Coach K’s tourney performance decline

In my blog about top PASE performing coaches, I promised to take a closer look at the dramatic PASE decline of Coach K.  Less than a decade ago, Krzyzewski was the second best overachiever among active coaches with at least five tourney trips. After last year’s disastrous upset at the hands of 15-seed Lehigh, Coach K has fallen out of the top ten altogether.

The debacle of 2012 isn’t the only reason that Coach K’s tourney performance has slid, however. The fact is, he’s failed to reach seed-projected win totals in seven of the last eight dances. To illustrate how dramatically Krzyzewski’s PASE performance has fallen off, I divided his 27 tourney appearances into three nine-year eras. Here’s his PASE value for each of those eras:

In a word, “Yikes.” Clearly, the Golden Era of K occurred in the earliest years of the 64-team tourney era. Between 1985 and 1993, Coach K beat seed expectations seven times in nine tries, owned a whopping PASE of nearly a game-and-a-half per dance, reached four Final Fours—and cut down the nets twice.

In the second phase of his tourney history, from 1994-2003, Coach K performed just slightly better than you would expect for his seeding. He overachieved four times in nine tries, netted a middling PASE of +.192, made the Final Four three times and took one crown back to Durham.

The most recent phase of Krzyzewski’s tournament performance is the real head-scratcher. Yes, Coach K has made the Final Four twice and won a championship—what fan wouldn’t be happy with that? But let’s be honest: he’s underachieved in seven of nine dances and owns a pitiful -.700 PASE. If you stacked that up against the 60 active coaches with at least five dance trips, it would rank…oh…59th! Only Oliver Purnell has been worse.

Not only is Coach K falling short of seed-projected win totals more often—but his teams are falling victim to more surprising upsets. In fact, Duke has suffered more upsets in the 64-team tourney era than any other school. (Remember: I only count it as an upset when an underdog beats a favorite with a seed position four or more positions higher.) They’ve been knocked off by Cinderellas 10 times. Syracuse, Oklahoma and Kansas have been victimized eight times. Here’s the trail of Duke upset tears:

  • 1985 – Lost to Boston College, 3v11, Round 2
  • 1988 – Lost to Kansas, 2v6, Final 4
  • 1997 – Lost to Providence, 2v10, Round 2
  • 2000 – Lost to Florida, 1v5, Sweet 16
  • 2002 – Lost to Indiana, 1v5, Sweet 16
  • 2005 – Lost to Michigan State, 1v5, Sweet 16
  • 2007 – Lost to VCU, 6v11, Round 1
  • 2008 – Lost to West Virginia, 2v7, Round 2
  • 2011 – Lost to Arizona, 1v5, Sweet 16
  • 2012 – Lost to Lehigh, 2v15, Round 1

I hope this doesn’t come off like I’m piling on. But the numbers don’t lie. Four of Coach K’s upset losses have occurred in the last six years. And what’s more frustrating than that, not a single one of those teams were good enough to win their next game. At least in five of the six earlier upsets, the Cinderella went on to do more damage in the dance. Kansas won it all in 1988, Florida and Indiana played in the Finals in 2000 and 2002, and MSU reached the Final Four in 2005. Heck, even Providence advanced one more game in 1997. No such luck for VCU, West Virginia, Arizona or (cough) Lehigh.

Look: nobody should come away from this thinking that Coach K isn’t a great coach. By nearly every measure, he’s the best active coach of the 64-team tourney era.  As my overall ratings will show in a future post, only Roy Williams comes close to Krzyzewski in tournament accomplishments. But when it comes time to fill out your bracket, when in year’s past you might’ve given Duke the benefit of the doubt, you may want to cast a colder eye on their chances.

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