Ranking tourney coaches based on five performance factors

For the last couple of years, in my analysis of the top active tourney coaches, I’ve used two prerequisites: at least five tourney trips and one Final Four. The number of coaches came to a nice even 25. This year, I’ve tweaked the criteria slightly to get down to 20 coaches. I’m only evaluating coaches with four or more dances, at least two Elite Eight trips and one Final Four.

I’m applying the same scoring system as the last four years. This system ranks the coaches on five factors:

1. How many times they’ve gone to the dance

2. What they’ve accomplished in their appearances

3. What their win/loss record has been

4. The degree to which they’ve overachieved

5. What they’ve done recently

Here’s my logic for choosing these factors. First of all, as Woody Allen puts it, 80 percent of success is being there. The fact that Mike Krzyzewski has gone to 27 out of 28 64-team tourneys is, in itself, an accomplishment. Secondly, when it comes to the dance, success is the bottom line: how many championships have you won, Final Four have you reached, and Elite Eights have you made. Third, apart from accomplishments, a coach’s overall record is a key gauge to tourney success. Fourth, win/loss records need to be evaluated in the context of whether they constitute over- or underachievement. And, finally, recent history does matter: if all your success happened 15 years ago (hell-lo Steve Fisher), that says something about your staying power. (The way I calculated recent performance was by taking the last ten years and ranking the coaches on the four preceding factors.)

So I ranked each of the 20 coaches on these five factors, added the rankings together, and came up with the following overall order of the best active tourney coaches since the field expanded to 64 teams 28 years ago:


Last year, Jim Calhoun snuck past Mike Krzyzewski to earn the banner of “best active tourney coach,” largely because of Coach K’s recent failings, which I documented in a December 15 post. But even with Calhoun out of the way, Coach K couldn’t reclaim the top spot. He’s tied with Roy Williams. This will probably spark some debate in Durham and Chapel Hill (like it hasn’t already…).

If it’s hard to fathom how the top coach in dance trips, success and winning percentage isn’t the best overall active tourney coach, just look at the last two columns. Coach K’s record against seed expectations isn’t exactly anything to write home about. And his “last decade” performance rating has been dragged down by seven underachieving runs in 10 tries.

That was the opening that Roy Williams needed. Frankly, Williams’ overall PASE isn’t so hot either—just +.246. But he’s the top tourney coach since 2003, with seven Elite Eights, four Final Fours, two championships and a sterling PASE of +.807. These recent successes have pulled him even with Krzyzewski.

Both Williams and Coach K are a notch above Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo, the two coaches who came in tied for third in our ratings. Pitino’s strength is consistency across the five rating categories, while Izzo’s is his penchant for overachievement. Billy Donovan and John Calipari are nipping at the heels of Pitino and Izzo, just a single rating point behind. With his championship run, Calipari leapt from eighth last year to fifth.

As the numbers show, these six coaches are really the elite of college basketball. Then comes a second echelon of six coaches: Bill Self, Jim Boeheim, Brad Stevens, Ben Howland, Tubby Smith and Steve Fisher. Of the six, Stevens is the real up and comer. His rankings were low for appearances, hardware and winning percentage. But his recent massive overachievement at Butler buoys his numbers. The suspect name in this second tier is Steve Fisher. For one thing, most of his big success came decades ago with the vaunted Fab Five; for another, those results are tainted by scandal. Of the remaining four coaches, Bill Self probably has the best potential to add more accomplishments to his tourney resume. I might’ve said Boeheim if we were talking the next couple years. But he’s certainly closer to retirement.

The remaining eight names constitute the third tier of tourney coaches. And I would argue that there are many coaches who’ve yet to bag two Elite Eights and a Final Four that show more promise. (Off the top of my head, I’ll say Sean Miller, Tom Crean, John Beilein and Shaka Smart.) Let’s face it: for four of these eight coaches, the halcyon tourney years are behind them. That would be Kruger, Montgomery, Cremins and Majerus (I did this analysis before Rick passed away). Of the remaining four, Thad Matta and Jay Wright probably have more years to bag a championship than Huggins and Barnes.

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