April 09, 2006

Statistically speaking

Gather round, children, let me learn you somethin'.

In another post, I mentioned that I am a firm believer that NCAA basketball as we know it today only dates back to 1987. It was the first time that you had the three point shot, the shot clock, and six wins to win the title all in play simultaneously. Simply put, its the Three Point Era.

So this got me thinking, who are the elite programs of the era. First, what is elite? Tournament appearances and wins are a no brainer, Sweet Sixteen appearances are good, Final Fours are surely a measurement and of course, winning the title is another barometer. So putting the five criteria together here is what I come up with:

You have six elite programs. Numbers next to the teams appear in tournament wins, ("Tournament berths - Sweet Sixteens - Final Fours - Championships") fashion.

Duke, 62 wins (19-16-9-3) is securely firm in their #1 ranking here. However, I would point out that since Coach K returned to the bench after the 1995 debacle, Duke has made only three Final Fours and won a single title. Accomplishments, yes, but worthy of ESPN drool and a seat on a pedestal? No. The Devils made their hay from 1987-1994 going to six (of the eight) Final Fours and two titles.

North Carolina, 49 wins (18-12-7-2) only saw the second weekend and beyond last year, going all the way to the title. Otherwise the Heels last venture to the Final Four came as a surprise #8 seed. They are still elite with double digit Sweet Sixteens and the second most Final Fours of the era, but understand that like Duke, Carolina made their noise a bit earlier in the era (notably 1991-1998: five Final Fours, one title).

Kentucky, 46 wins (17-12-4-2) is in decline according to some irrational fans here in Lexington, however, they still rank third in total wins in the tournament despite missing on probation for three years. Hurting the Cats is a lack of Final Four appearances since 1998. A fact not lost on the Tubby detractors after narrow misses at the Elite Eight in 1999, 2003, and 2005. Clearly, UK's heyday was 1993-1998, going to four Final Fours, winning two titles.

Kansas, 45 wins (19-11-5-1) has everything to look forward to with a young class next year and could surpass Kentucky at #3, however based on their two previous year's the Jayhawks could lose again in the first round. They meet all the criteria for elite status, however, the Jayhawk program could rival Duke had they not slipped in so many tournaments earlier than expected. The knock against them is that their only title was in 1988, by far the longest title drought of the elite teams.

Arizona, 39 wins (20-11-4-1) comes in next and surprisingly is the only team to have qualified for the tournament in each year of the Three Point Era. Wildcat fans are linked to Kansas fans in that earlier flame outs could have resulted in more-impressive numbers. The good for Arizona is that they lack a dominant period within the era. Their Final Fours are spread out and have come before and after their one title in 1997.

Connecticut, 38 wins (14-11-2-2) is a good example of doing the most with their least (of the elite) tournament appearances. They have never lost in the first round (the only elite with that distinction). When the Huskies make the Final Four, they capitalize, having never lost in a Final Four. Its hard to think of the Huskies as elite for some, having only made their first appearance in the NCAAs in 1990. But Jim Calhoun has truly gotten this program to the elite stage. One complaint? Quit missing tournaments after big years in the tournament. 2007 could be a challenge if Gay and Boone cut out of Storrs like Marcus Williams did.

Elite Trivia

* These are the only teams that have double digit Sweet Sixteens combined with multiple Final Fours and at least one championship.

* Four of the schools (Duke, UNC, UK, and Connecticut) are the only schools to have won multiple titles in the era.

* Since the era began, only in 1987 the first year and last weekend in Indianapolis (2006) has there been a Final Four with all of these teams missing. (Just think if that three by Rashad Anderson was good against Mason. Then we're talking about only one year in 20 without at least one of these schools being there.)

Continuing on...

After the first tier of schools I would admit that there needs to be a second group. If those are the Special Six, then the next group is the Fab Four.

- Syracuse (17-9-3-1)
- UCLA (17-9-2-1)
- Michigan State (13-7-4-1)
- Florida (13-5-3-1)

These schools are borderline elite for some various reasons. First off, Syracuse and UCLA really only miss out by one Sweet Sixteen appearance. They round out the 30-game winners in the tournament for the era when combined with the Elite Six.

I can also argue though that UCLA did miss the tournament altogether in 2003 and 2004, with only a first round exit in 2005. Howland has things going well in L.A. and I can see them joining the list in the next few years. Besides, they do only have the one title in the era. And Steve Lavin haters, his time in Westwood wasn't that bad.

One big argument against Syracuse ended in 2003 with the Orange cutting the nets, but they are a part of the Kansas-Arizona family in that they've had years of bowing out early. (First ever 2-seed to lose in 1991.)

Michigan State and Florida, I would hold out due to their 2002-04 and 2006 struggles after being on top of the world from 1999-2001. Also, pre-Izzo, your looking at seven no-tournaments and only one second weekend appearance.

Florida just jumped into the group with the win in Indianapolis on Monday night. What Donovan does from here will determine Florida's fate. Remember, Donovan made the title game against Michigan State in 2000 only to get bounced in the first weekend for the next five years before winning it all last Monday.

The notable missing: Yeah you got a title, but...

Indiana (18-7-3-1). Yeah, the Hoosiers have a title, back in 1987, but missing two of the last three tournaments and only one second weekend visit since 1994 has them off the radar. They have hired Kelvin Sampson to get them back. Risky move being Sampson with a career losing mark in the tournament.

Maryland (12-7-2-1). If I do this research two years ago the Terps might make the Fab Four into a Five. However, they have missed the past two dances, and Gary Williams has only had the memorable 2001 and 2002 teams. Maryland is at a crossroads of either reviving the program or sliding back to mediocrity.

The Missing in Action:

Michigan (10-5-3-1). The boys from Ann Arbor haven't seen the tournament since 1998. They havent been to a second weekend since the Fab Five minus Webber got the Wolverines to the Elite Eight in 1994. They do have a title in the era, though.

UNLV (7-5-3-1). No Tark = no program. Period. They round out the champions of the era, but have had nothing since the Shark days.


Ben said...

I think this is an excellent metric for measuring who truly is "elite" or at least "relevant" in modern basketball.

You should send this system to some of the delusional pundits who often seem high when discussing "big-time" programs.

Askinstoo said...
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