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NCAA Postseason Underachievers and Overachievers

At this stage in the basketball postseason, I thought it would be interesting to look at the three postseason tournaments that involve seeding (NCAA, NIT, CBI -- doesn't seed, they just use the old NIT model of general geographic matchups) to see which conferences tended to over- or underachieve according to the seeds they received.  Below are the results.

There are a couple of different ways to define whether a team over- or underachieved.  1) You can say that if they lost to a lower seed, they underachieved, and if they beat a higher seed, they overachieved; 2) You can use the seed itself to determine the level of success, regardless of the opponent.  I chose the latter.  If you were a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament, it was expected that you would make the Sweet Sixteen.  If you did not, you underachieved.  It's a pretty clean way of doing things.  This helps a team like Kansas State, which made the Elite Eight like a 2-seed should, but lost to a lower seed.  Circumstances suggest that they may have underachieved, but in the end, they achieved exactly what a 2-seed should have.

We could also take point differential into account (i.e. a 15-seed underachieved if they lost by more than the typical 15-seed loses), but that was too much detail -- we're going to stay at the macro level with this one.

Now, there are also different levels of achievement -- Butler overachieved as a 5-seed simply by making the Sweet Sixteen ... but they really overachieved by making the Final Four.  Kansas, meanwhile, underachieved by not making the Elite Eight ... but they really underachieved by not even making the Sweet Sixteen.  Plus, an 8-seed losing to a 9-seed isn't exactly means for humiliation.  But technically, on the list below, we count it as underachieving nonetheless.  On the below lists, we just look at whether you over- or underachieved -- no degrees.

Below, we'll look at each tournament's achievers, then we'll judge conferences as a whole.

NCAA Tournament

Thanks to the extreme underachieving of a number of 1-4 seeds (Kansas, Villanova, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, etc.), we had more underachievers than overachievers in the NCAA Tournament.

Underachieved (19)
Achieved Exp. Level (30)
Overachieved (16)
Clemson (ACC)
Georgetown (Big East)
Kansas (Big 12)
Kentucky (SEC)
Marquette (Big East)
Maryland (ACC)
New Mexico (MWC)
Notre Dame (Big East)
Ohio State (Big Ten)
Oklahoma State (Big 12)
Pittsburgh (Big East)
Richmond (A10)
Syracuse (Big East)
Temple (A10)
Texas (Big 12)
Vanderbilt (SEC)
Villanova (Big East)
Wisconsin (Big Ten)
California (Pac-10)
Duke (ACC)
ETSU (Atlantic Sun)
Florida (SEC)
Florida State (ACC)
Gonzaga (WCC)
Houston (CUSA)
Kansas State (Big 12)
Lehigh (Patriot)
Louisville (Big East)
Minnesota (Big Ten)
Montana (Big Sky)
Morgan State (MEAC)
New Mexico St. (WAC)
North Texas (Sun Belt)
Oakland (Summit)
Purdue (Big Ten)
Robert Morris (Northeast)
Sam Houston (Southland)
San Diego St. (MWC)
Siena (MAAC)
Texas A&M (Big 12)
UA-Pine Bluff (SWAC)
UCSB (Big West)
Utah State (WAC)
Vermont (America East)
Winthrop (Big South)
Wofford (Southern)
Baylor (Big 12)
Butler (Horizon)
Cornell (Ivy)
Georgia Tech (ACC)
Michigan State (Big Ten)
Missouri (Big 12)
Murray State (OVC)
Northern Iowa (MVC)
Ohio (MAC)
Old Dominion (Colonial)
St. Mary's (WCC)
Tennessee (SEC)
Wake Forest (ACC)
Washington (Pac-10)
West Virginia (Big East)
Xavier (A10)

I do think it's worth pointing out that Mike Anderson has been to the NCAA Tournament five times as a coach -- three times at UAB, twice at Mizzou -- and his team has overachieved four of five trips (the other time, they achieved at the expected level).  That's a damn strong record.

(And for fun, Bill Self has overachieved three times, achieved at expected level three times, and underachieved six times.  Yes, KU fans, scoreboard.  I know.  Just had to poke one more time while the wound was still fresh.)


The NIT saw a smidge more parity despite losing a 1-seed (Arizona State) in the first round.

Underachieved (8)
Achieved Exp. Level (16)
Overachieved (8)
Arizona State (Pac-10)
Cincinnati (Big East)
Illinois (Big Ten)
Mississippi State (SEC)
Seton Hall (Big East)
South Florida (Big East)
Virginia Tech (ACC)
Wichita State (MVC)
Coastal Carolina (Big South)
Connecticut (Big East)
Illinois State (MVC)
Jackson State (SWAC)
Kent State (MAC)
Memphis (CUSA)
Northeastern (Colonial)
Northwestern (Big Ten)
Quinnipiac (Northeast)
St. John's (Big East)
Stony Brook (America East)
Troy (Sun Belt)
Tulsa (CUSA)
Weber State (Big Sky)
William & Mary (Colonial)
Dayton (A10)
Jacksonville (Atl. Sun)
N.C. State (ACC)
Nevada (WAC)
North Carolina (ACC)
Ole Miss (SEC)
Rhode Island (A10)
Texas Tech (Big 12)

The Atlantic 10 fared much better in the NIT, with two overachievers, than they did in the NCAA Tourney.  Meanwhile, the ACC came off looking pretty good despite Virginia Tech losing a step away from NYC.


As a whole, higher seeds have much bigger potential for underachieving, obviously, while teams in the lower half of the bracket can only overachieve or achieve at the expected level.  Including the CBI gives some of the mid-major conferences a chance to underachieve ... and some did just that.

Underachieved (5)
Achieved Exp. Level (5)
Overachieved (6)
Akron (MAC)
Eastern Kentucky (OVC)
George Wash. (A10)
Hofstra (Colonial)
Oregon State (Pac-10)
Colorado State (MWC)
Duquesne (A10)
Indiana State (MVC)
Morehead State (OVC)
St. Louis (A10)
Boston U. (Amer. East)
Charleston (Southern)
IUPUI (Summit)
Princeton (Ivy)
UWGB (Horizon)
VCU (Colonial)

The Pac-10 came away from the NCAA Tournament with a "Hey, they might be a better conference than we thought!" reputation, but that was pretty unfounded.  Cal only lived up to their seed, while Washington did overachieve.  The conference was horrific in the other tournaments, however; both Arizona State and Oregon State were 1-seed in the NIT and CBI respectively, and they both lost first-round home games to champs from pretty lowly conferences (Jacksonville and Boston U., respectively).

By Conference

Let's set up a little scoring system.  For the NCAA Tournament, let's give overachievers 3 points and underachievers -3.  For the NIT, 2 and -2.  For the CBI, 1 and -1.  We'll also give a half-point to each team that achieved at the expected level, just for grins.  Using that system, here are the rankings by conference.  With the high-seed bias, obviously major conference teams will be a lot closer to the underachiever list, but comparing majors to majors and mid-majors to mid-majors, we can paint a bit of a picture of who did better than expected and who was far too highly-regarded.

(Major conferences in bold)

Conference At Level Overachievers Underachievers POINTS Pts. Per Team
Horizon 0 2 0 +4.0 +2.0
Ivy League 0 2 0 +4.0 +2.0
West Coast 1 1 0 +3.0 +1.5
WAC 2 1 0 +2.0 +0.7
MAC 1 1 1 +2.0 +0.7
Ohio Valley 1 1 1 +2.0 +0.7
Colonial 2 2 1 +3.0 +0.6
Southern 1 1 0 +1.0 +0.5
Summit 1 1 0 +1.0 +0.5
America East 2 1 0 +1.0 +0.3
Missouri Valley 2 1 1 +1.0 +0.3
ACC 2 4 3 +2.0 +0.2
Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Conference USA, MAAC, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot, Southland, Sun Belt, and SWAC all achieved at level -- no over- or underachievers.
Atlantic 10 2 3 3 +0.0 +0.0
Pac-10 1 1 2 +0.0 +0.0
Big 12 2 3 3 -1.0 -0.1
SEC 1 2 3 -3.0 -0.5
Big Ten 3 1 3 -5.0 -0.7
Mountain West 3 0 2 -6.0 -1.2
Big East 1 3 9 -20.5 -1.6

As expected, the major conferences fared poorly in this underachiever/overachiever system, but the ACC, Pac-10 and Big 12 managed to basically break even.

I mentioned earlier this season that the ACC might actually be better than normal this year, but without UNC dominating the polls, and with only one truly elite team, they were viewed as a lesser conference.  We always tend to over-judge a conference based on the teams at the very top, and the ACC proved that this postseason.  Despite Maryland being overseeded, they still had four overachievers -- Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, N.C. State and North Carolina.  Now, neither of the NCAA teams on that list severely achieved -- GT beat 7-seed OSU, then lost to Ohio State; Wake beat 8-seed Texas before getting massacred by Kentucky.  But combined with N.C. State's win over South Florida and North Carolina's trip to NYC in the NIT, they still slightly overachieved.  That's more than any other major conference team can say.

Tennessee helped the SEC out, but Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State all failed to live up to their seeds.  Meanwhile, I've had to read a couple of "The Big Ten did alright!" posts because Michigan State made the Final Four, but they were the only Big Ten team that managed to overachieve.  Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois (NIT) all underachieved.

I did not count the Mountain West as a "major conference," but they got the major conference treatment this postseason, managing to secure postseason tourney bids for five of nine teams.  They got four teams in the NCAA Tournament, and as a whole, aside from BYU they were rather fairly seeded.  And not a single one of them overachieved.  New Mexico, a 3-seed, snuck by 14-seed Montana in round one, then got pummeled by 11-seed Washington in round two.  BYU acquitted themselves relatively well, beating 10-seed Florida in OT and losing a competitive game to K-State.  UNLV lost on a last-second bucket by Northern Iowa, and San Diego State took Tennessee to the wire.  In all, they didn't embarrass themselves by any means, but they blew an opportunity to build a national profile.

And then there's the Big East.  To say they underachieved would be a massive understatement.  Thirteen of sixteen teams made a postseason tournament ... and two one overachieved.  TWO.  ONE.  NINE teams failed to live up to their seed.  Some were far from surprising -- on no planet should Notre Dame have received a six-seed, and Marquette was maybe a bit of a reach at six as well; but as a whole, they were rather fairly-treated ... and they STILL underachieved at an epic level.

If nothing else, this postseason proved two things: 1) Ken Pomeroy knows what he's doing (his top two conferences: ACC and Big 12), and 2) simply having more teams does not make you a better conference.  The Big East is still a great league -- one bad postseason doesn't eliminate that thought -- but it's no better than the ACC or the Big 12, and it more than proved that in the last 2-3 weeks.