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In March Madness, count on the coaches, not the teams

Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is the coach most likely to defy expectations.


Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is the coach most likely to defy expectations.

March Madness is about to get under way, and while you are poring over your bracket trying to figure out who is this year's Cinderella or national champion, don't forget to take into account the impact a coach can have on his team's tournament outcome.

Peter Tiernan of did a study of NCAA Tournament coaches and found that legendary coaches, those with more than 10 trips to the big dance and more than four Elite Eight runs, were "far and away the best performers against seed expectations."

In other words, they win more often than they should.

Coaches that fall into this group this year include Bill Self (No. 1 Kansas), Roy Williams (No. 1 North Carolina), Tom Izzo (No. 2 Michigan State), John Calipari (No. 4 Kentucky), Mike Krzyzewski (No. 4 Duke) and Jim Boeheim (No. 10 Syracuse). Of that group, Izzo is the coach that is most likely to defy expectations — which are already high as a top seed.

Since 2011, the average No. 2 seed has won 2.2 games per tournament, almost one game fewer than the No. 1 seeds — roughly the difference between a Sweet 16 and Elite Eight appearance. Izzo's coaching acumen, however, could add another game or two to their run, giving them a better chance at a Final Four berth.

According to data curated by Christopher Long, Izzo has won more games in the postseason than you would expect based on his regular-season record than any other NCAA coach. He's charted at 9.5 tournament wins "above expectation." Boeheim is next at 7.1.

Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight found Izzo's winning ways are even more impactful when you calculate his wins relative to his seeding in the tournament, producing 14.6 wins above expectations, over four wins more than his closest rival, Louisville's Rick Pitino.

Boeheim is another coach to watch. His 10th-seeded Syracuse Orange can clean the offensive glass (33.0 offensive rebound percentage) and generate points on putbacks (1.05 points per possession, scoring 51.6 percent of the time). They also have a stout defense that is excellent in the half-court, allowing just 0.8 points per possession on 39.2 percent shooting.

They will face No. 7 Dayton in the Round of 64, a team that went 25-7 this season and was co-regular season champions in the Atlantic 10 with a 14-4 conference record. Coached by Archie Miller, the Flyers struggle in the half-court offense, shooting just 43.3 percent with a below average 0.88 points per possession. Their turnover rate is especially high when they run the pick and roll (19.4 percent), a factor that could play right into a Syracuse upset.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the underachievers. Coaches such as No. 10 Temple's Fran Dunphy (3.4 wins below expectation), No. 3 West Virginia's Bob Huggins (minus-2.8) and No. 10 Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon (minus-2.6). West Virginia sends the opposing team to the line for more than half of their field-goal attempts while on defense, the worst mark in the nation.

The game is played on the court, but it's often those on the sideline that can have the biggest March impact.

tournament play

Wednesday's games: Robert Champion scored 19 points and Holly Cross made its free throws count down the stretch to defeat Southern

59-55 in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio. The 16th-seeded Crusaders (15-19) next meet top-seeded Oregon on Friday. For the Tulsa-Michigan result, visit

Late Tuesday: A veteran Wichita State squad pulled away from Vanderbilt 70-50 in a First Four game dominated by defense in Dayton. The Shockers (25-8) play No. 6 seed Arizona on Thursday.

POTUS bracket: President Barack Obama picked Kansas, Texas A&M, North Carolina and Michigan State to all reach the Final Four in his ESPN bracket. He picked the Jayhawks to win it all.

— tbt* wires

In March Madness, count on the coaches, not the teams 03/16/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2016 9:37pm]
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