Where Does Tom Izzo Rank Among Best NCAA Tournament Coaches?

Where Does Tom Izzo Rank Among Best NCAA Tournament Coaches? article feature image
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Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo

  • Tom Izzo is heading to his eighth Final Four with Michigan State.
  • Using the Bet Labs database, we analyze where Izzo ranks among the best coaches in the NCAA Tournament

Michigan State is headed back to the Final Four. This is the eighth time the program has reached the tournament’s final weekend under Tom Izzo since 1999, the most of any coach in the nation over that time period.

Few expected the Spartans to get to Minneapolis. According to ESPN’s Who Picked Whom, only 11.1% of brackets had Michigan State in the Final Four. This is not surprising since Izzo’s team needed to beat top overall seed and tournament favorite Duke in order to get out of the East Region.

In Sunday’s Elite Eight matchup, the Blue Devils were 2.5-point favorites over the Spartans and Mike Krzyzewski had a great track record against Izzo, winning 11 of the previous 12 meetings. But Michigan State was able to overcome the odds and history to upset Duke.

Perhaps the outcome shouldn’t have been surprising as Izzo has a knack for guiding his team to college basketball’s biggest stage. With all of his success, is Izzo the best at coaching in the NCAA Tournament?

One way to find out is to compare Izzo’s actual wins to the number of victories we’d expect based on the betting market. As an example, Michigan State was a +124 underdog to Duke in the Elite Eight. Once you account for the juice, the implied probability of the Spartans winning was 42.9%.

We can repeat this process for every game Izzo has coached in the NCAA Tournament since 2006 using betting data from Bet Labs.

Once we calculate the implied probabilities, we can sum them to get the expected numbers of wins. In Izzo’s case that number is 26.4 victories. Since 2006, the future Hall of Fame coach has gone 29-13 in the tournament, exceeding the betting market’s expectations by 2.6 wins.

How does that compare to other coaches in our database?

To find out, we calculated the expected wins for every coach since 2006 with at least 20 tournament games coached.

Here are the coaches that overperform and underperform in March Madness according to the oddsmakers:

Izzo is tied with Jim Boeheim for the fourth-most wins above expectations since 2006. The Spartans’ head man trails John Beilein, Billy Donovan and John Calipari in expected wins.

Beilein is the best of the bunch, winning 6.3 more games in the tournament than the odds suggest. The secret to his success is taking care of business against weaker competition. Beilein is 9-1 straight up in games that he is a -200 or greater favorite. The odds put Beilein’s record at 5-5 in those games.

For comparison, Izzo has been a -200 or greater favorite in 20 tournament games since 2006. Michigan State has won 15 of those games against an expected win total of 15.1, with losses to Syracuse (-645 favorite) and Middle Tennessee State (-3000 favorite).

The bottom of the standings includes some future Hall of Famers. Tony Bennett has underperformed by 1.7 wins in the tournament. Look no further than Virginia’s loss to 16-seed UMBC one year ago.

Coach K’s teams are almost always the betting favorites in the NCAA Tournament given the program’s long track record of success. But Duke has the most losses in the tournament as a favorite since 2006, including some awful performances against Lehigh in 2012 (-760 favorite) and Mercer in 2014 (-1200 favorite).

Rick Barnes has struggled in the tournament, losing every game as an underdog. Jamie Dixon is 10-1 as a favorite of -250 or greater but 0-9 in all other games when the odds would suggest he should have won at least 4.9 of those matchups.

Izzo isn’t the best coach in our database based on expected wins, but if Michigan State cuts down the nets in Minneapolis it would push him further up the list.

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