In the message board debates over Tony Bennett's Virginia NCAA Tournament history, many are always quick to point out that the Cavaliers have a history of important injuries come tournament time. The 2012 team had no Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris was playing with a broken hand. In 2014, Anthony Gill got hurt in the Michigan State game. In 2015, Justin Anderson was trying to come back from a broken hand. The 2016 team was healthy until it suffered a collective mental breakdown with 9 minutes to go in the Elite Eight. The 2017 team went into the NCAA tournament without Isaiah Wilkins, and in 2018, De'Andre Hunter and Jay Huff were injured.
The injuries are real, but does Virginia have any worse injury history than anyone else? Don't you have to be able to overcome injuries and adversity to win championships? What IS the connection between health and getting deep into the NCAA Tournament? I decided to take a look at results.
I looked at the participants in the NCAA Championship Game back to 2000 (38 teams). I compared the team roster to the box score of the NCAA final to see which members of the roster did not play in the title game, then looked at where those players were in the minutes played hierarchy. If the player was in the top ten of minutes played on his team, I recorded his absence and looked a little more deeply into that team's situation. I then looked at what role the missing player played (starter, part-time starter, etc), and counted the number of future NBA players that team still put on the floor of the championship game.
Of the 38 teams to play in an NCAA Championship Game since 2000, 29 had their entire rotation on the floor in the big game.
Of the teams missing a rotation player for the championship game, three of them were starters, but only one was above #5 on the team in minutes played. That was Josh Shipp of UCLA, who was third on the team in minutes per game when he was lost in the fourth game of the 2005-6 season.
Four of the nine injured players were the 8th or 9th player in the rotation as measured by minutes played.
Of the 5 teams that were without a key rotation player in the championship game, three teams put 4 NBA players on the floor that night, one team put 5 NBA players on the floor, the fifth put 2 NBA players on the floor.
If you're going to make it to the NCAA Championship Game without one of your regular players, you want to have multiple NBA players still on the floor.
Teams do stay healthy for the NCAA Tournament and it is not unreasonable to severely discount a team's chances of going deep if it is missing a key player.
National Championship Game Health
|2017||North Carolina||Kenny Williams||Avg 23 minutes 5th in MPG 6 ppg as a reserve rotation player||2 other NBA players|
|Kentucky||Willie Cauley-Stein||23 minutes per game 5th in mpg part-time starter||5 other NBA players||injured during tournament did not play from elite eight on|
|2013||Louisville||Kevin Ware||16 minutes per game reserve 7th in mpg||4 other NBA players||injured in elite eight|
|2008||Kansas||Rodrick Stewart||9th man|
|Memphis||Andre Allen||8th in minutes played|
|2007||Florida||Dan Werner||#8 in minutes played|
|2006||Florida||David Huertas||#9 in minutes played|
|UCLA||Josh Shipp||starter 13.3ppg||4 other NBA players||lost after 4th game of season|
|Kansas||Wayne Simien||5th in mpg||4 other NBA players|