Who’s the ACC’s Best (and Worst) Tournament Coach

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski lost to a double-digit seed for the fifth time, tying a tournament record that lasted all of a day, before Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim lost his sixth such game. 

Obviously, the better a team is, the more likely it is to be in the situation to lose a game like that. One third of the coaches in the ACC have never played a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament. Six of them haven’t taken enough teams to the tournament to lose to anyone six times. 

Coaches, like Krzyzewski, get a reputation of being “good in the tournament”, while others, like Boeheim, get tagged with the opposite label. But who’s really the best tournament coach in the league. 

Looking toward next year, we replaced Maryland with Louisville and installed Buzz Williams as Virginia Tech’s coach. For lack of anyone else, we left departed Steve Donahue and Jeff Bzdelik at the helm of Boston College and Wake Forest, respectively. 

Then we looked at a number of ways to evaluate the coaches. 

Tournament Points: This is probably the way your bracket is being scored in the office pool you entered. Teams get one point for winning in the round of 64, two for a win in the next round, and so on. A national champion accumulates 21 points (one, two, three, four, five, and six points for each successive win). Then we ranked the ACC coaches on points per year. In other words, Coach K led the league with 214 points, but he had 29 tournaments over which to earn them, meaning he earns 7.4 points per year. That’s a little better than an Elite Eight finish, every year, on average. 

   Coach        Points   Per Tourney

1. Krzyzewski    214      7.4

2. Rick Pitino     126      6.7

3. Roy Williams  147      6.1

4. Boeheim        109      3.6

5. Buzz Williams 13       2.6

6. Jim Larranaga 14       2.3

Clearly, K, Pitino, and Roy Williams are in a class by themselves. Of course, having coached at blue blood programs means higher seeds each year, increasing the odds of accumulating a lot of points. 

To try to adjust for that, we weighted wins based on the seed beaten. A win over a 16 seed earns a team one point, over a 15-seed earns 2, and so on up to a 16-point jackpot for beating a one-seed. We saw the same tiers with that system, however. 

1. Pitino     23.4 points/tourney

2. Krzyzewski 22.8

3. R Williams 21.6

4. B Williams 14.8

5. Boeheim    13.9

6. Larranaga  11.7

While less so, this system is still biased toward high seeds. If a high seed merely beats the teams it’s supposed to, it’ll rack up a lot of points. So let’s look at expectations.

We ranked the coaches based on their history of outperforming or underperforming their seeding. A five-seed should lose to a four in the round of 32. A one-seed should make the Final Four. A two should lose in the regional final. 

Here are the coaches most likely to outperform their seeding.

Coach         Outperformed seed  Total tourneys      Percent

Brian Gregory            1                      2                   50.0%

B Williams                 2                      5                   40.0%

Pitino                        7                    19                  36.8%

Krzyzewski              11                    29                  36.7%

Steve Donahue          1                      3                  33.3%

Mark Gottfried          3                     10                 30.0%

Leonard Hamilton     2                      7                  28.6%

R Williams                5                      24                20.8%

Boeheim                  6                      30                20.0%

Larranaga               1                      6                  16.7%

Jamie Dixon            1                     10                10.0%

Mike Brey                1                     11                 9.1%

Bzdelik, Brownell, Bennett are a combined 0-for-8 at beating their seed.

And here’s how often a coach underperforms his seed. 

Coach         Underperformed seed  Total tourneys      Percent

Krzyzewski       16                     29             53.3%

Dixon                 5                     10             50.0%

Brey                   5                     11             45.5%

Boeheim           13                     30             43.3%

Hamilton            3                      7              42.9%

R Williams          8                     24             33.3%

T Bennett           1                      3              33.3%

Gottfried           3                     10              30.0%

Pitino                5                     19              26.3%

B Williams         1                      5               20.0%

Larranaga          1                      6              16.7%

Comparing the two charts yields some interesting information:  Of the coaches with 10 tourney appearances, only Pitino is more likely to advance farther than expected than suffer an early upset, and he’s 40% more likely. Gottfried goes on a run as often as he bows out early. Coach K and Roy Williams are next best, although both are more likely to be upset than to steal a win or two. 

On the flip side, Dixon and Brey suffer early upsets five times more often than they go farther than expected. 

That’s looking at round by seeding. Finally, let’s look at individual games. How often does a coach lose to a team he should beat, based on their respective seedings? 

Only four ACC coaches have been in 10 or more games where an upset took place. Here they are, ranked by winning percentage in those games.

Pitino             5-6  .455

Boeheim         9-16 .360

R Williams      5-11 .313

Krzyzewski     5-20 .200

Winning the national title as a 3-seed boosted Boeheim’s upset W-L record significantly. Interestingly, Gottfried matched Pitino, Williams and K’s five upset wins in the tournament, but he hasn’t been upset enough to qualify for the list (5-3, .625)

So Rick Pitino seems to be the clear-cut best tournament coach in the ACC, while Boeheim is a step below his three Hall of Fame colleagues.