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May 31, 2011
The Winners Are...
Biggest Over/Underachievers

by John Gasaway


Last week Pat Forde made his selections for college basketball's most noteworthy under- and overachieving programs. I thought that was a great idea. In fact it's such a good idea I've decided to steal it. I've been crunching some numbers to see which programs emerge as being way better -- or worse -- than they "should" be.

Now, obviously defining exactly how good a team is supposed to be is a highly subjective endeavor, one that quite rightly drives coaches crazy. So I want to spell out my criteria at the top. The first of many arbitrary lines that I drew was on the calendar. I decided to look at college basketball since the year 2000 only. Naming the biggest under- and overachieving programs of all time would be an interesting challenge, surely, but for now I want to limit our efforts to the more recent past.

Second, I had to call out exactly which factors should, in the abstract, help a program achieve success. I decided that some of the biggest factors underlying potential success are: 1) conference affiliation, specifically whether you're in a major conference; 2) your location and the proximity and number of competing programs; and 3) the number of elite (i.e., top-100) high school recruits that your area and your state have produced in recent years.

Oh, and one more thing. I had to define "success." For the purposes of this exercise I defined success as the number of NCAA tournament games that a program has won in the 2000s. Using this metric, no program has been more successful this millennium than Duke. The Blue Devils have won 31 NCAA tournament games since 2000. Kansas (30), Michigan State, and North Carolina (29 apiece) are right on Mike Krzyzewski's heels.

So much for definitions. Now it's time to look at some results. The winner as the biggest numerical overachiever of the 2000s is none other than the Kansas Jayhawks. While Duke has managed to win one more tournament game, KU's relatively remote location in a sparsely populated part of the country makes their achievement all the more notable. Congratulations, Bill Self! And I now move that we ignore this result entirely.

It's true that if space aliens landed tomorrow they would be hard pressed to understand how a team located in Lawrence, Kansas, of all places could win 30 NCAA tournament games in 12 seasons. Alas, we're not space aliens. We understand that the Jayhawks comprise one of those "blue-chip" programs that you hear so much about. How a blue-chip program arose in this particular locale in the first place is an interesting tale, no doubt, but nevertheless it would be a stretch to say that KU has "overachieved" in the 2000s. The fact of the matter is they're supposed to be this good. Give full credit to Self (and to his predecessor, Roy Williams) for what by any measure has been an amazing run of excellence. But when it comes to amazing overachievement, I have a different program in mind.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, what Butler has been able to do over the past 12 seasons and, of course, particularly over the past two makes the Bulldogs far and away the biggest overachievers in Division I. First under Thad Matta, then under Todd Lickliter, and now under Brad Stevens, Butler has won 16 NCAA tournament games since 2000. That's more tournament wins than major-conference heavies like Pittsburgh, Louisville, Villanova, Georgetown, or Ohio State, to name a few, can claim. For any team to register that level of success would be impressive. For a Horizon League team to do so is...mind-bending? Unbelievable? Stupefying? I'll settle for "an example of unparalleled overachievement."

At the opposite extreme, we find several viable candidates for most extreme underachievement. For starters, I decided that the program that "wins" this honor has to be in a major conference. Teams in the major conferences start off with natural advantages (funding, exposure, facilities, etc.) that mid-majors would dearly love to have.

I also thought long and hard before deciding that any team that makes regular appearances in the NCAA tournament can't truly be underachieving as much as teams that don't even make it that far. I realize that fans of a team like, say, Clemson (one NCAA tournament win since 2000) feel let down every year in the NCAA tournament. But the operative words there are "in the NCAA tournament," where the Tigers have now made four consecutive appearances.

Instead, I'm naming Georgia as my model of underachievement. The Bulldogs have made four NCAA tournament appearances in the past 12 seasons and won one game. Granted, Northwestern would be happy to lay claim to that kind of record, but the Dawgs' unique circumstances spell underachievement to me.

For one thing, the sheer number of elite prospects that the state of Georgia -- and, primarily, greater Atlanta -- has produced over the past few years can only be termed phenomenal. Part of that is merely a high concentration of talent evaluators, of course (funny how the top prospects always seem to come from places where the scouts are thick on the ground), but if you saw Jeremy Lamb playing for Connecticut at the Final Four, you know what Atlanta-area players can do.

Over the past three years (not including recruits who will arrive on campus as freshmen this fall) Georgia has produced more top-100 talent than the state of Texas -- this despite the fact that the Lone Star State has almost three times as many inhabitants. The University of Georgia, an SEC program situated in the wooded and welcoming enclave of Athens just outside of Atlanta, should be able to tap into this vein of blue-chippers.

And while it's true that Georgia has spent part of the current millennium overcoming the shadow of the Jim Harrick era, the example of Baylor's run to the 2010 Elite Eight proves that an even darker shadow from the same time period can be overcome. It's past time for UGA to play like a major-conference power in a talent-rich locale. Even at a football school, a basketball program given this much to work with should be able to do better than one tournament win in 12 seasons. The Dawgs would do well to take a cue from the overachieving Bulldogs in Indianapolis.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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