March Madness is about to begin — the bracket came out last night and Louisville took the overall #1 seed. The Midwest Region is interesting not only because it contains my alma mater, but it is stacked in terms of coaching firepower — the region contains 6 former national champions: Louisville is led by Rick Pitino who cut down the nets in 1996 with Kentucky, Tom Izzo won it all with Mateen Cleaves in 2000 and still coaches #3 seed Michigan State, while Coach K has won 4 titles, most recently in 2010 when Gordon Hayward’s 45 footer at the buzzer barely missed banking home.
Krzyzewski’s career in the NCAA Tournament is longer than either of his competitors, but the three legends have similar records in the Big Dance:
The records don’t tell the entire story, of course. In the course of those 26 tournament appearances, Coach K has been a #1 seed 12 times and a #2 7 times (this year will be K’s 8th #2 seed). By contrast, Pitino took Kentucky to the NCAAs as a #1 4 times in 5 years in the mid 1990s, but in this his 10th tourney appearance at Louisville, it’s only his second top seed – he’s also been a #4 seed 4 times, and a 9 and a 10. From 1999-2001, Tom Izzo took his top seeded Spartans to the Final Four, but since then has guided two #5 seeds to the Final Four (2005, 2010).
Since the advent of the 64 team field in 1985, *** I looked back at the W/L records for each tournament. The following table shows in gory detail the performance of each seed — from the #1 seeds all the way down to the winless #16 seeds:
The table offers something of an “Expected Value” for each seed — so when Tom Izzo takes a 5 seed to the National Semifinal game, it is a more impressive feat in some ways than if Coach K takes his #1 seeded Blue Devils to the Championship game. To determine an expected winning percentage for each coach, I took each year’s seed, applied the expected value based on the table above, and averaged the result over the years each coach appeared in the NCAAs. The results:
|W||L||Win %||Expected Win %|
Given the teams that Coach K has brought to the tournament, he has performed slightly above what would be expected. Pitino has overachieved to a greater degree, but Izzo’s performance jumps off the charts — he has parlayed an average NCAA appearance ending in the 2nd round to nearly a Final Four appearance.
Of course, Given that 19 of Krzyzewski’s 26 appearances have been a 1 or 2 seed, it is challenging for K to “overperform” his seeding except by winning a championship. As a corollary, painful losses (like last season’s to 15 seed Lehigh) penalize Coach K to a greater extent than do losses when Pitino brings his 10 seeded Cardinals to the Big Dance.
Mike Krzyzewski is the best basketball coach of the last 40 years, and only John Wooden is even the discussion of comparables all-time. Nevertheless, of the 3 great coaches in the Midwest Region in 2013, Tom Izzo’s tournament coaching performances stand out.
*** EDITORS NOTE: Reader BamBam correctly points out that the records in the table reflect total performance by seeding, not merely stretching back to 1985.