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Bruinzone Hall Of Fame Posting:
Possibly The Best UCLA Posts...Ever --(Dec. 5, 2001)

No, we don't mean Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul Jabbar, or Bill Walton, or anyone else who played the post for the Bruins.

We mean "posts" as in "message postings" as in those found at various message boards on the internet, and in this case, specifically at the  Bruinzone Message Forum.

It's not often that we find anything on a message board, any message board, which is worth repeating or reposting, and that would include the stuff found here at SoCalHoops on the two message boards.  But occasionally, we come across something that is just so amazingly well-written, so well-thought out, that we just have to preserve it for posterity and pass it along to as many people as possible.  And that was the case today when we visited the Bruinzone Message Forum today, and came across an amazingly complete and cogent analysis of the UCLA basketball program written by "B.B."   We have no idea who B.B. is, but whoever he/she is, his/her writings are among the best we've seen.   Period.  

The Bruinzone board is maintained by "Tb" or "Ted" as some know him, and while his messages are archived, seemingly for eternity, there's always the chance (with the software that his board and ours uses, it's not just a chance, it's an eventuality) that the messages might one day disappear, we thought we'd also reproduce these posts here and archive them as well, and we're sure Ted won't mind.  The original link to the thread can be found at this link (or just visit Bruinzone and scroll down), and of course, if you want to read the replies to the messages in their original form, which is really more than half the fun of visiting the Bruinzone, by all means, head over there and check out the original text of the messages (we'd also note that "BB" also obviously is in some student or staff capacity at UCLA, because many of the embedded links in the original messages point to a server on the UCLA campus, not to the Bruinzone board...not that that matters, except that you can't read the replies and responses where BB has archived his/her own messages either... so check out the originals). 

Anyway, setting aside the technical gibberish which matters only to those who know and maintain websites, we've reproduced three "posts" which really should be called articles, by BB. The first below is actually the third in the series, and pertains to "Evaluating Lavin."    The first in the series had to do with the importance of winning national championships, and the second has to do with Sweet 16 competition and its importance to a coach and a program. 

We know that any Bruin fan, or even critic, will enjoy these, hopefully as much as we did.


Evaluating Lavin-Part III: The regular season and Detroit revisited (long)

Posted by B..B on December 04, 2001 at 13:25:58

This is the third in a series of posts which began last spring.

Part I

discussed the significance of national championships.

Part II

discussed Sweet Sixteens and tournament performance in general.
A visual presentation of all the top programs and their NCAA performance is contained in this


To briefly summarize them:

National championships are few and far between, even for coaches who have been recognized as the best ever. There is nothing wrong with any UCLA fan wanting to win one in any given year and being disappointed if they don't. However, if 20 years from now one looks back and UCLA has won as many as two NC's during that time, they should not be disappointed. Only two schools have averaged as many as one national championship per decade.

The first two rounds of the tournament are not all that easy to prepare for or win. A good percentage of Final Four teams have found them to be the most difficult games to win on the way. Winning championships or making Final Fours have little correlation with the previous year's tournament results.
However, in order to be at the elite level that few schools attain, Lavin must go beyond the Sweet Sixteen more than once in the next few years.

The subject of this post is the regular season and the first round loss in 1998.

With the return of the Pac-10 tournament, there are now three "seasons": regular, conference tournament and NCAA tournament. Some will see this as three opportunities to succeed, others as three chances to fail. It's a hard fact that the results of the NCAA tournament (where luck of the draw and a brief hot streak may play a major role in success) outweighs the outcome of the regular season which rewards sustained excellence over several months. Now the conference tournament further devalues the regular season, using an 18 game schedule to merely provide seedings for an event whose sole purpose is to generate money and has little relevance to the results of the regular season or the NCAA playoffs. Only about half of the regular season conference champions go on to win their tournaments and only about half of the teams (from conferences with tournaments) who make the Final Four won their conference tournament.

OK, so Lavin does OK in the tournament, but his regular seasons are weak. He has the lowest winning percentage of all the post-Wooden coaches (except for Hazzard) and only one Pac-10 title in five years.

You cannot compare Lavin's record with any other past Bruin coach for several reasons. Who you play and who you lose to has more relevance than how many you lose.

Early Departures - Lavin is the first UCLA coach to face the widespread early departures to the pros. Before him, the most significant for UCLA were Richard Washington, Stuart Gray, and Tracy Murray, all for just one year (and all frontcourt players). Don MacLean stayed four years. His rough current equivalent, Jason Kapono, has been on the verge of leaving at any time. Had MacLean and Ed O'Bannon left after their junior years, it is possible that H*rr*ck would have made only one Sweet Sixteen in eight years. Would Wicks and Rowe have played more than a year or two of college basketball and Alcindor and Walton played any at all in this day and age? Lavin doesn't even get Tyson Chandler for one year.

Seventeen of the last twenty teams that lost a point guard who left early and was a first-round draft choice won fewer games the next year (one won the same number and two won more). (If Khalid El-Amin had been picked a few spots higher last year, it would have been 18/21.) Lavin coached only one of those 21 teams and they struggled without Baron Davis.
For a school like Stanford, what once was a disadvantage has become an advantage. The better students are more likely to stay in school. When Jason Collins left early, a major reason was that he is already very close to his degree. Experienced seniors can be just as valuable a commodity as hot-shot freshmen, if not more so.

Strength of Schedule - UCLA has played a much tougher schedule since Lavin became coach. In his five years, the average strength of schedule rank based on the RPI formula is 17. In the previous three years (as far as the RPI goes back), the average SOS rank was only 64. In Lavin's first year, every loss (except at Oregon where even some of the great UCLA teams lost) was to a team that won at least 22 games including an NCAA tournament game win. In his second year, four of the eight losses were to Final Four teams, two were to Elite Eight teams and one to a Sweet Sixteen team. The other was at Oregon again. Teams averaging 30 wins accounted for all but one of the losses. Compare that to H*rr*ck's 2nd and 3rd years (giving him the benefit of the doubt since he took over with less talent). Seven of the fourteen regular season losses were to teams that didn't even make the tournament. Of those who did, two were teams that lost in the first round, four were teams that lost in the second round, and only one was a Sweet Sixteen team.
Even some of the admittedly bad losses in recent years like Gonzaga and CSUN look a lot better when considering what those teams accomplished the rest of the season. This past season, every team that beat UCLA except Washington made the NCAA tournament.

Strength of Pac-10 - Since Lavin took over, the Pac-10 is stronger than it's ever been. Not only does the SOS reflect that, but in the national rankings and NCAA tournament performance. Between 1982 (when the CNN/USA poll began) and 1991, only once (1989) was more than one other Pac-10 team besides UCLA ranked in the final top-25. No other Pac-10 teams were ranked in 1985-87. Even more remarkable is this stat: Since the NCAA tournament went to 64 teams in 1985, in the 12 years prior to Lavin, Pac-10 teams other than UCLA won a total of 25 NCAA tournament games. In only five years since Lavin took over, Pac-10 teams other than UCLA have already won 33 tournament games.

Look at the last four Pac-10 champions and their final USA poll rank:

  1998  Arizona       #4
  1999  Stanford      #5
  2000  (tie)Arizona  #4
        Stanford      #9
  2001  Stanford      #2

What this all means is that in the past, a top-10 or even top-15 national ranking would almost guarantee a Pac-10 championship. Now, a top-10 ranking might not even get you into the top two in the Pac-10.

The NBA Draft - The talent level in the Pac-10 is much greater than it's ever been. This past season, ten non-UCLA Pac-10 players were drafted by the NBA. In the 20 years previous to Lavin, an average of only 3 non-UCLA players were drafted on the 1st or 2nd rounds each year. Only twice from 1977 to 1996, were there more than four and the most in any one year was six. Only once during that time period were as many as ten non-UCLA Pac-10 players drafted in any TWO year period.

But admit it, Lavin's best year was accomplished with H*rr*ck's players, so you can't give him too much credit.

The implication here is that all you need is a lot of returning players from a very good team and a better season is almost guaranteed no matter who is coaching. Let's put this myth to rest once and for all. This may surprise you, but in the last ten years, of all the teams which made the NCAA tournament the previous year and had at least four starters returning, LESS THAN HALF went further in the tournament. So not only did Lavin beat the odds by winning three more tournament games with "H*rr*ck's players", he shattered them.

But what about those embarrassing blowout losses?

"Embarrassing" is a term thrown around too loosely in sports these days. "Embarrassing" should not describe the outcome of a game. "Embarrassing" is a more appropriate term for something like strong healthy football players parking in handicapped spaces. And exactly who should be embarrassed? Only the players for a lack of effort in some games, but unlike some pathetic fans who can't let go even after several years, they got over it in a matter of hours, almost always bouncing back strongly in the next game.

Some of those games were perfectly understandable, if not excusable. For example, a blowout loss to North Carolina came in Baron Davis' and Earl Watson's first-ever college game with two key Bruins on suspension against a team featuring Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter (what ever happened to those guys?) that had already played three games, won 14 games by 20 points or more and ended up ranked #1 in both polls. A 35 point loss at Duke in 1998 was a bad loss, but consider that Duke won their home games including the tough ACC schedule by an average of 30 points that year. The mega-blowout loss to Stanford in 1997 provided the incentive to return the favor later in the season and go on to win the Pac-10 championship, rendering the first game meaningless to all but those looking for an excuse to bash the coach.

Harping about these losses is the sure sign of fairweather fans, who love to revel in the highs, but refuse to accept the lows that come with the territory in any program. One reason that UCLA fans are so sensitive to bad losses is that the program went about two decades when any kind of loss was a rare event, much less a blowout. UCLA has basically 15-20 years of post-Wooden era history before Lavin (and only 10 of those with the score-expanding three-point shot) to set records for blowouts, while other schools had more like 40.

Inconsistency is unfortunatly a characteristic of Lavin's teams, but I prefer to judge a coach by his best games, not his worst.

But no matter how well Lavin does in the NCAA tournament, his record will always be tainted by the inexcusable loss to Detroit Mercy.

This game was probably the most significant in Lavin's career. A little background: Lavin's first year was a great success and should have been recognized as such by all but the most ardent H*rr*ck loyalists. His second year was not quite as good, but that was due in part to the suspensions of Johnson and McCoy and the subsequent departure of McCoy and the injury to Baron Davis cutting short the NCAA run. The #1 recruiting class gave most fans a reason to be optimistic about the future of the program. In Year #3, with the youngest team in UCLA history the regular season was still pretty solid, but the unrealistic expectations brought on by the overhyped recruits caused some fans to become skeptical.

But I think most fans still supported the coach. Then came the Detroit Mercy game - a cataclysmic event. The message boards were flooded by hundreds of incensed posts (many from people who hadn't posted there before or since). The tide had instantly and permanently turned against Lavin.

Here are some of the facts regarding that game. These are not excuses, but circumstances mostly beyond Lavin's control.

UCLA was only a 2-3 point favorite in that game. Given that the line on a name team like UCLA is usually a few points greater, this was basically considered a near even contest.

Detroit was only a pushover in the minds of unsophisticated fans who don't follow college basketball very closely. They had upset St. John's in the tournament the previous year and came from a conference that had a history of pulling upsets in the tournament (Wisconsin-Green Bay). They were one of the best defensive teams in the country (you don't make the McDonald's All-American game by being a great defender - have you watched a McD's game lately?) and had lost at Iowa (who earned a #5 seed in the tournament - same as UCLA) by only two points.

If we can ignore the few token minutes from junior Sean Farnham, then UCLA played entirely freshmen and sophs. The last time an all frosh-soph team won an NCAA tournament game is 1994. Only one other all frosh-soph team besides UCLA has even made the tournament since 1994. Adding evidence to this point is the 2000 Arizona team, which without the injured Loren Woods played all freshmen and sophs except for junior reserve Justin Wessel. They beat a #16 seed in the first round and then promptly lost to a much less talented but much more experienced Wisconsin team. More evidence: two highly touted teams with several highly rated freshmen, DePaul in 2000 and Seton Hall in 2001, melted down by the end of the season and didn't even make the tournament. (Remember, it's not the presence of freshmen, but the absence of upperclass leadership that leads to lack of success in the tournament.) Why do people expect Lavin to do things nobody else has done?

Since Lavin became UCLA coach, only four NCAA schools have made the tournament every year and gotten past the first round in each of those years.

Dan Gadzuric was injured and did not play. Baron Davis and Jerome Moiso were not at full strength with painful foot injuries. Lavin's fault?

UCLA made only five of 12 free throws. While not a particularly good free throwing team during the season (61% not counting Gadzuric), this was well below their season average. Inexperience.

Travis Reed bricked a wide open layup with 4:20 remaining. Lavin should have had Gadzuric in the game instead of Reed? Not possible.

Baron Davis gets his third and fourth personals on offensive fouls. After the latter with 12:34 remaining, TV commentator Bill Rafftery stated: "[Davis] had the angle if anything . . . I never saw defensive position . . . if anything a non-call there . . . two [fouls] that don't belong being called . . . not part of the game." Baron has to play with his hands in his pocket for most of the second half (he sat out only 2 minutes). Baron fouls out with about a minute left. Lavin can't control the officiating.

With UCLA trailing 51-50, twelve seconds left in the game and 3 on the shot clock, a Detroit player throws up a shot (described as a "desperation heave" by the TV announcer) from the top of the key which goes in putting Detroit up by three.

With Baron out of the game and down by 3, an inexperienced and panicked Earl Watson forces a shot, possibly with his foot on the three-point line, with eight seconds left, and with several other players wide open behind the three-point line.

Could Lavin have done anything different to avoid the upset? Possibly, but there is no guarantee some other strategy would have worked. That is all hindsight. Speeding up the game would have been difficult with the injuries and lack of depth. This was purely one of those times where so many factors broke the wrong way in a close game - Certainly not a reason for the outrageous reaction. Sometimes even the best coaching can't overcome injuries, inexperience and officiating.

Recently, an otherwise reasonable post described this game as an "inexcusable failure". Uh, wrong. What is inexcusable is the ignorance and misconceptions of many fans. That is a reason it is so difficult for Lavin to get a fair shake. Anyone who said that UCLA should have won that game easily or that losing proved that "Lavin can't coach" or that Lavin deserved to be fired because of that game acted like a complete idiot who knows nothing about college basketball. There have been plenty of games for which Lavin deserved plenty of criticism, but this is not one of them.

This brings me to my final point.

So you must think Lavin is doing a great job.

That is not the issue here. I could have easily written a three part series picking apart every flaw in his coaching (and there are many), but that would be too easy. Not because he can't coach, but because one can ALWAYS find fault in any game or any season for any coach if they so choose. The purpose of these posts is to put Lavin's record into proper context. Steve Lavin has compiled a pretty good record by any reasonable standards. If someone feels that isn't good enough for them, then I have no problem with that. We all want the team to do better. But when they turn that around to claim he is doing a poor job, then that is their problem. This series of posts is not directed at them. Lavin deserves to be criticized at times, but their criticism is usually way out of proportion to what he has actually accomplished. What I don't respect is the complainers who obsessively post over and over every day deriding every little aspect of Lavin's coaching, putting the most negative spin on everything. ("Lavin is to blame for the terrorist attack . . . after all, he didn't do anything to stop it, did he???") From the type of comments they make, you would think that not only has Lavin had five losing seasons, but molested their children and tortured their puppies.

Unfortunately, the Lavin critics lack the two P's:

PERSPECTIVE - One cannot judge UCLA in a vacuum. Saying that "this is UCLA and we should be serious contenders for a national championship every year", disregarding how difficult this is given the present state of college basketball is sorely lacking perspective. Anyone who thinks that making the Sweet Sixteen every year is "mediocrity" needs a reality check. Hopefully, this series adds some perspective to the discussion.

PATIENCE - National powers aren't built in a year. Most of the coaches regarded as the best in the country didn't achieve this level until years 5-10, unless they inherited a team at that level (UCLA was not at that level). There seems to be an epidemic of impatience on these message boards. We saw posts that declared Baron Davis an "NBA bust" after about two months in the league. Many posters can't even wait until halftime to jump all over the coach if UCLA falls behind in a game. Criticizing recruiting starts about six months before the first signing date (which is about 3-4 years too early to evaluate a class). Some have already declared this season a failure after a few games.

It's actually a compliment to Lavin that he is always being compared to Hall of Fame coaches like Krzyzewski and Olson. The fair comparison is with his contemporaries - young coaches in high pressure situations at schools with an outstanding academic and championship basketball tradition: Doherty at UNC, Davis at Indiana and Amaker at Michigan. You certainly won't see him compared with the other Pac-10 coaches like Kent, Braun, Bender and Bibby, because they haven't come close to his accomplishments . . . and Montgomery, with relatively undemanding fans, had a leisurely 10 years to build a program. In fact, the best comparison might be with the other post-Wooden UCLA coaches. Lavin has positive qualities that have been lacking in every one of them:

Unlike Gene Bartow , Lavin handles fan criticism with humor and grace.

Unlike Gary Cunningham , Lavin wants to be a basketball coach, not an administrator.

Unlike Larry Brown , Lavin won't bolt at the first NBA offer.

Unlike Larry Farmer , Lavin gets national blue chip recruits.

Unlike Walt Hazzard , Lavin makes the NCAA tournament every year.

Unlike Jim H*rr*ck , Lavin doesn't lose in first or second round of the NCAA tournament 63% of the time.

Some say the problem is that Lavin lacked the qualifications to become UCLA's coach. Maybe the problem is that there are no qualifications to become UCLA fans. No dues to pay, no requirements to contribute anything to the program. Anyone can just declare himself a UCLA fan and then fire away . . . and thanks to the Internet, fire away all day, every day.

At one extreme are the fans that unconditionally root for UCLA and always support the players, coaches and administrators . . . and when they lose, are disappointed. They are offended at any criticism leveled upon the players and coach no matter how valid and will always defend them. At the other extreme are those who want . . . make that need to win so badly, that when UCLA loses, they get angry and look for someone to blame - Lavin. (And then there are those of us who are UCLA fans, but basketball purists . . . after a game, we can't decide how to feel until we see the box score.) That's why most of the message board posts tells one tons more about the psyche of the posters than anything about Lavin's coaching.

The bottom line on all of this is that all the debate that goes on here is largely irrelevant. Steve Lavin will decide his own future. If he is as bad a coach as some claim, then sooner or later his team will have a season that convinces most of us that he should not be the coach at UCLA. If they are wrong, then he will have the kind of year that convinces most of us that his team can compete for the national championship. And if he just continues at the same level, everyone should realize that our program is still better off than the vast majority of programs in the country.

NCAA championships not an important measure of coaching excellence

Posted by B..B on April 17, 2001 at 13:48:23

Although I'd like to think all of my posts are premium, I will never require that you pay to read them (although voluntary donations will be gladly accepted).

Enter credit card # here -->

This is the first in a series of posts evaluating how UCLA's accomplishments under Lavin rate in the context of recent college basketball history.

Here is one of the comments I've seen floating around on the message boards recently:

Lavin has to prove himself by winning a national championship.

If we can all agree that being selected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is a measure of coaching excellence (although I'm sure there are a few of the negative spinners who will look at the list of

Hall of Famers

and identify some as "bad coaches"), then these numbers indicate that NCAA championships are not much of a factor in making the Hall.

There are 39 members of the Hall of Fame that were chosen on the basis of major college coaching careers. Two of them, John Wooden and Adolph Rupp won multiple championships. Here are the number of NCAA championships won/years coached since 1939 (the year of the first official NCAA tournament) for the rest of them. I could have just presented an average, but seeing each coach's record individually is quite eye-opening:


You might think that at least these coaches probably have gone to a lot of Final Fours. Not exactly. All of the above have gone to an average of one FF every 13 years. (And if you exclude Dean Smith, the average increases to one every 15 years.)

Of the current coaches who have been nominated for the HOF, the numbers look similar. For every Krzyzewski, who has won three championships in 25 years, there is an Olson with one in 27 or a Tarkanian with 1/30 or a Chaney with none.

There are also about 15 coaches who have won NCAA championships who are not now and never will be in the Hall of Fame (do the initials JH ring a bell?). In fact, instead of validating H*rr*ck as a coach, winning the championship might have proved the opposite. He got so wrapped up in the delusion that he had proved his critics wrong, he chose to rest on his laurels instead of working twice as hard to maintain that level. The numbers prove that it's harder to stay on top than to get there. From 1985 (when the tournament went to 64 teams) to 1999, 12 of the 14 champions failed to make the Sweet Sixteen within two years. (It may be 13 of 15 by next year as Michigan State has been gutted by graduation and early deaprtures.)

While it may be unlikely that Lavin will ever make the Hall of Fame, it seems that being consistently good over a long period of time is valued more than a few great years. Thus, in the long run, making the Sweet Sixteen almost every year may be more indicative of his worth than winning a championship or two.

If UCLA never wins another championship, it won't bother me a bit. I am lucky enough to have experienced more championships in just my four undergraduate years than 98% of college basketball fans of other schools will experience in their lifetime. Those of you who are not quite as old and may be disappointed and perhaps even a little bitter you weren't around then should consider this: Since Wooden won his first championship, only 17 of the 108 schools in major conferences have won one. Thus, any UCLA fan old enough to remember 1995 (over the age of 12 . . . although sometimes I get the feeling that some of the posters on these message boards aren't) has experienced more national championships than fans of over 80% of all major conference schools. (The argument that not all of the 108 majors really has a chance to win it doesn't fly. Except for perhaps the service academies, if schools like UNLV or Villanova or UTEP or Marquette can win one, most any school can.) Sometimes, you just have to look at the big picture.

Some will claim to be happy with "a couple of championships every ten years". Of course they will be happy with the two championships, but that doesn't mean they won't be unhappy with the other eight years. We already know this to be true. I didn't hear a single person say "Oh sure, losing to Princeton was OK because we already won the whole thing last year." In fact losing in the first round was worse than it would have been otherwise because we were defending champions. Face it, any decent team that doesn't win the NCAA championship (or the NIT) will end their season with a loss. I imagine that the screaming on these boards would be even louder had we made the Final Four and then blew a 20-point lead like Maryland did, than it was for not making it that far to begin with. Every success just sets you up for failure at a higher level. Those who dwell on the failures will always find something to gripe about.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to win a national championship every year. But thinking that the failure do so means a bad season is stupid. Each year is not an all or nothing proposition. They all have their ups and downs, and if there are enough good moments, then it should be viewed as satisfactory, if not a great success. This past season, we had the upset of #1 Stanford (if you are #1, you can never pull off an upset), the win over Arizona, the two NCAA wins and the sweep of USC as highlights. What could be better than going to the Sports Arena and sitting with a friend from USC in their section among Trojan fans who expected an easy win, as I did, and then have my friend stomp out in disgust with two minutes left? (Priceless!) I found plenty to enjoy about the season and I feel sorry for those who couldn't because they were too caught up in the debate over Lavin and were conflicted wanting Lavin to fail but the team to do well.

Those who say Lavin will never win a championship are probably right. Because he can't coach? No. It's because the odds of any coach winning a championship are not great. Consider that since Wooden won his first 37 years ago, only 22 different coaches have won national championships. If Lavin never wins one, but has a Hall of Fame career, I will be very satisfied.

At this point, I can guess what some of you are thinking: There is a big gap between making Sweet Sixteens and winning national championships. Lavin doesn't have to win a NC, but he should be doing a lot better. In my next posts, I will discuss the importance and significance of the regular season and making multiple Sweet Sixteens.

Sweet Sixteens not an unimportant measure of coaching excellence

Posted by B..B on April 18, 2001 at 16:10:59

First, let me present the following analogy:

Say every coach in the country takes a class. The professor gives a difficult final and gives out grades as follows:

Coach K gets an A.

Izzo gets a B.

Lavin gets a C.

Everyone else gets a D or an F.

Now the pro-Lavs will say Lavin did better than every coach except Krzyzewski and Izzo. The anti-Lavs will say "so what, he still only got a C". That seems to be the argument over the significance of making Sweet Sixteens in four of five years.

My last post discussed national championships. This post will discuss the significance of making multiple Sweet Sixteens in the context of modern college basketball.

OK, so UCLA doesn't have to win the championship, but they should be one of the schools that contend for it every year.

That is an illusion. Except for Duke (they seem to be an exception to everything), there are no perennial championship contenders. If UCLA is not the best team in the country, then there are always other teams that are better. The catch to it is that these are not the same teams every year. Right now it's Duke or Michigan State or Arizona. A few years ago it was Kentucky or Connecticut or Utah. In the early 1990's it was Arkansas or Michigan or North Carolina. In the 1980's it was Louisville or Georgetown or Kansas. Where are these programs today? Most have been a lot worse off than us during the last five years.
A statistical Time-Series analysis of tournament performance since 1985 (the first year of the 64 team tournament) indicates a 3-4 year cyclical pattern of success followed by one or more years of rebuilding. This makes perfect sense as a core of "winning" players passes through a program. Connecticut is the best example. Here are their number of tournament wins each year since 1989: 0-3-2-1-0-2-3-2-0-3-6-1-0. Michigan State is most likely on the downside of a four-year cycle with all the losses from graduation and early draft entry. Duke's up cycles last longer and their down cycles are shorter than most schools.

OK, then why can't we be like Duke?

Simple. Duke has the best coach in America. They have him. We don't (nor does anyone else). Get over it. We had one once. Lots of schools wanted to be like us. Nobody could be. Ditto for Duke.

OK, but all the above teams you mentioned have reached the Final Four. What's the big deal about just making the Sweet Sixteen by beating double digit seeds.

As I have said before, if making the S16 is so easy, then why do only sixteen teams make it every year (out of the approximately 100 teams that have made it at least once in the last 20 years)? If you have an excellent regular season you are going to be playing a low seed in the first round, and if a double digit seed upsets a single digit seed to get to play you, then it stands to reason that they were the better team anyway.

Consider for a moment how difficult it is to prepare a team for first and second round games for a school like UCLA. The coach finds out who their first round opponent will be late Sunday afternoon. Typically it will be a smaller school from another part of the country that he doesn't know much about. Sunday night and Monday morning are spent gathering information on this team. There is time for one real practice on Monday afternoon. Tuesday is spent traveling across country. Wednesday, there are all kinds of distractions with press conferences, interviews, a short workout open to the public and maybe taking finals. Then the game is played on Thursday. Your opponent usually has less distance to travel, no classes to worry about, has seen you play on TV, has the crowd behind them, and in direct contrast, has nothing to lose and everything to gain by beating you. If you win, you have one day to prepare for the second round opponent. Third round opponents are usually major teams that you have been watching all year like Duke or Kentucky and thus easier to prepare for. Give a coach some credit for preparing his team on short notice.

You have to win the first two rounds to have a chance to go further. This is not as easy as it sounds. We all know about the many top teams who are derailed early. Since 1985 when the tournament went to 64 teams, double digit seeds have won an average of about 9 games per year. But it is also a fact that the early round games can often be the toughest games. Ask Maryland and Florida, who escaped first round games by the slimmest of margins the last two years and went on to the Final Four. In fact of the last 32 Final Four teams, 12 of them (38%) had their closest game of the four they won to get there in the first or second round. Should we diminish the achievement of Michigan State this year because they beat a #16, a #9, a #12 and a #11 seed on the way to the Final Four?

But UCLA always makes the Sweet Sixteen and then loses badly in the next round. That indicates they are not capable of getting any further.

Now I analyze statistics for a living (albeit a meager one) and there is only one trend I detect here: Lavin is damn unlucky. UCLA's three third round losses and one 4th round loss were more due to an unfortunate draw than bad coaching. In 1997 they ran into [vacated], who was guilty of the worst kind of cheating. In 1998, they drew Kentucky, who pretty much crushed everyone on the way to the national championship. Without Baron Davis, they had little chance to beat anyone, anyway. In 2000, they played Iowa State, arguably the seond best team in the country, but had they won, would have had to face eventual national champion Michigan State. This year, of course, it was another strong national champ, Duke. For you mathematically challenged out there, the probability of having the eventual national champ in your region is one in four. The probability of having them in your region three out of four years is less than 5%. Could UCLA have gone further with a different draw? Considering that we were 4-2 against three Elite Eight teams this year, this would have been a distinct possibility. Lavin's team is already playing high quality defense. Only Temple held Duke to fewer points all season. Maybe they haven't been a championship contender, but with a little luck, certainly Elite Eight or Final Four material. If they make the S16 most years, then a favorable draw will come along at some point.

The large margin of the losses is irrelevant. Sometimes it takes a bad loss one year to provide the impetus for tournament success the next. How about UCLA getting destroyed by Tulsa in 1994 or UCLA blowing away Maryland last year? In fact, every year since 1986, one of the Final Four teams was knocked out of the tournament (or didn't even make the tournament) the previous year by a double digit score.

Getting knocked out early means little in the long run. Since 1985, 49% of all Final Four teams lost in the first or second round or failed to make the tournament the previous year. Eight of 16 champions lost in the second round or earlier within the previous two years.

I examined the pattern of tournament success for the 28 schools who have made at least three S16's since 1985. All the coaches who have made at least three S16's can be classified into one of the following categories:

LEGENDS - won multiple championships and go deep into the tournament most years: Krzyzewski and Dean Smith. (Sub-category) Tarnished Legends - achieved legend status, but stayed too long: Knight and Crum.

MULTI-PEAKERS (M-P) - had more than one cycle of success at a high level (Elite Eights, Final Fours and/or a championship): Olson, Boeheim, Roy Williams, Tarkanian, Richardson, Calhoun.

SINGLE-PEAKERS (S-P) - had one cycle of success sandwiched between mostly unremarkable years: Majerus, Huggins, Thompson, Harrick, Montgomery, Tubby Smith.

PLATEAU (P)- consistantly good, but never reaches high level: Keady, Chaney, Sutton, Gary Williams.

YOUNG GUNS - have made at least three Sweet Sixteens, but haven't been coaching long enough to form a pattern: Izzo, Lavin.


Some of the above could have arguably been placed in a different category and I may have forgotton someone.

Some of the S-P will probably move up into the M-P group in another few years.

The YOUNG GUNS category does not include Doherty, Donovan, Eusatchy or others who haven't made three S16's yet. Also note that there have been hundreds of other coaches who have not made three Sweet Sixteens.

This only takes into account NCAA tournament results.

Clearly, we would prefer a coach who falls into one of the first two categories. If Lavin continues his current pattern, it is clear he will be in the P category. Izzo may become an S-P if he fails to continue his current pattern. Note that all the legends made their first Final Four in their first 4-7 years at a major school. The M-P's ranged from 3-11 years until their first FF, with an average of about 9-10 years. Therefore, Lavin needs about another five years before a valid judgement can be made of how he compares to these other coaches. But almost everyone in the above list is an excellent coach, so Lavin is off to a good start.

In my next post, I will discuss the significance of first round losses and the regular season.