PJ Washington realizing his All-American potential and freshman Tyler Herro finding his rhythm as a sharpshooter.

10. Kansas State

Last season, the Wildcats made the Elite Eight as a No. 9 seed, where they lost to Cinderella team Loyola Chicago. Forward Dean Wade didn’t play in the game due to a foot injury, which flared up again in December and forced him to miss almost a month of action this season.

He’s the team’s most efficient offensive player, one of its two best rebounders and he can both space the floor (45.8 3-point percent) and create (21 percent assist rate) as a 6-10 forward.

The Wildcats’ top three scorers – Wade and guards Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes – are seniors, so Kansas State’s current core only has one more crack at the NCAA Tournament. They’re fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency, fifth in minutes continuity, 40th in experience and 43rd in assist rate, according to kenpom.com, and an unselfish, veteran, defensive-minded group is bound to earn some karma.

Perhaps more importantly, Kansas State is currently tied with Texas Tech atop the Big 12, so this could be a truly special season if the Wildcats are able to win the Big 12 regular season championship and make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

MORE: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections