In my first blog analyzing team performance, we learned that Duke owns the best record in the modern tourney era and has amassed the most hardware. You didn’t need a degree in bracket science to know that.
Considering that Duke has been among the top three seeds in 24 of their 27 tourney trips, however, seeding has preordained a reasonably strong record. After all, the typical top seed has a .799 winning rate—basically averaging a Final Four run. So how can you tell whether Duke’s performance, when adjusted for seed bias, isn’t actually worse than some schools with solid records built from lesser seed positions?
We created the PASE statistic to answer just such a question. If you don’t know what “Performance Against Seed Expectations” is, read my November 26 blog explaining PASE and SOAR. You’ll understand what I mean when I say that, based on seeding, Duke should’ve won about 70 games. The fact that the Blue Devils have actually won 79 means that they’ve beaten expectations by almost nine games. If you divide that by their 27 appearances, Duke’s PASE works out to a solid +.322.
Does that make Duke the top overachiever of the 64-team tourney era? Five years ago, the answer would’ve been yes. But the Blue Devils have struggled to live up to seed-projected win totals in four of the last five dances. That’s dropped them to just eighth among schools with at least 10 tourney trips. Here are the rest of the top 10 PASE performers since 1985 (out of 67 qualifiers):
Butler was nowhere to be found on the list of winningest tourney teams. In fact, their 16-10 (.615) record was good enough for just 19th place among schools with 10 or more dance appearances. But the Bulldogs’ average seed in their 10 trips was lower than ninth and they were projected to win just 6.5 games. So their 16 wins were 9.5 above seed expectations. That works out to a whopping +.948 PASE, nearly one-game-per-dance overperformance.
That represents massive overachievement, .373 above second-ranked Florida. The Gators and UConn Huskies are the only other two schools that overachieve at a rate better than half a game per tourney. Kentucky comes close—and greatly benefited from the championship run last year. The Wildcats added +.092 to their PASE and jumped from seventh to fourth place on this list.
Kentucky wasn’t the biggest advancer on this list though. That distinction belongs to the Louisville Cardinals. Pitino’s gang beat expectations by 2.5 games in 2012, making it all the way to the Final Four as a four seed. That feat added +.104 to Louisville’s PASE rate—and vaulted the Cardinals from 14th place last year to sixth.
Four teams suffered significant declines in that PASE values. Two of them, Michigan and West Virginia, fell out of the top 10 altogether. The Wolverines’ upset loss to 13 seed Ohio dropped their PASE from +.359 to +.239…and sent them skidding from ninth to 16th place on the list. West Virginia fell from eighth to 12th, losing .081 off their PASE.
Duke and Michigan State also took big hits on their PASE values, but they at least stayed in the top 10. The Blue Devils shaved .104 off their PASE and the Spartans dropped .078.