From a purely brand perspective, the outcome of the entire NCAA men’s basketball tournament – and not just last night’s thrilling Duke championship victory – showed the best and worst of the game.
The best was what you saw last night. Two teams playing team basketball, playing defense as a single group, looking for each other on offense, executing and changing strategies throughout the game and playing aggressively and intelligently.
That was the best because it featured two teams – and you might also include Final Four participant Michigan State in this mix – made up of players who attended their schools because they wanted to be at Duke or Butler. They believed in the brands, and their play reflected it.
The worst were teams such as talent-heavy but Elite Eight loser Kentucky and, to bring it home here in North Carolina, the failure of defending champ North Carolina to even make the tournament. Those players attended those schools simply as a pathway to the NBA. They didn’t buy into the brand of Kentucky or North Carolina. They bought into the brand of the NBA.
So, was it any surprise that most successful teams in the tournament were the ones with good but not great players who stay at their schools for three or more years and were all in on the team (brand) concept?
And the teams that didn’t have a brand, other than just preparing their players for the NBA, lost?
It pains me to say that because I’m more of a North Carolina fan than a Duke one (like most of us who live in the Tar Heel state), and because something is lost now. It used to be (and, yes, I’m showing my age here) that teams with the great players also played great team ball (think Wooden’s UCLA teams or even the Dean Smith Carolina clubs).
Now, there are two kinds of college basketball teams: Those with brands and those without.
Those without are also fighting an uphill battle. They constantly have to recruit the best players in the country or they will have seasons like Carolina’s 20-17 record (if you include its NIT run).
We tell clients to try not to be too trendy, because it’s like fashion. It always goes out of style and you’ll have to keep re-inventing yourself over and over.
That’s where the Kentuckys and North Carolinas of the game are finding themselves right now. It’s the Dukes and Butlers of the game that will keep on chugging, just like those companies that put the brand first.