Worst tourney teams of the 64-team era

Last week, I looked at the top performing schools in the modern tourney era, starting in 1985 when the dance went to a 64-team format. We saw that Duke was both the winningest and most decorated program, but Butler was the biggest overachiever.

Now it’s time to look at the dark side of the dance—the sorriest teams of the tourney. Just as I did with the good schools, I’m restricting the analysis to teams with at least ten trips to the tournament. And we might as well look at both winning record and performance against seed expectations.

As far as records go, the worst teams tend to be the ones saddled with the lowest average seeds. Here’s your bottom ten (out of the 69 qualifying schools), complete with average seed, record and winning percentage:

  • 1. Pennsylvania (13.0 seed), 1-12, .077
  • 2. Utah State (12.3), 1-10, .091
  • 3. Princeton (12.0), 2-10, .167
  • 4. Murray State (12.9), 3-13, .188
  • 5. New Mexico State (10.9), 3-10, .231
  • 6. Brigham Young (9.1), 6-16, 6-16, .273
  • 7. Charlotte (8.1), 4-10, .286, Georgia (7.8), 4-10, .286
  • 9. Creighton (9.8), 5-11, .313
  • 10. UTEP (10.0), 5-10, .333, Clemson (6.8), 5-10, .333

As woeful as Penn’s record is, you can understand why the Quakers struggle, what with an average seed of 13. Same goes for Utah State, Princeton, Murray State and New Mexico State. The teams that jump out to me on this list are the ones with relatively solid seeds and lousy records. In fact, when you evaluate the worst performing schools by PASE, only three of these teams make the bottom ten. Meanwhile, some very prominent programs creep into the cellar. Take a look:


If you just looked at the records, you would never conclude that Pitt is the worst performing tourney team of all time. After all, the Panthers own a winning record. But so do half the teams on the list. Pitt’s problem is that they’ve been the beneficiary of great seeding—and have done nothing with it. Despite a 4.8 average seed (including two top seeds, two two seeds and five three seeds), the Panthers have only beaten seed expectations in three of 17 trips, for an abysmal SOAR of 17.6%. And they should’ve won nearly 10 more games than they have. It all works out to a gruesome PASE of -.573.

New Mexico and Georgia are right there with Pitt. They’re the only other two schools with more than half a game of underachievement per dance. The Lobos are a particularly sad case. Last year, in their first season of eligibility, they debuted as the fifth biggest underachiever of the modern era. Now they’re second. It figures, since former coach Steve Alford was the fourth worst performing coach out of 70 active veterans. But here’s the head-scratcher: how did Alford parlay such glaring underachievement into a plum job at UCLA?

There’s an important reason, besides morbid curiosity, to familiarize yourself with these tourney stiffs. Had you avoided them last year, your bracket would’ve been a whole lot healthier. Here’s what the bottom dwellers who made the dance did in 2013:

  • Pittsburgh – lost by 18 as eight seed in first round to #9 Wichita State
  • New Mexico – upset as three seed in first round by #14 Harvard
  • Notre Dame – lost by 18 as seven seed in first round to #10 Iowa State
  • Oklahoma – lost by 15 as ten seed in first round to #7 San Diego State

Four teams, zero wins—and an atrocious -1.004 PASE. The lesson: it pays to know your historical underachievers.

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