Who’s the best NCAA Tourney Coach?

At long last, March Madness tips off Tuesday with four play in games (or is it first round games? Regardless of what happens, the round of 64 will always be the first round in my book).   Smart money seems to be on Kentucky or Carolina, with some support for Kansas and Syracuse, perhaps a Buckeye fan picking OSU.  Of course, college basketball teams are unique from year to year – but the one constant are the men who run the programs.  Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Williams, Izzo, Pitino – these are the marquee names in college hoops, not Austin Rivers, or Anthony Davis, or Jared Sullinger.  So come tourney time, who do you want coaching your team?

For the purposes of this comparison, I chose arguably the six biggest names in college coaching – Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, John Calipari and Tom Izzo.  The six coaches performance in the NCAAs are contained in this table:

Tourneys Titles Tourney Win %
Krzyzewski 26 4 0.782
Williams 21 2 0.753
Izzo 14 1 0.729
Calipari 13 0 0.711
Calhoun 19 3 0.750
Pitino 15 1 0.731

For those of you that know I’m a Dukie, perhaps you’d think case closed.  But not so fast – just looking at straight winning percentage doesn’t really capture coaching efficiency in the tournament.  A #1 seed is much more likely to win a few games than a #13 seed (unless you’re Bucknell) in most years.  In fact, since the field expanded to 64 (and now, more) we have over 25 years of data.  Total record by seeds are as follows

Seed W L  
1 364 92 0.798
2 262 104 0.716
3 201 104 0.659
4 159 107 0.598
5 128 108 0.542
6 128 107 0.545
7 89 108 0.452
8 75 107 0.412
9 62 108 0.365
10 70 108 0.393
11 59 109 0.351
12 57 109 0.343
13 27 108 0.200
14 18 108 0.143
15 4 108 0.036
16 0 108 0.000

Mike Krzyzewski has 26 NCAA tournament appearances – 12 as a #1 seed, and 9 as a #2 seed.  He’s clearly the best coach in college basketball and the one and only choice to run your program – but how does he produce in March versus what we’d expect an average team with his seeds?  By contrast, in Rick Pitino’s 15 trips to the Dance spanning Providence, Kentucky and Louisville, 7 times his teams have been seeded #4 or lower.

By looking at the accumulated data by seed, we can generate an expected winning percentage by coach, based on what seed the coach brought to the tourney and what that team produced.  Specifically, we can look at each year, take the seed earned by the coach and identify an expected value for that season, then blend and weight the values accordingly.  Viewed with an eye toward expectations based on seed, the numbers tell a different story:

Tourneys Tourney Win % Expected Win % Delta
Izzo 14 0.729 0.567 0.162
Calhoun 19 0.750 0.615 0.135
Pitino 15 0.731 0.644 0.086
Krzyzewski 26 0.782 0.720 0.062
Williams 21 0.753 0.704 0.050
Calipari 13 0.711 0.683 0.028

All 6 coaches have overachieved, but one man stands above his peers in NCAA production – Tom Izzo’s teams have a reputation for tournament toughness and that reputation is well deserved.   If you want to build a program, Coach K is the gold standard, if you want postseason success cloaked in NCAA investigations, Calipari and Calhoun fit the bill.  But if you need to win a game in March, Tom Izzo is your man.  We will see if this means they cut down the nets in East Lansing this year.


About Bill Porter

Bill is an aspiring sportswriter (attorney by day) born in Washington DC, raised in New York, and currently living in San Francisco with his wife Kirsten and two spazzy labs, Fletch and Bear. Follow me on Twitter at @wfporter1972
This entry was posted in College Hoops, Jim Calhoun, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, NCAA, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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