Coach K may be winningest tourney coach, but Izzo top overachiever

If you started with the article that ranked coaches by record, you know that Mike Krzyzewski is the undisputed leader among both active coaches. But win/loss record and accomplishments are only part of the equation in assessing the tourney performance of coaches. For nine years, I’ve used a statistic called “Performance Against Seed Expectations,” or PASE, to compare a coach’s actual winning record to his expected performance based on seeding.

PASE is a simple concept. Every seed has recorded an average number of wins per tourney in the modern era. The average top seed wins 3.38 games per dance, two seeds win 2.42 (almost one game less), three seeds win 1.86 and so on. When the coach of a top-seeded team wins four games to reach the Final Four, he overperforms by .62 games. If he wins the championship, he exceeds seed expectations by 2.62 games.

If you add up a coach’s year-by-year performance, you can come up with the average games per tourney that he deviated from the expected victory total. Take someone like Bill Self, widely considered to be a successful tourney coach. Based on his seeding, Self should’ve won 30.4 games in his 13 tourney appearances. In fact, he won 33—pretty close to seed expectations. His PASE value is a middling +.188, making him the 20th best overachieving coach among 60 active coaches with at least five dance trips. Self also owns the distinction of having the worst PASE of any coach who’s won a championship.

Why is Self’s PASE so low? Well, as Jayhawk fans are painfully aware, Self has had his share of disappointing dances. In 2005, Kansas got upset as a three seed by 14 seed Bucknell. The next year, they were upset as a four seed by 13 seed Bradley. Then, of course, in 2010, the top-seeded Jayhawks were shocked by nine seed Northern Iowa in the second round. In fact, Self’s teams have only beaten expectations seven times in his 14 tourney appearances. His “Seed Overachievement Rate”—or SOAR—is a ho-hum 50%.

So if Self is just a mediocre tourney performer, who’s an elite overachiever? Let’s look at the top active PASE performing coaches in the modern era (out of 60 qualifiers with at least five appearances):

For those who read the blog on the top tourney coaches by winning rate, this list may come as a surprise. Tom Izzo was just sixth on that list. But when you consider that Izzo’s Spartan squads have been saddled with an average seed of 4.9 in their 15 appearances, his performance is all the more impressive. By seed expectations, Izzo’s teams should’ve only won 25.6 games; they actually won 37—11.4 games above expectations. If you divide that by 15 appearances, you arrive at a hefty PASE of +.761. That equates to beating seed expectations by three-quarters of a game per dance.

Only two other coaches come close to achieving that PASE. One of them, surprisingly, is Arizona’s Sean Miller. In his five tourney trips, Miller has overachieved four times and owns a WAE (wins above expectations) of 3.8 games. Miller’s two biggest overachieving dances occurred in 2009 when his Xavier squad lost as a three seed to Ohio State in the Elite Eight (or got jobbed, depending on your perspective), and in 2011, when the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight as a five seed.

Miller isn’t the only top PASE performer whose name doesn’t appear on the list of winningest coaches. Neither do the names of Jim Larranaga, John Beilein or Mike Anderson. Larranaga’s +.584 PASE is built almost entirely on his amazing Final Four run with 11 seed George Mason in 2006. Beilein and Anderson have been more consistent overachievers, beating expectations 71% and 67% of the time respectively. That said, Michigan’s opening-round loss to Ohio last year dropped Beilein from third best on this list to eighth. That was the biggest decline among last year’s top ten PASE performers.

At least Beilein didn’t drop out of the top ten altogether. That distinction was reserved for Coach K. With his Blue Devils’ shocking first-round loss to 15 seed LeHigh, Krzyzewski saw his PASE plummet from +.426 to +.322. He’s now ranked as just the 11th best PASE performer out of the 60 coaches with at least five tourney appearances. In fact, Coach K’s performance slide is so surprising that it merits its own blog entry. More on this coming soon.

A few other observations on the top PASE coaches:

  • We talked about the big declines of John Beilein and Coach K. Which coaches saw the biggest increases in the PASE rankings? Billy Donovan (3) and Rick Pitino (4) jumped the most positions. Donovan’s Gators did it on the strength of an Elite Eight run as a seven seed. Pitino ascended because his Cardinals reached the Final Four as a four seed.
  • Tom Izzo’s reputation as the top overachieving coach could be short-lived. Brad Stevens didn’t qualify for this list because he’s only been to the dance four times. But he owns a monster PASE of +1.938. That’s right…he beats expectations at a rate of nearly two games per dance. Once his Bulldogs bag another tourney bid, it’s likely that Stevens will overtake Izzo on this list.
  • There’s an ugly side to PASE: 26 of the 60 active coaches with at least five dance trips fail to live up to seed expectations and own negative PASE values. In a coming blog entry, I’ll run down who the biggest underachieving coaches are. You may want to steer clear of them in your bracket picks.
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