How do we judge a post-season coach? In any one given year, of course, the goal is to win the tournament. Over time, we could judge by championships, or bad beats, or even specific coaching decisions that are memorable to the fans.
Another way to judge is by expected wins. Using simple expected win probabilities and the structure of a tournament, we can calculate the number of expected wins for a given seed in a tournament. For example, consider a 1 seed in a standard format 8 team tournament. We can give the team an 80% chance of beating the 8 seed in round 1, then a cumulative 70% chance of advancing past the semifinals (against seed 4 or seed 5), and a 60% chance of winning the championship game (based on various chances of meeting & beating any of 2/3/6/7). The average number of games this 1 seed would win in the tournament would be 1.7
While the MAC currently features a number of head coaches who are young, or at least new to the MAC, three MAC coaches have been in the league long enough to garner a good sample size for analysis. Let's have a look:
Keith Dambrot, Akron
Coach Dambrot's postseason record is superb since he first attended the MAC tournament as Akron's head coach in 2005. First, note that Dambrot's Akron teams have never lost their first conference tournament game. Even if the teams were 80% likely to win each of those games, the chance of winning nine straight would be only about 15%. Second, Dambrot and the Zips have won three of the last five tournaments, an amazing feat in any Division I basketball conference. Finally, Dambrot's cumulative win expectation over those nine years is 11.2 wins. Actual total: 19 wins. That's a spectacular record of postseason achievement that must be considered when looking ahead to MACrch.
Steve Hawkins, Western Michigan
Coach Hawk has coached in the last 10 MAC tournaments, as he is the sitting Dean of MAC head coaches. Only once (in 2009) did the Broncos lose their conference tournament opener - a 90% first game win rate is pretty terrific. Despite a string of regular season successes that have put the Broncos in decent seedings over the years Hawkins has never won the postseason tournament, and that's a knock against. His teams would have been expected to accrue 12.3 wins on average, and he's garnered 13. This is a reasonably complete picture of what to expect from Hawkins' horses in the postseason - playing just about exactly as expected.
Louis Orr, Bowling Green
Sorry, coach Orr. Someone has to be the poster child for underachievement, and you're looking fine today. The Falcons have managed only two wins in Orr's six years at the helm in Bowling Green, and have been home upset victims in the opening round (on campus) in each of the past two years. Based on their seeds in those six years, the Falcons' expected win total should have been six. It's two. Jinkies, coach, that's terrible. Bettors: take note. Falcons fans: avert your gaze.
Notable changes this week
- Buffalo's gain is Western Michigan's loss, as the two swap places in the all-important 4/5 slots and Buffalo gets the double bye.
- Both Akron and Toledo lose Saturday to open up the contest for the top 2 seeds. Akron / Toledo / Ohio are 1-1 against each other, but Toledo hangs on to the top seed on the strength of a win over Buffalo. Akron then hangs on to #2 based on its head-to-head win over Ohio.
- Northern Illinois wins twice on the road (and who saw that coming?) to hurdle Ball State and Kent State into the 9 seed.
What the MAC tournament would look like if played today:
12 Central Michigan @ 5 Western Michigan
2014 head-to-head: Weren't you paying attention Saturday? The Broncos tried to run away with an early 20 point lead, but the Chips came all the way back and led with under 5:00 to play. WMU pulled it out in the end. The rematch is the last weekend of the season in Mount Pleasant, which would make this two games in a row for the west rivals.
Prediction: Perfectly happy to consider taking CMU against the spread in this one - the Chips continue to keep games close. But realistically, they're not going to win.
11 Ball State @ 6 Miami
2014 head-to-head: Miami went to Muncie on January 18th and came away with its first conference win.
Prediction: Ball State has played a couple of quasi-decent conference games. At home. The woeful Cardinals may barely show up. It's a blowout win for the pumped up RedHawks, who certainly didn't come into conference play expecting a home tournament game.
10 Kent State @ 7 Eastern Michigan
2014 head-to-head: These two meet in Ypsilanti next Saturday, February 8th.
Prediction: The Eagles can't seem to string together wins this year, and more and more look destined for a truly middling finish. They do play well at home and will be too much for a talented but inconsistent and disappointing Golden Flash squad.
9 Northern Illinois @ 8 Bowling Green
2014 head-to-head: NIU started its current string of road successes in conference (3-1, 4 straight covers against the spread) with a 45-36 win against these Falcons on January 12th.
Prediction: You saw the intro above about Orr, and you know the Huskies have been tough on the road. Yeah that's right - they do it again in dramatic fashion. Orr bids adieu to the MAC as his team bows out for the third straight year at home in round 1.
9 Northern Illinois vs. 5 Western Michigan
2014 head-to-head: Still 2 games to go for these two, February 9th and March 4th.
Prediction: The Broncos were winless in road games pre-conference. They've beaten Miami and Kent State on the road, but lost by 20 at Eastern Michigan and Buffalo. I know I'd take the Huskies to cover the spread; the question is if I think they can win in the upset. Oh hell with it. Absolutely. NIU with the shocker.
7 Eastern Michigan vs. 6 Miami
2014 head-to-head: Another rematch of this weekend's action, as Miami rallied in the second half to win a close one against the Eagles.
Prediction: Like I said above, the Eagles just can't seem to string wins together. For a team that plays such great team defense, the results of all their individual talent just haven't added up to team results that suggest a deep tournament run. The RedHawks have the "nobody believed in us" thing going - they take a terrific game to move on.
5 Western Michigan vs. 4 Buffalo
2014 head-to-head: The Bulls destroyed the Broncos on January 29th in a game hardly as close as the 20 point final margin.
Prediction: If asked about either of these teams individually, I'd answer absolutely do not trust either away from home. However, a rarely quoted tournament regulation states that someone actually has to win. Shayne Whittington comes up small again as Will Regan and Javon McCrea throw down repeatedly. Bulls by a dozen.
6 Miami vs. 3 Ohio
2014 head-to-head: These two rivals will face off on February 8th in Athens, then again March 8th in Oxford.
4 Buffalo vs. 1 Toledo
2014 head-to-head: If you don't remember the Juice Brown buzzer-beater on January 15th, go check it out right now. Great game.
Prediction: Buffalo lays an egg in a highly anticipated rematch. Toledo runs up and down the court and Buffalo's guards go cold in an effort to keep up. Rockets roll by 20.
6 Miami vs. 2 Akron
2014 head-to-head: Miami went to Akron and lost by 7 on January 15th. Rematch pending February 26th.
Prediction: Keith Dambrot brings his stellar record to the Q, and gets shocked in a memorable semifinal. I really think Akron's ball-handling could get totally exposed against a more organized and confident RedHawk club. Despite 28 turnovers, Akron keeps it close with a late barrage of threes, but Miami comes away with the win.
6 Miami vs. 1 Toledo
2014 head-to-head: Toledo went to Oxford on January 29th and won by 13.
Prediction: Miami's magical run ends with a thud as offensive woes beset the young and nervous RedHawks before a packed house in Cleveland. Toledo rolls to a comfortable victory and on to a 13 seed in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately their defensive woes are exposed by the talented 4 seed Cincinnati, and for the second straight year, a MAC champion is blown out in their first game at the big dance.