The Greatest Program Of All Time: The Ultimate Standard

Today is Coach’s 98th Birthday.

If you are a registered member of Bruin Nation or a regular visitor, I urge you to wish the greatest teacher ever to coach any sports to wish him a Happy Birthday. To put it simply he is lot more than a Coach to the extended family in Bruin Nation. So wish him a Happy Birthday by posting here.

Now speaking of Coach and his program (the UCLA basketball program as it is right now is still his program), I stumbled into a rather amusing series that ran recently on MSNBC couple of weeks ago. As I have been completely wrapped up in tracking details of our football season, I didn’t have the opportunity to take note of this recent series by Mike Miller (a Kansas Graduate) who was doing a countdown of the greatest programs of all time.

Mike penned UCLA at number 4 behind Kentucky, North Carolina, and Kansas (his alma mater). Here was Mike’s (curious) reasoning behind why he didn’t put UCLA at number 1:

UCLA’s place among the elite – college basketball’s elite of Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana – was assured thanks to those titles, but it never again equaled that run under Wooden (who could?). Its basketball fortunes have been uneven ever since, to say nothing of when Wooden first started at UCLA or before him.

The Bruins haven’t suffered in the post-Wooden era. They won it all in ’95 and have been to the last three Final Fours. But that isn’t the same consistency shown by North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas.

To be clear:

Between the 1963-64 and the 1974-75 seasons, UCLA was 335-14 (.9599 win percentage), with 10 titles and 11 final fours.

The rest of the time: the Bruins’ record is 1,311-705 (.6463), with 1 title and 7 final fours. That’s still impressive, but it’s a record more on par with Arkansas (1,473 wins, .6463 %, 1 title and 6 Final Fours), which is a top 20, but not top 5 program.

Get that?  Mike figured out a way to diminish UCLA’s 11 national championships by isolating out the record of the years Bruins didn’t win the NCAA titles!

It gets even more absurd in the comment section to Mike’s article. After getting torched by commenters who methodically called him out on his silly reason, Mike dug himself a deeper hole, by explaining how he came up with his questionable rankings re the greatest programs of all time:

I used 11 categories: wins, win percentage, NCAA titles, Final Fours, NCAA tournament win percentage, NCAA tournament appearances, regular-season conference titles, last time a school missed the NCAAs, recent dominant seasons (years with more than 25 wins), NBA players produced and NIT wins. (I'll post the point totals after I get to No. 1.)

That gives a lot of weight to NCAA tournament success (it's half of the method), but doesn't make anything more important than the other.

After I settled on categories, I ranked schools by how they fared in each category. According to their rank, they received one point. If you ranked lower in a specific category, you took a big hit. Team with the lowest total was No. 1 overall. It would've been easier to assign a numerical value to each category, but I thought this was suitable.

It is the best way to do this? Maybe not. But it certainly wasn't intended to favor one team, just teams that are successful overall and in March.

Well, once again it was his commenters who tore his dubious methodology to shreds. From jd in Los Angeles:

I immediately see at least two problems with your methodology (assuming I understand it correctly).  The first problem (and this is a major one), is that it sounds like you are weighting each of your 11 categories equally.  That's absurd.  Being ranked first in NCAA titles is just as important as being first in NIT wins?  What?!?

Secondly, by assigning points based solely on where a school is ranked within each category, your system does not take into account the magnitude of dominance within that category.  For example, look at the difference between 1st and 3rd place in two different categories: championships and wins.  In championships, UCLA (11) has more than twice as many as 3rd place Indiana (5).  That's a HUGE difference.  In wins, 1st place Kentucky (1966) has only 23 more wins than 3rd place Kansas (1943).  That's less than a two percent difference!  Yet your methodology gives both first place teams and both third place teams the same scores.  That leads to very misleading results.

Gabe in Oakland, CA gave Mike the following lesson on how he used minor data points and ended up missing the major point:

Here's a little brain twister to help you understand why Mikey Boy.  UCLA has 11 titles Kentucky is #2 with 7.  Here's where it gets tricky so follow along now or you might miss the point.  That means that the disparity between #1 and #2 is 4 titles! 4!  4 titles are more than ALL but 2 other schools have ever won! Indiana's 5 (3 of which came in late 30's and early 40's) and UNC's 4 are those two schools.  Of those two, only UNC can even come close to maybe having a claim to historical superiority, but even that is pretty absurd.  UCLA has 7 more titles than UNC which means that the disparity between the Bruins and Tarheels is equal to the TOTAL number of titles for the #2 team all time.  UCLA is so far ahead of everyone else that at the current pace it would take #2 another 60 years to catch UCLA assuming the Bruins don't win another one.  So it's not that National titles are the only metric that matters, it's that UCLA's total is so absurdly dominant that no other statistic is necessary to show who is #1.  

Things like all time wins, conference titles, etc. should be tie breakers, especially because some programs (like UCLA) simply haven't been in existence as long as others.  Tough to be the all time wins leader when other schools have a 35 year head start.

You're using minor data points to prove your major point and selectively ignoring the impact major datapoints (final fours and national titles) for UCLA because their timing doesn't conform to your arbitrary rubric.

Also, you're basically using arbitrary timelines to discount UCLA's titles. Would it have been better if UCLA had won 5 or 6 titles in 33 years (1963-1995)?  I guarantee you that if that was the case, UCLA would be higher in your rankings.  Do you realize how absurd that sounds?  You're basically penalizing them for being so ridiculously dominant that their titles weren't spaced out enough.

And then from Malibu Scott (who was simply on fire in the comment threads):

When you decide to create a "best list" using a number of numerical factors -- which themselves require judgment -- once you are finished you have to step back and see if the final result meets the reality test.  (OK, call it the laugh test.  On either basis, rating UCLA 4th flunks.)

The weight you have given to each factor may or may not be appropriate.  Of course it's your judgment, but once you're done with the statistical matrix you've created you can't be seduced (blinded) by the result.  Ask yourself if UCLA deserves to be 4th.  While some will argue with you about who should be no. 1, I doubt anyone here thinks your final result -- making UCLA 4th -- is a rational result.

How far back did you go?  To 1890?  Did you include a "strength of schedule" factor or did you consider every win the same?  50 years ago, and earlier, there were a lot of "military" teams from various units, and AAU teams playing college teams.  They were awful and college teams slaughtered them.  This was less true on the west coast, more true in the midwest and on the Atlantic seaboard.  Do you see a pattern emerging?  (Remember who won the first NCAA tourney -- Oregon -- a team which played a number of AAU squads but also played real colleges.)

In any event, why don't you go back and look at what you've done and tweak it to meet whatever reality test you think it needs.  We'll all forget about this embarrassment.

Needless to say Mike was thoroughly humiliated for coming up with that absurd list.

There is another important (and some would consider a crucial) criteria Mike conveniently ignored. He did not take into consideration which school has produced most NBA draft picks. Yes, UCLA is at the top of that list (which North Carolina at close second), which we blogged about here and here. One would think that criteria would be considered as a significant one in coming up with the list of greatest college hoops program of all times (it certainly seems to be a big deal by folks who closely follow the movement of talented basketball players from college to the NBA).

We should make something very clear. Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas have had a lot of great teams in last few decades. They clearly belong in the upper echelon of college hoops along with UCLA. However, to put UCLA behind those programs by selectively de-emphasizing the unmatched greatness of Coach John R. Wooden is just laughable. It doesn’t pass the smell test.

Also, does anyone really want to argue that those programs will not trade their record in exchange for the 11 championship banners UCLA has hanging inside the Cathedral of college hoops? Another data point to consider here. The UCLA basketball program is so strong it was able to withstand the total incompetence of a poser head coach such as Steve Lavin and still manage to go to 5 Sweet-16s (I know we don't care about those stats here in Westwood) just based on the power of our program's talent. Can you imagine someone like Lavin being able to replicate that at any other program?

Again, I will just let our head coach explain very slowly what should be considered as the gold standard when it comes to measuring the greatest program of all time:

 
HT to blacjack8484 from Gutty Little Bruins for that priceless clip.

Of course CBH made those comments after he coached his Ben Ball warriors to an Elite Eight victory over Mike Miller’s Kansas Jayhawks two years ago in San Jose.

Anyways, as Coach Howland said "at the end of the day it is all national championships." That should be the gold standard and we can consider other factors after that. People can come up with all the rankings and lists they want while presenting their arguments re. which is the greatest college basketball program of all time. None of those lists will have any shred of credibility, if they deemphasize the championships UCLA won during the reign of Coach Wooden.

Thankfully we have a head coach right now who understands, reveres and guards the unmatched legacy of Coach Wooden (calling himself "the caretaker of John Wooden’s UCLA program"), and is doing everything he can to live up to that gold standard.

With that said ... don't forget to wish Coach Happy Birthday here. That's the least you can to appreciate the man who built in Westwood, what we believe is the greatest basketball program of all time.

Happy Birthday Coach.

GO BRUINS.

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