Why You Cannot Judge a Team's Success Based Soley on the NCAA Tournament

College basketball has indisputably the most exciting ending of all major sports. For folks from the state of Kentucky, March Madness is better than the World Series, Super Bowl, and NBA finals combined. It would be silly to compare it to the BCS exhibition series. Fans and commentators like to argue about whether to expand the tournament to include more teams, but no reasonable person has ever argued against changing the structure of the NCAA tournament. But….

Is the NCAA tournament the best way to crown a champion?

With it established that the NCAA tournament is the most awesome way to crown a champion, it begs the question, is it the most veracious method for choosing a champion?

I should preface this by saying that I am making one major assumption. This assumption is that the purpose of crowning a champion is to figure out which team is objectively the best. If this assumption doesn’t hold, my argument falls apart.

My answer to this question is an emphatic “no” for the simple reason that the best team rarely wins in this single elimination format.

Since the committee started publicly ranking #1 seeds 1-4 in 2004, the top ranked team has one the tournament only once (Florida in 2007). If you’ll recall, the reason the committee started doing this was that in 2003, Arizona and Kentucky were the clear top 2 teams, and were on the same side of the bracket. Neither team made it to the final four that year. UK lost to Marquette to begin a streak of 4000 consecutive seasons ended at the hands of a Big East opponent.

What’s more important, regular season or NCAA tournament?

There’s been a lot of debate about how to judge Pitino’s success lately. Regular Season and Big East Tournament or just the NCAA tournament?

I see the argument for basing our opinion of him based solely on NCAA tournament results. I really do. It’s the biggest stage. It’s all anyone remembers 10 years from now. No one cares we won the 2009 Big East Tournament, but they care North Carolina won the NCAA Tournament that year. The NCAA tournament is the ultimate measure of success. This is not debatable

Objectively, Rick Pitino is simply not getting it done in the NCAA tournament. 1 Final Four and two elite 8s in 10 years is not good enough for the University of Louisville. However, during the regular season, Rick Pitino has exceeded expectations. If we based on decisions solely on the regular season and big east tournaments, Pitino would be the last coach in the Big East to get the Axe.

Since the merger in 2005-2006, our beloved University of Louisville Cardinals have won more regular season games than any other team, are THE ONLY team to win multiple BET Championships, and are one of only three, with Pittsburgh & Georgetown, to advance to 3 BET championship games. This is as good as it gets in the Big East. This isn’t Conference USA, Atlantic 10, or Southeastern Conference. No one regularly wins 30 regular season games in the Big East.

So, Pitino has been success in the regular season/big east tournament, but not in the NCAA. Shouldn’t the answer be simple? He hasn’t been successful and should be replaced?

Not exactly, because when we talk about whether Pitino should be replaced, we’re talking about how his past performance predicts future success. Some will say, this doesn’t matter, he has not performed, and that is all that matters. With all due respect, people who say this have not thought it the whole way through.

If we want to predict who is going to do better in the future, the question becomes, what is a better predictor of tournament success, past W-L record and conference tournament results or past NCAA tournament results? It is an empirical question, and I don’t have time to run the stats, but I would be shocked if past tournament success is a better predictor than past W-L record.

How many games are you picking UCONN, VCU, and Butler to win this year? How about next year? The year after that? Who would be surprised if Butler and VCU don’t make another final four in the next 20 years? Not me.

Why might overall W-L record be a better predictor of future success than past tournament games?

Let’s talk about reliability and validity. If you’ve ever taken a psychology course, you know these terms. What we want to know is: How do you measure tournament-winning coaching ability (including Xs and Os and recruiting)? This is what transfers from season to season and will determine (if anything can) how successful coaches are in the future. I’m proposing two choices: Regular season/conference tournament results or past tournament results. Both are imperfect indicators of tournament-winning coaching ability.

The problem here is that you can’t have validity if you don’t have reliability. Reliability refers to the consistency of a measure. If you can’t reliably measure tournament-winning coaching ability, how could you say it is a valid measure? A commonly used indicator of reliability is internal consistency. This measures the consistency across data points in a sample. Internal consistency is highly dependent on sample size. The more samples you take, the higher reliability you have. It is a statistical fact (Spearman-Brown Prophecy) that larger samples have higher reliability. success.

Past tournament success is not a valid indictor of future tournament success because the sample size is too small. You play between 1 and 6 games a year, as opposed to 30+ during the regular season/conference tournament. Anything can happen in the tournament.

Think about it this way, if Pitino goes to the FF this year, it would dramatically change the way a lot of us think about him. If he goes to the elite 8, it probably won’t change much. We’re talking one game. If Pitino wins 30 games next season, how much would it change? Not much, because we already have a reliable measure of regular season success, but not a reliable measure of post season success.

That’s why professional sports have 7-game series, baseball does double elimination, international soccer has round robins, and club soccer has home/away ties. Because it’s a more reliable and consequently more valid measure of which team is better.

Are fans who say Pitino should not be fired because he’s had a great deal of regular season/Big East Tournament success complacent with not “getting past the first weekend” seven out of ten years?

Absolutely not. We just think it is myopic to base decisions on such a small amount of data (NCAA tournament) when there are so much more data readily available (Regular Season + Big East Tournament). Hiring someone with more post-season but less regular season success (which is obviously what we would get) would set us up for less future success.

If you’re still with me, Chango, make the skinny thread. I have no idea who you are or what you do, but I support you 100%.

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