We can talk about the game with the assistance of unique and detailed numbers now. They paint a more accurate picture of contests, players, coaching, schemes and trends. The per-possession movement has changed college basketball and statistics.
But the fundamentals of this game, the things that have always mattered, remain the same.
You take your five guys against his five guys and you play.
And in that scenario, the team that boasts the most talent usually has the advantage. When your five guys could all be first-round picks in this summer's NBA draft, you're probably in a good place.
Since Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the NCAA title in 2003, six of the past 10 national champions have sent multiple players to the NBA in the first round of that summer's draft. Duke (2010) and Florida (2006) both possessed multiple players who were ultimately first-round picks in future NBA drafts. All 10 champs have had at least one first-rounder.
Every year, coaches scour the country for talent, NBA-level talent, if possible. They don't search for the guys with heart alone. They don't want a guy simply because he's energetic. They want players. Good players because this game is built around talent. Creating a Final Four-level team is certainly a puzzle. This Kentucky team's journey proves as much. But that's what they're all after.
Many say they don't like the idea of one-and-done prospects. Yet, they pursue the same prep superstars that Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina attract each season.
Why? Because it all starts with talent. And we always knew that Wildcats had more than the rest. They just waited until the postseason to show it.
"I think we did a good job fighting all game," Michigan's Nik Stauskas said, "and Kentucky, they're a great team and they deserve to go to the Final Four."
The early Kentucky hype didn't miraculously materialize. Calipari signed Julius Randle, a 6-9, 260-pound athlete who won a dunk contest last summer with an around-the-back slam. A man that large shouldn't climb that high. He also signed Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison, twins who automatically turned Kentucky's backcourt into one of the nation's best.
In all, he had six McDonald's All-Americans. No coach had ever signed so many. That's when the buzz began. If it all went well, we figured, Kentucky could end the year as the Kentucky team we saw Sunday in Indianapolis.
Kentucky has the most talent in the country at each position. Lee's emergence allowed the program to display its depth, too. The mess that unfolded between that preseason buzz and this valiant run is difficult to describe. This isn't the same team, though.
Those Wildcats lost to South Carolina and Arkansas. They couldn't finish against Florida or other top-25 opponents. But they've always had the advantage because they were never searching for talent -- only chemistry, flow and organization. All attainable traits that tend to come with maturity and experience.
In college basketball, however, you can't make a midseason trade to boost a roster.
So talent is always the most promising ingredient for a potential champion. It doesn't always work (See Kentucky last season). It didn't work most of this season. Kentucky struggled this year when it couldn't secure those elements that champions demand.