Let’s Talk Improvement


Every so often, I come across a new idea or stat that captures my interest, and I dig in deeper than I had expected to. In this instance, I had the idea to take the average of the year-to-year difference in a team’s overall rating, to get an idea of which way the team was trending. I came up with the idea for football first, but then, being an Iowa fan, my interest for basketball was piqued by the thought of seeing how well Fran McCaffery ranked in this category. McCaffery, of course, took over an Iowa basketball program in ruins and has begun to turn it around in his first three years on the job. It was with that observation in mind that I wanted to see what the numbers say.

On this site, “Improve” is a stat looks at what I just stated above for the past five seasons. In essence, it’s the average improvement a team has shown from year-to-year over the past five years. A five year trend, if you will. And, unsurprisingly, Iowa came in at #32 in year-to-year improvement over the last five seasons. However, as I stated above, McCaffery has been on the job for three seasons and not five. And, before Fran took over in Iowa City, Todd Lickliter was in the midst of running the program off a cliff. So, what happens if we just erase the Lickliter years from the sample, similar to the way most Iowa fans wish they could do to the memory of his tenure in Iowa City? Let’s find out.

Below, are the top 25 teams in year-to-year improvement over the last three seasons:

Ranking Team Total+ 3 Yr. Improve
1 Indiana 112 106
2 Bryant 93 105
3 Southern 96 105
4 North Carolina Central 94 104
5 Bucknell 105 104
6 Gardner Webb 97 103
7 Florida Gulf Coast 99 103
8 Florida 114 103
9 North Dakota St. 95 103
10 Iowa 106 103
11 Wagner 96 103
12 Colorado St. 107 103
13 Santa Clara 101 103
14 Toledo 98 103
15 Michigan 112 103
16 Creighton 108 103
17 Louisville 114 103
18 Alcorn St. 89 103
19 Denver 103 103
20 Middle Tennessee 105 103
21 Air Force 101 103
22 Northwestern St. 32 103
23 Stetson 107 103
24 North Dakota 107 103
25 NJ Inst of Technology 93 103

Note: Confused? Check the glossary.

I added each team’s strength-of-schedule-adjusted overall rating just to reference how good a team has been during these last three years. I mean, there’s clearly a difference between Indiana and the New Jersey Institute of Technology…

Looking over the list, the numbers are pretty interesting. Unsurprisingly, Indiana under Tom Crean has made the most improvement over the past three seasons. In that span of time, Indiana’s overall team rating has improved by an average of 6% every season. Florida has also come on strong over the past couple of years, while Michigan under Beilein and Creighton under McDermott have also looked very solid. Of course, I can’t dismiss last year’s national champion, in Louisville. And, the fact that Florida Gulf Coast is on the list, is also something interesting to keep in mind for USC fans, as Andy Enfield is now their head coach. Meanwhile, other non-listed notable rankings are Arizona at #27, Gonzaga at #30, and Oregon at #34.

Most important to the point of me conducting this exercise, though, is the fact that McCaffery’s Hawkeyes come in at #10 since he made the move from Siena. Over his first three seasons on the job, Iowa has averaged 3% of improvement in their overall rating every year. In other words, the numbers match what people have seen. I keep looking for something to temper my expectations for Fran, but I have yet to find anything. Sure, three years is not a huge sample size, but the Big Ten is a damn tough conference, and so far Fran has proved to be up to the challenge.

Bonus: Top 25 Least Improved Teams Over the Last Three Seasons

Ranking Team Total+ 3 Yr. Improve
1 Old Dominion 102 95
2 IUPUI 96 95
3 Siena 96 95
4 Mississippi St. 101 95
5 Cornell 98 96
6 West Virginia 107 96
7 Grambling 83 96
8 The Citadel 91 96
9 Texas Tech 98 97
10 Portland 98 97
11 East Tennessee St. 99 97
12 Wisconsin Milwaukee 99 97
13 Hofstra 97 97
14 Texas 109 97
15 Virginia Tech 105 97
16 Wofford 100 97
17 Marshall 102 97
18 Furman 95 97
19 Missouri St. 103 97
20 Rhode Island 100 97
21 Florida St. 107 97
22 Utah St. 105 97
23 Clemson 106 97
24 Texas A&M 105 97
25 Appalachian St. 96 97

Notice how Siena made the top 25 least improved teams over the last three seasons…


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