Skip to main content

Overachievers, Underachievers

Perception is reality. Over the last 10 years, these eight are the nation’s biggest ...


Boston College
The Data:
Boston College’s record over the past 10 years might surprise even the most knowledgeable college basketball observers. The Eagles have made the NCAA Tournament seven times and have a record of 94–66 in league games playing in arguably the two toughest conferences in the nation. They went 54–26 in the Big East (’01-05) and are 40–40 since joining the ACC prior to the ’05-06 season.

Reasonable Expectations: BC has a decent basketball tradition, but the Eagles made the NCAA Tournament only three times from 1986-2000. The school has a nice on-campus facility, but the 8,606-seat Conte Forum is rarely filled to capacity and lacks a big-time atmosphere when the opponent is not named Duke or North Carolina. Don’t expect more than three or four NCAA Tournaments out of Boston College over the next 10 years.

Mississippi State
The Data:
Mississippi State has been the top program in the SEC West over the last 10 years, compiling a 92–68 record in league play with five division titles. Alabama is next on the list with an 82–78 record. The Bulldogs have been to the NCAA Tournament six times since 2001 but have not advanced past the second round, despite being a No. 2 seed in 2004 and a No. 3 seed in ’02.

Reasonable Expectations: Mississippi State had a good run in the late 1950s and early ’60s under Babe McCarthy, but the program was a non-factor in the SEC from the late ’60s through the early ’90s. State has solid support when the team is winning and a decent in-state recruiting base, but conventional wisdom suggests that both Arkansas and LSU, and probably even Alabama, should be winning at a higher level than MSU in the SEC West.

The Data:
  Pittsburgh has been to the NCAA Tournament nine straight seasons after making it only six times in the first 16 years after the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Panthers have been a top-4 seed seven times during this span, including the school’s first-ever No. 1 seed in 2009. Over the past 10 seasons, Pitt’s record in Big East play is an astounding 116–50 with only one losing record — 7–9 in 2001.

Reasonable Expectations: Pittsburgh had a solid basketball program prior to Ben Howland’s arrival in 1999, but even the most optimistic Panther fan could not have expected so much success over the past decade. This is a program that should be a regular NCAA Tournament participant and in the hunt for an occasional Big East crown, but there is no doubt that 116 Big East wins and nine NCAA Tournament appearances in a 10-year stand constitutes overachievement.

Utah State
The Data:
The numbers that Stew Morrill has compiled over the past 10 years are staggering: 251–80 overall and 128–40 in league play (Big West, ’01-05; WAC, ’06-10). Over the last decade, his teams have averaged over 25 wins per season, and only one time, in ’07, have the Aggies won fewer than 11 conference games. They have played in the NCAA Tournament six times (with only one win) and the NIT four times.

Reasonable Expectations: Utah State has a solid tradition in basketball, but the record over the past 10 years is extremely impressive. Keep in mind that this school is a distant third behind Utah and BYU on the food chain in its own state. Granted, the competition isn’t always fierce, but 25 wins per seasons is quite an accomplishment.

Virginia Tech
The Data:
The early part of the decade wasn’t kind to Virginia Tech (17–47 record from ’01-04 in the Big East), but the Hokies have been consistently strong since moving to the ACC prior to the 2004-05 season. Over that span, only three teams in the conference have had a better record in league play — North Carolina, Duke and Maryland. Virginia Tech, perpetually on the bubble, has made it to only one NCAA Tournament despite winning at least eight ACC games four times.

Reasonable Expectations: Let’s be honest: There were no expectations for Virginia Tech basketball when the school made the move to the ACC. This was all about football. But the basketball program has more than held its own in the mighty ACC, with a 48–48 record in league games over that span. And as long as Seth Greenberg is in charge, Hokie basketball should remain relevant in the nation’s most prestigious league.

West Virginia
The Data:
West Virginia has been a consistent winner in the Big East over the past 10 years (83–83 in league play including a 1–15 mark in ’02), but where the Mountaineers have made their mark is in the NCAA Tournament. WVU has earned five NCAA invites (all in the last six seasons) with four trips to the Sweet 16 or beyond. In ’05, under John Beilein, the Mountaineers lost to Louisville in the Regional Finals, and last season, with WVU alum Bob Huggins in charge, they broke through with a trip to the Final Four.

Reasonable Expectations: West Virginia has enjoyed pockets of big-time success in basketball over the years, but the school was not expected to be a major player when it joined the Big East for basketball in the mid-1990s. Any time the Mountaineers are competing with the likes of UConn, Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, etc., for supremacy in league play, it’s fair to say that the program is overachieving.

The Data:
The Badgers won the national title in 1941 but proceeded to make the NCAA Tournament only one time over the next five-plus decades. But since the late 1990s, Wisconsin has been a fixture in the field, with 12 straight appearances dating back to 1999. The Badgers’ run of success in the Big Ten has been quite impressive: Their 116–50 mark is the best over the past 10 years (one win better than Michigan State), and they have won at least 10 league games eight times over that span.  

Reasonable Expectations: Wisconsin was arguably the biggest overachiever of the past 10 years, but the program has reached the point where we need to reassess the expectations. The Badgers have a tremendous home court advantage — they are 170–18 at the 12-year-old Kohl Center — and boast one of the game’s finest coaches in Bo Ryan. They might not recruit at an elite level — UW has signed one McDonald’s All-American (Brian Butch) since 1993 — but the program is hardly lacking in top-flight talent. As long as Ryan is in charge, Wisconsin should remain among the top programs in the Big Ten.

The Data:
Xavier leads all non-Big 6 teams not named Gonzaga with nine NCAA Tournament appearances over the last 10 years. In seven of those seasons, the Musketeers have earned a single-digit seed, including two No. 3s (’03, ’08) and a No. 4 (’09). And unlike Gonzaga, they have enjoyed tremendous success in March, with four trips to the Sweet 16 and two trips to the Elite Eight. The X-Men have dominated the A-10 as well, with a staggering 122–38 (.763) record dating back to the ’01 season.

Reasonable Expectations: Xavier has everything in place — tradition, support, facilities — to win at a high level, but it is still very difficult for any school, let alone a team from outside the Big 6, to win with such consistency. This program has clearly overachieved over the past 10 years.


The Data:
Arkansas was one of the most consistent programs in the nation throughout the 1980s and ’90s, advancing to the NCAA Tournament an amazing 22 times in 25 years from 1977–2001, but the Razorbacks have been quite ordinary — and that is being kind — over the past 10 years. The Hogs are 30 games under .500 in the SEC (65–95) and have made the NCAA Tournament four times, with the high-water mark being a No. 7 seed in 2001.

Reasonable Expectations: Arkansas should be the top program in the SEC West and play in the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis. The Razorbacks have everything in place to be a consistent power — a tremendous home court environment (when the team is playing well), outstanding facilities, tradition (1994 national champions, runners-up in ’95), a national brand and the necessary commitment from the University.

Georgia Tech
The Data:
Paul Hewitt has been the boss at Georgia Tech since the 2000-01 season, and the numbers aren’t pretty — an ACC record of 67–93 with only one winning league record (9–7 in ’03-04). The Jackets have made the NCAA Tournament five times but advanced past the first weekend only one time, in ’04 en route to the national title game. Georgia Tech has not had much trouble attracting elite talent; the school has signed six McDonald’s All-Americans over the past 10 seasons, trailing only Duke and North Carolina among ACC schools. Still, the Yellow Jackets have not been able to win on a consistent basis.

Reasonable Expectations: There is a reason Hewitt has come under fire from Georgia Tech fans in recent years. For a school located in the heart of Atlanta — one of the top talent-producing metro areas in the nation — the Yellow Jackets’ record over the past decade simply is not good enough. Georgia Tech should be in the NCAA Tournament almost every season, and a winning record in league play should not be a once-in-a-decade occurrence.

The Data:
Michigan has played in the NCAA Tournament only one time in the past 10 years, and that was as a No. 10 seed in 2009. That is shocking for a school that won a national championship in 1989 and played in the national title game in both ’92 and ’93. The Wolverines’ 68–98 record in the Big Ten from 2001-10 ranks ninth in the league, ahead of only Penn State and Northwestern.

Reasonable Expectations: There are some issues with Michigan basketball — the facilities are sub-par and support is not great — but this is still one of only 16 programs that can claim a national title in the past 25 years. The school has a strong national brand and can attract top-flight talent from around the country. Michigan should be an NCAA team at least three out of every five years and be a team that is in the top half of the Big Ten standings more times than not.

The Data:
Nebraska is the only school in the Big 12 that has not played in the NCAA Tournament in the past 10 years, and it’s also the only school that has failed to have at least one winning league season over that span. (Colorado has three, Iowa State and Baylor two each.) The Cornhuskers have been competitive at times — they went 7–9 four times and 8–8 once — but have been unable to break through.

Reasonable Expectations: In a classic example of “Be careful what you wish for,” Nebraska fired Danny Nee after the 1999-2000 season ended with an 11–19 overall record and a 4–12 mark in the Big 12. But Nee had guided the Huskers to five NCAA Tournament appearances during an eight-year span in the ’90s, and the school’s record during the first three seasons of Big 12 play was 27–21. Since Nee’s departure, NU is 59–101 in the Big 12 with zero trips to the NCAAs. So what’s reasonable for this program as it moves to the Big Ten? Tough to expect too much success out of a football school with such a weak local recruiting base, but an NCAA Tournament berth every four or five years seems to be a decent goal.

The Data:
Northwestern is the only school in a Big 6 conference that has never appeared in the NCAA Tournament, so the Wildcats have obviously missed the Field of 64/65 in each of the past 10 years. Their Big Ten record since 2001 is 51–115 with only one non-losing season — an 8–8 mark in 2004.

Reasonable Expectations: We’re not asking for much here — one NCAA Tournament appearance every five or 10 years. Maybe a winning record in the Big Ten every once in a while. Is that really too much to ask? Yes, the school has almost no tradition, very little support and faces some academic hurdles, but other prestigious private schools — Duke, Notre Dame, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest — have managed to enjoy varying levels of success.

The Data:
Rutgers has been the worst program in the Big East over the past 10 years, with a record of 44–122 in league games and no appearances in the NCAA Tournament. During this span, the Scarlet Knights have won four or fewer Big East games six times, including two in both ’05 and ’09.

Reasonable Expectations: Rutgers lacks basketball tradition and faces an uphill battle in the brutal Big East, but the school has a tremendous recruiting base in the metropolitan New York area. And unlike Big East brethren St. John’s and Seton Hall, Rutgers has an on-campus facility, the 8,000-seat RAC. So does this mean RU should be an emerging power on the East Coast? No, but the school should at least be relevant in the Big East.

South Carolina
The Data: It’s been a forgettable past 10 years for South Carolina basketball. The Gamecocks have made one trip to the NCAA Tournament, as a No. 10 seed in 2004 — when they scored a total of 43 points in a 16-point loss to Memphis — and have had only one winning season in the SEC, 10–6 in ’09. Their record in the league was 63–97, the worst among Eastern Division schools.

Reasonable Expectations: South Carolina is far from basketball royalty — after all, the school hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973 — but it’s reasonable to expect a major state university that plays in an 18,000-seat arena to: a) make the NCAAs more than one time every 10 years and b) average more than 6.3 conference wins per season.

The Data: The Cavaliers reached the NCAA Tournament 13 times in a 17-year span from 1981-1997 but have basically been irrelevant in the ACC over the past decade. They have made the tournament only two times (’01, ’07) — fewest among the pre-expansion ACC teams — and have a 64–96 record in league games. And here’s a stat that won’t sit well with Virginia faithful: Since joining the ACC six years ago, Virginia Tech has averaged eight league wins per season, while Virginia, with far more tradition, has averaged six.

Reasonable Expectations: Duke and North Carolina are obviously the top two programs in the ACC, but there is no reason Virginia should not be in that second tier of teams that is consistently winning 9-to-11 ACC games per season and advancing to the NCAA Tournament on a regular basis. With a sparkling new facility — which opened for the 2006-07 season — and an outstanding young coach (Tony Bennett), Cavalier basketball should be a factor in the ACC throughout the 2010s.