Student Achievement

Who Would Win the 2014 Men’s NCAA Tournament Based on Academics?

By Bryan Toporek — March 18, 2014 4 min read
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If the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was based solely on academic performance, we’d be hearing no shortage of “Rock...Chalk...Jayhawk!” chants across the nation over the coming weeks.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida released its annual report on Monday examining graduation-rate trends for the 68 schools participating in this year’s NCAA tournament.

Unlike in years past, there wasn’t much good news to report this year. The graduation success rate (GSR) for white male basketball student-athletes decreased from 90 percent in 2013 to 89 percent in 2014, while the GSR for African-American male basketball student-athletes remained the same (65 percent). The gap between the graduation rates of white and African-American student-athletes narrowed by one percentage point, dropping from 25 percent in 2013 to 24 percent in 2014.

The report also includes troubling statistics about the Academic Progress Rate (APR), which is a four-year metric that takes into account each student-athlete’s academic standing and retention on the team, of the 68 squads in the field.

As of last school year, teams needed to either achieve a 900 APR average over the past four years (which roughly translates to a 40 percent graduation rate) or a 930 APR average (equivalent to a 50 percent graduation rate) over the past two years to retain postseason eligibility. Starting next season, teams must meet the 930 APR average over four years or average a 940 APR over the past two years to be eligible for the postseason. By the 2015-16 school year, all teams must reach the 930 APR benchmark to be eligible for postseason play.

In this year’s field, seven teams fell below the old 925 APR standard, compared to only three teams in the 2013 tournament. Eight teams fell below an APR of 930—California State University, Northridge, Coastal Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, Oklahoma State University, Providence College, Texas Southern University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Oregon—compared to six last year.

“This year we seemed to be treading water instead of moving ahead,” said Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study and the director of TIDES. “The academic reforms have led to positive change since their passage almost a decade ago. We need to raise the bar and move toward 60 percent being the acceptable standard for the APR.”

Seven schools in this year’s NCAA tournament field—Duke University, Harvard University, the University of Dayton, the University of Kansas, Villanova University, Western Michigan, and Xavier University—touted graduation rates of 100 percent for their men’s basketball players.

The Academic March Madness

Using the APR figures listed for all 68 schools in the TIDES report, I created a March Madness bracket based on academics alone.

In the few cases where both teams had the exact same APR (American University vs. the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the University of Texas vs. Arizona State University; Duke University vs. the University of Michigan; the University of Louisville vs. Duke University), I gave the edge to the school with a better men’s basketball graduation rate.

If the bracket held to academic form, this year would feature the first 16-seed-over-1-seed upset in the history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (Weber State University over the University of Arizona). Other major second-round upsets would include the 14th-seeded Western Michigan Broncos over the third-seeded Syracuse Orange, the 15th-seeded American Eagles over the second-seeded Wisconsin Badgers, and the 13th-seeded New Mexico State Aggies over the fourth-seeded San Diego State Aztecs.

In the round of 32, the eighth-seeded Memphis Tigers would knock off the East’s No. 1 seed, the Virginia Cavaliers, while the ninth-seeded Kansas State Wildcats would do the same to the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, the undefeated Wichita State Shockers.

The Sweet 16 would feature a clash between two of the nation’s most electric scorers, Creighton’s Doug McDermott and BYU’s Tyler Haws, with the latter emerging victorious. BYU would knock off Gonzaga in the next round to move on to an unlikely Final Four berth.

The chalk would hold more to form in the Midwest and South regions, with the South’s top two seeds, Florida and Kansas, clashing in the Elite 8, and perennial college basketball powers Louisville and Duke meeting in the Midwest’s regional final. In the East, the Memphis Tigers would knock off the Villanova Wildcats in the Elite 8.

Based on their respective APRs and GSRs, Kansas and Duke would advance to the national championship game, which would certainly delight college basketball fans and NBA scouts alike. The three star freshmen in the title game—Duke forward Jabari Parker, Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins and Kansas center Joel Embiid—are all expected to be top-five picks in this June’s NBA draft. Ultimately, the Wiggins-Embiid duo would prove too much for Parker’s Blue Devils to handle, and the Kansas Jayhawks would be the 2014 NCAA men’s tournament academic champions.

Given how wide-open this year’s NCAA tournament appears to be, you could do worse than sticking to the academic chalk when filling out your billion-dollar brackets.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.