Commentary

Bringing Burger Ball to NCAAs

McDonald's All-Americans key to making long run in the NCAA tournament

Updated: March 19, 2012, 3:22 PM ET
By Chris Hansen | HoopGurlz

Lewis-McBride-HartleyAP PhotoKaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (UConn), Kayla McBride (Notre Dame) and Bria Hartley (UConn) are former McDonald's All-Americans who are hoping to lead their teams on deep NCAA runs.

Of the four No. 1 seeds in this year's field, the Burger Ball factor says Connecticut and Stanford are more likely to win a national title than Baylor or Notre Dame.

Connecticut, with Brianna Banks, Stefanie Dolson, Kelly Faris, Bria Hartley, Tiffany Hayes, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes, and Stanford, with Chiney Ogwumike, Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Amber Orrange, Bonnie Samuelson and Joslyn Tinkle, seem to have the goods -- five or more McDonald's All-Americans on their rosters. Baylor comes up just short with four, Brittney Griner, Brooklyn Pope, Odyssey Sims and Destiny Williams, while Notre Dame brings just its trio of Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride and Devereaux Peters.

The McDonald's All-American Game added a girls' game for the Class of 2002, creating another barometer for supposed elite status outside the major scouting services. But individual talent doesn't always lead to team victories on the national stage, or does it?

While acknowledging a nine-season sample size is far from large enough to land the data in the book of basketball, the Burger Ball numbers are compelling. Since the 2004-05 season, with three full classes of Mickey D's girls in the college ranks, no fewer than 38 McDonald's All-Americans have played in the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

The 2005 final, when Baylor beat Michigan State 84-62, was the only time two teams without a McDonald's All-American made the title game. In fact, only one other team has reached the championship game without a McDonald's All-American on its roster, Louisville in 2009.

Following that 2005 anomaly, the average number of McDonald's All-Americans gracing the active rosters of teams in the Sweet 16 is 45.83. Go one round deeper and you might agree that calling the round the Elite Eight might be more than a cute alliteration.

For that six-year period (2006-2011), the average number of McDonald's All-Americans on quarterfinal teams is 4.06 compared to 2.86 for the Sweet 16. Go a round further and the numbers take the only retreat, to an average of 3.92 All-Americans playing for Final Four teams. The national champion average is 5.17.

Last season's champs, Texas A&M, broke a five-year streak of at least five McDonald's All-Americans cutting down nets. The Aggies had two -- Tyra White and Karla Gilbert. But these individual Big Macs aren't the only things needed for success or else you wouldn't find teams void of McDonald's All-Americans making it deep into the tournament, such as Utah in the Elite Eight in 2006, Ole Miss in 2007, both Iowa State and Purdue in 2009, Florida State and Kentucky in 2010, and Gonzaga in 2011.

There are exceptions to the emerging rule. A few teams have acquired the talent, but something was missing. Texas has signed eight McDonald's All-Americans, but only the first two, Nina Norman (2002 selection) and Tiffany Jackson (2003), have played deep in the tournament. Norman reached the Final Four during her freshman year; the following year, she and Jackson reached the Sweet 16. The Longhorns have signed several Mickey D's selections since: Erika Arriaran (2005), Earnesia Williams (2005), Brittainey Raven (2006), Ashley Gayle (2008), Cokie Reed (2009), Tiffany Moore (2010), Cassie Peoples (2011) and Imani Stafford (2012).

It's not fair to put Texas on the hot seat alone, though. The USC Trojans have had a long list of All-Americans in recent years but lack a deep tournament run. USC hasn't even made the tournament since 2006, the second of two straight trips under coach Mark Trakh, who was replaced by Michael Cooper in 2009. The Trojans have signed All-Americans Jacki Gemelos (2006), Stefanie Gilbreath (2007), Ashley Corral (2008), Briana Gilbreath (2008), Christina Marinacci (2009), Ariya Crook-Williams (2011) and Alexyz Vaioletama (2011) in that span.

Both programs will point to injuries limiting the impact of some of the players. Perhaps that's fair, but it does back the argument that acquiring talent alone will not bring memorable runs in March.

For Corral, this season was her final shot at March Madness, but USC was left out of the tournament field again. Several other All-Americans are looking for their first Sweet 16 and a chance to etch their names in the Burger Ball book.

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