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Posted: Tuesday February 24, 2009 3:05PM; Updated: Tuesday February 24, 2009 3:05PM

Mythbusters: NCAA basketball's POY rarely wins championship

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Only once in the last 10 seasons has the POY been on a team that won it all

The key to winning a title is having several players who can hurt an opponent

By Jacob E. Osterhout

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Tyler Hansbrough was the Player of the Year last season, but that didn't guarantee North Carolina a national title.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It's been a tough stretch for Naismith College Player of the Year frontrunners.

First, Davidson's Stephen Curry sprained his left ankle and the Wildcats went on to lose two games in a row. Then, Oklahoma center Blake Griffin suffered a concussion and had to watch from the bench as the Sooners lost to both Texas and Kansas.

With Davidson and Oklahoma fans fretting about the impact of these injuries on their squads' postseason chances, it seems an appropriate time to debunk the myth that having a POY candidate on your team helps win an NCAA National Championship.

Don't get me wrong. It's never bad to have the best statistical player in the country on your college basketball team. It will certainly increase the team's chances of making it deep into the NCAA Tournament, Davidson's run to the Elite Eight last season being a perfect example. It just won't increase the team's chances of actually winning a national title.

Consider this: only once in the last ten seasons has the POY been on a team that won a national championship. In 2001, Shane Battier claimed the award and Duke won a national title. (And if Michael Lewis' much-ballyhooed article has taught us anything, it's that Battier's all-around game is not typical of a college basketball POY.)

Despite the emphasis on one-on-one play in the NBA, college basketball is a team sport. Sure, one player can certainly dominate for long stretches of a game, or even multiple games, but eventually the better overall team will prevail. The NCAA Tournament is simply too long for one player to carry his team from start to finish.

Last season, Tyler Hansbrough won POY honors, averaging 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game during the regular season. But in the Final Four, Hansbrough's Tar Heels could not overcome a Kansas squad that boasted no legitimate POY candidates, but a lineup that played better as a team. The Jayhawks had seven players on their national championship team that averaged more than seven points per game. By comparison, the Tar Heels only had five such players.

In fact, Kansas was so good last season, and Florida the two seasons before that, because these teams didn't have ONE player who was light years better than the rest. They had many players who could defeat their opponents with a wide array of combinations. And in a single elimination tournament, it's a lot harder to shut down a team that does not rely heavily on one player.

It's safe to say that this season both Davidson and Oklahoma lean on their superstars to win games. Griffin scores 28 percent of the Sooners' points and grabs 41 percent of their rebounds, while Curry accounts for 36 percent of the Wildcats' scoring and 41 percent of their assists.

The awesome play of both Curry and Griffin creates an inevitable negative psychological effect for their teammates. When you have a POY candidate on your team, the tendency is for the rest of the players on the floor to become complacent and expect their superstar teammate to take over the game in crunch time. Well, that's not how teams win championships. Which is why, since the creation of the Naismith College Player of the Year Award in 1969, only six players (15 percent) have won the award in the same season that their team has won a national title.

(Sure, I'll give you the names of these six players: UCLA's Lew Alcindor in 1969, UCLA's Bill Walton in 1972 and 1974, Indiana's Scott May in 1976, Kansas' Danny Manning in 1988, Duke's Christian Laettner in 1992, and Duke's Battier in 2001.)

So Davidson and Oklahoma fans shouldn't worry so much about losing their best players. The short-term effects of these injuries are certainly disconcerting. No one likes to lose to conference rivals and Davidson now has to win the SoCon Tournament to make it to March Madness. But in the long run, learning to play without their POY candidates might just be the best thing to happen to the post-season chances of Davidson and Oklahoma. The teams can now develop into more dynamic squads that rely not simply on one superstar, but on an entire cast of characters, each of whom can be counted on to put the biscuit in the basket come March.

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