Butler, Mich. St., WVU get top marks

INDIANAPOLIS -- West Virginia and Butler couldn't beat Duke at the Final Four.

They both finished ahead of the Blue Devils in the classroom.

Three of the men's Final Four teams -- the Bulldogs, Mountaineers and Michigan State -- made the NCAA's list of academic overachievers Wednesday while the national champs were left out.

The biggest surprise on the list: West Virginia, whose coach, Bob Huggins, has repeatedly been criticized for not taking academics seriously. Huggins' Cincinnati teams had a 0.0 graduation rate for several seasons.

"It's a commitment by the athletic department and the university to supply the resources to help the players succeed academically," Huggins said in a statement released by the school. "I commend our guys not only for their performance on the floor but in their academic work in the classroom as well."

NCAA officials annually honor the top 10 percent of teams in each sport and all teams with perfect Academic Progress Rate scores. This year, 841 teams made the list of so-called overachievers, including Oklahoma -- the only women's Final Four team to make the list. Last year, 767 teams were recognized.

The actual scores, which will be released later this spring, cover the fall semester of 2005 through the spring semester of 2009. That means only two of those academic years came during Huggins' tenure. The other two were under John Beilein, who left for Michigan after 2006-07.

Each athlete earns one point per semester for remaining academically eligible and another point each semester for remaining at that school or graduating. A mathematical formula is then used to correlate a team's score, with 1,000 points being perfect.

It is the first time West Virginia made the list in men's basketball, and under Huggins, West Virginia's number improved. Last year, the Mountaineers had a 960. This year, the NCAA said, none of the honorees scored lower than 978.

Just as surprising was not seeing Duke on the list. The Blue Devils had made it each of the past two years.

Teams lose one point if players transfer or leave early for the NBA and a second point if they are not in good academic standing when they leave. Duke had three transfers count against its score during that four-year period, though it doesn't mean the Blue Devils fell below the 925 threshold, which can lead to sanctions for teams with consistently poor scores.

Duke also wasn't the only national champion left off the list. Connecticut, which won the women's basketball title, and Alabama, which won the BCS title game, were also missing.

"Most Division I student-athletes and teams take seriously their dual responsibilities in the classroom and on the court or field of play," interim NCAA president Jim Isch said in a statement. "But every year there is a special category of teams that perform exceptionally well and deserve this noteworthy recognition."

Butler, the national runner-up, joined the academic overachievers for the first time and was one of 13 schools to have their men's and women's basketball teams make the list.

Coach Brad Stevens was not surprised since the school has traditionally not had many players leave the program early, transfer or run into academic problems.

"It's just like having a very good basketball team, you want them to put in the work in the classroom so those guys are prepared for life after basketball," he said. "We want them to be really ambitious and competitive in the classroom, too, and I think anything we do is a direct reflection of the relationship we have with our school leaders. They play a huge role in that, and that's why Butler is such a great story."

North Carolina's men's basketball team extended its run of consecutive appearances on the list to five. The Kansas basketball team, which Roy Williams coached before returning to Chapel Hill, N.C., has made it three consecutive years.

Only eight teams that played in a bowl game or the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs were honored, including the 2008 and 2009 FCS champions, Richmond and Villanova.

Yale led all schools with the most teams on the list (24) for the fourth straight time. Dartmouth was next with 22 and Pennsylvania was third with 20.

The Ivy League had 135 teams make the cut, the most of any conference. The Patriot League was second with 90 teams, followed by the Big East with 70.

Three-hundred nineteen teams have made the list in all five years it has been released by the NCAA.