NCAA Tournament Lessons: How to Ruin Your Team

A quick look at USA TODAY Sports’ 2015-16 Preseason College Basketball All-American Team shows that every player from first team through third team will be competing in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Well, that is everyone except Louisiana State University star, Ben Simmons.

It seems like common sense that the very best players in the nation would all be competing in the game’s top tournament at the end of the season. At the college level an individual star is often all a team needs to make the dance (i.e. Steph Curry and Adam Morrison).

Simmons certainly fits the profile of an individual star. In his freshman season, Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per-game. He has been compared to Cleveland Cavaliers and NBA Superstar, LeBron James and it is widely believed he will be the first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

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Yet here we are a few days before tournament play, and Simmons and LSU are on the outside looking in. How is it that arguably the best player in college basketball isn’t in the tournament? Simply put, LSU just wasn’t a good team.

Simmons had very little support from his teammates this year. In fact, Simmons led the Tigers in almost every major statistical category. He was their best scorer, rebounder, passer, blocker and stealer. Yes, Simmons is a great player but even great basketball players can’t be expected to win when they are forced to shoulder the entire load.

Another former LSU star and great example of how individual performance does not necessarily define team success, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, to this day holds the record for points in a career at 3,667 (all without a three-point line). In one season he averaged 44.5 points per-game. However in three seasons, not one of Maravich’s teams made the NCAA tournament.

In both Simmons’ and Maravich’s cases, they were two great players who took it upon themselves to become one-man teams. While this sort of attitude for both players was probably brought out of a necessity to make up for the lack of talent surrounding them, it certainly is not a recipe for team success.

As the saying goes, a team is only as good as the sum of its parts. Great teams are those whose parts understand their roles and are able to see how their role plays into the big picture. This concept is equally important in the sports and business world.

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How to Make Sure Your Team Doesn’t Fail

To get all parts working toward a common goal takes leadership and a vision. A strong leader can influence both culture and expectation. A leader should be able to look at all the parts of his team and see a realistic goal. Whether the goal is to hit a certain sales number or a certain number of wins, a vision for what needs to happen should be created.

In college basketball, we see this all the time with elite programs like Kentucky and Duke. Every player enters those respective programs expecting to win a championship. That expectation has been created after years of proven success by both the previous players and their coaches (John Calipari for Kentucky and Mike Krzyzewski for Duke). Without that kind of successful precedent it can be hard to convince a team to buy into a championship.

Success doesn’t have to be defined by a championship or profit margins. Success can simply mean improving upon a previous result. The point is having the entire team work toward this defined success point which can only happen after an expectation and vision has been set.

Once expectations are set, how is it then that teams meet them? The answer can be found in assigning roles.

Chances are “Joe from accounting” isn’t going to handle marketing, HR and supply chain along with his accounting duties for a Fortune 500 company. Even if he was the best worker on the planet who wanted to handle all of these areas, it is reasonable to expect overall business production would suffer because of time and the inevitable drop in quality of the work he produced.

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It is best for the sake of the team that Joe sticks to his accounting duties. If he clearly understands his role and its purpose in the company’s overall vision, he can put all of his valuable time into improving in that capacity. Multiply that same logic across every employee and you have a cohesive team clear on their roles and how those roles play into team success.

This is where LSU has failed in both Simmons’ and Maravich’s cases. Both players were asked to handle the roles of an entire team. Their respective coaches should have focused more on fitting the two stars into roles for the team’s overall vision instead of making them the center of that vision.

The moral of the story is, it doesn’t matter whether it is your business or an NCAA basketball team, teams need strong leadership that sets clear visions and roles. Without doing this, teams can expect to come up short of success and miss the big dance.

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