Correctly picking the national champion in the NCAA Bracket Challenge game is worth a whopping 32 points — so take a good look at the scoring averages of your champ's starting five before you lock in your final pick. If those five players average at least eight points a game you might be on to something. Here is why.
I looked at how many double-figure scorers recent national champions have and how necessary it is to have a player with a really high scoring average in order to win a title. Since 2000, national champions have had close to five players who averaged at least eight points per game.
Reigning national champion Virginia was only the third national champion of this century to win a title with just three players who averaged at least eight points per game. The others were Duke in 2010 and UConn in 2011. Led by the trio of Kyle Guy, De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome, who each averaged between 13 and 15.5 points per game, most of the Cavaliers' scoring came from three players.
The lessons from what I found:
- You (almost always) need three players who average double figures and usually at least four or five who average at least eight points per game.
- You don't necessarily need a player who averages more than 15 points per game to win a title. Six of the last 20 national champions didn't have a player who averaged at least 16.0 points per game.
- You definitely don't need a 20-point-per-game scorer. Only five of the last 20 champions have had one.
Putting the team on his back
It shouldn't be a surprise that UConn in 2011 and Syracuse in 2003 (see chart below) are the two teams with the highest per-game scorers among national-title winners this century. Kemba Walker (23.5 ppg) and Carmelo Anthony (22.2 ppg) both ranked among the national leaders in scoring — Walker ranked fifth nationally and Anthony was just outside the top 10 — and they're two individuals who are most singularly remembered when college basketball fans think of their teams' respective championship runs.
Three ACC schools (at least they were in the ACC at the time of their championship) — North Carolina in 2009, Maryland in 2002 and Duke in 2001 — each had a player who averaged at least 20 points per game in Tyler Hansbrough, Juan Dixon and Jay Williams, respectively.
No national champion in the last 20 years has had two players who averaged at least 20 points per game, which is something Duke had in 2019 with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett.
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A balanced scoring attack
On the other end of the spectrum, Florida and Kansas won back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008, respectively, without having a single player who averaged at least 14.0 points per game.
But both teams were incredibly balanced, with five players who averaged at least nine points per game, four players who averaged at least 11 and at least three players who averaged at least 12 points per game.
The Gators had three players who averaged at least 13 a night.
On the more extreme end of high-scoring balance, the 2010 Duke Blue Devils had three players who averaged at least 17 points per game (only three other champions this century had two), and Duke in 2001 had two players who averaged at least 19.
Villanova's most recent national title run in 2018 featured six double-figure scorers, which is the most of the decade.
Six other champions had five players who averaged double figures but no one else since 2000 has had six.
What are the baseline requirements to win a title?
At the minimum, the last 20 years tell us that a team typically needs at least four players who average at least eight points per game, at least three players who average at least 12 points per game and unless you're a team with extreme balance like 2012 Kentucky or 2007 Florida, probably at least one player who averages at least 15 points per game.
But the last 20 years have shown us national champions that are almost synonymous with one player (Kemba Walker or Carmelo Anthony) and others that have had elite-level balance with future pros who sacrifice individual shot attempts and scoring numbers for the greater good.
The table below shows how many players from each national champion averaged certain cut-off points in points per game. We didn't round up scoring averages.
*Louisville's participation in the 2013 NCAA Tournament was later vacated.