The Trick is Getting There

We've recently been talking about problems with the basketball team the last couple of years that seem to fall on the coaching staff, specifically Coach Painter, and what we expect to see moving forward. On a somewhat-related note, Bracket Science recently ran an article about NCAA Tournament performance relative to expectations. (Remember the tournament? Me neither.) It may be relevant that we don't have recent information on how Painter's teams perform in March, but I thought it'd be interesting to look at his numbers and how they compare to the rest of the coaches in the Big Ten ... the idea being that while an NCAA appearance would somewhat make up for the last couple of seasons, it wouldn't help much if the Boilers didn't play to their seed, and by the way, just how often do Painter's teams do that?

So you already know about Purdue's first-round winning streak (although you may not know that the Boilers are merely tied for 14th in first-round winning percentage* since 1985, at 16-4; North Carolina is 24-1, which is pretty impressive), but how about the rest of the games Purdue's played under Painter, and what about Southern Illinois?

The internets like tables. Here is a table:

Season School Seed First round Second round Sweet 16 Opponent's eventual finish
2004 Southern Illinois 9 lost to 8 Alabama, 65-64     Alabama lost in regional finals
2007 Purdue 9 beat 8 Arizona, 72-63 lost to 1 Florida, 74-67   Florida won championship
2008 Purdue 6 beat 11 Baylor, 90-79 lost to 3 Xavier, 85-78   Xavier lost in regional finals
2009 Purdue 5 beat 12 Northern Iowa, 61-56 beat 4 Washington, 76-74 lost to 1 Connecticut, 72-60 Connecticut lost in national semis
2010 Purdue 4 beat 13 Siena, 72-64 beat 5 Texas A&M, 63-61 OT lost to 1 Duke, 70-57 Duke won championship
2011 Purdue 3 beat 14 St. Peter's, 65-43 lost to 11 VCU, 94-76   VCU lost in national semis
2012 Purdue 10 beat 7 St. Mary's, 72-69 lost to 2 Kansas, 63-60   Kansas lost in national finals

Things to note ... Painter's teams basically play to their seed. They've posted three seed upsets, but all in games where it wouldn't be unusual (9 vs 8, 10 vs 7, 5 vs 4). They've fallen just once as a higher-seeded team, to a team that went on to make the Final Four. and in no tournament did they lose to a team that failed to make at least the regional finals; five of the seven opponents (including VCU, of course) made the Final Four, and two won the title. There's no shame in being a "plays-to-the-seed" tournament coach, if that's what Painter is, but how does that stack up against the rest of the conference?

School Coach Experience # Seed W L Pct. PASE
Illinois John Groce Ohio U 2, Illinois 1 3 11.33 4 3 .571 +0.914
Indiana Tom Crean Marquette 5, Indiana 2 7 4.86 9 7 .562 -0.222
Iowa Fran McCaffery Lehigh 1, UNC Greensboro 1, Siena 3 5 13.40 2 5 .286 +0.176
Maryland Mark Turgeon Wichita State 1, Texas A&M 4 5 7.40 5 5 .500 +0.209
Michigan John Beilein Canisius 1, Richmond 1, West Virginia 2, Michigan 4 8 8.25 13 8 .619 +0.775
Michigan State Tom Izzo Michigan State 16 16 4.81 39 15 .722 +0.733
Minnesota Richard Pitino none 0          
Nebraska Tim Miles Colorado State 1 1 11.00 0 1 .000 -0.534
Northwestern Chris Collins none 0          
Ohio State Thad Matta Butler 1, Xavier 3, Ohio State 7 11 4.09 23 11 .676 +0.166
Penn State Pat Chambers Boston U 1 1 16.00 0 1 .000 0
Purdue Matt Painter Southern Illinois 1, Purdue 6 7 6.57 8 7 .533 +0.073
Rutgers Eddie Jordan none 0          
Wisconsin Bo Ryan Wisconsin 12 12 5.67 16 12 .571 +0.063

So, of the fourteen coaches currently running a Big Tenteen squad (although not all of them may be around next season when it really is the Big Tenteen), three have no tournament experience at all, two have made it just once as an underdog (although Miles is dinged for not pulling off a fairly-common 11 vs 6 upset), and one hasn't been often, with two of his three appearances at a smaller school (where he had strong runs that skew his results upward). That leaves eight coaches with 5 or more appearances, so let's look at those now, sorted by Performance Against Seed Expectations**:

School Coach Experience # Seed W L Pct. PASE
Michigan John Beilein Canisius 1, Richmond 1, West Virginia 2, Michigan 4 8 8.25 13 8 .619 +0.775
Michigan State Tom Izzo Michigan State 16 16 4.81 39 15 .722 +0.733
Maryland Mark Turgeon Wichita State 1, Texas A&M 4 5 7.40 5 5 .500 +0.209
Iowa Fran McCaffery Lehigh 1, UNC Greensboro 1, Siena 3 5 13.40 2 5 .286 +0.176
Ohio State Thad Matta Butler 1, Xavier 3, Ohio State 7 11 4.09 23 11 .676 +0.166
Purdue Matt Painter Southern Illinois 1, Purdue 6 7 6.57 8 7 .533 +0.073
Wisconsin Bo Ryan Wisconsin 12 12 5.67 16 12 .571 +0.063
Indiana Tom Crean Marquette 5, Indiana 2 7 4.86 9 7 .562 -0.222

Basically, we have four groups here. The first group is the coaches who can pretty much get the max out of their team every year: Beilein, who takes 8s and gets them to play like 4s, and Izzo, who takes 4s and gets them to play like 1s. (Beilein and Izzo are 1st and 4th among active coaches with at least five appearances.) If you don't land a coach that can take 1 seeds and win tournaments with them, this is the type of coach you want. (You're not going to turn down Coach K just because his teams play above their seed less often.)

The second group is the coaches who will get you an extra win more often than not, but aren't going to totally outplay their seed. I wouldn't have been able to name Maryland's coach before I did this research, and there's no way I'd have put him in this group, but there he is. Note that none of McCaffery's experience is with Iowa yet, although that will certainly change this season. (Turgeon's experience is mostly with another power-conference team, so I think it's comparable.) Turgeon, McCaffery, and Matta are 18th through 20th among active coaches. 

The third group is the coaches that will play pretty much to their seed, but will occasionally pull off an upset. I'm a little surprised to see Ryan in this group, but I suspect there's something about his brand of "basketball" that doesn't translate well outside the Big Ten, much to the relief of TV audiences everywhere.

The fourth group is Tom Crean. Hi Tom! It's highly unlikely that any of the other guys will get to 5 appearances and also perform poorly enough to join him: remember, this is performance against seeding, not overall performance, although Crean is just 5-6 aside from his Final Four run with Dwyane Wade. Nebraska and Penn State are not going anywhere for a while. Northwestern ... is Northwestern.

Bracket Science only lists the top 20, and there's a huge gap between 5 (Rick Pitino) and 6 (Steve Fisher), followed by a pretty steady decrease through the guys tied for 20th (Matta and Bob McKillop). With 61 coaches in that list, I'd guess Painter is around 30th or so, the middle of the pack. That in itself isn't bad - it just suggests that Painter's the type of coach who's more likely to make a strong tournament run with a loaded team. The problem is that two of the best in the country at outperforming expectations are right here in the Big Ten, and as long as Beilein and Izzo have that kind of success, with Matta and Ryan consistently making the tournament as well, Painter will find it difficult to measure up to his direct competitors.

And that is another reason why he needs to get a solid season out of Purdue soon. A second-round tournament exit might give Painter a brief respite from criticism, but there will be those who wonder if that's perhaps his ceiling ... and looking at it in this context, they might be right.

*all stats I produce from tournament games exclude vacated results

**Bracket Science has a post that lists average wins per seed through the 2013 tournament; this is the baseline for the PASE stat. A 1 seed averaged 3.353 wins/appearance; a 1 seed that wins 4 games is 0.647 wins above average, which is another way of describing PASE.

Sad Day on Campus

One point makes a big difference

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