College basketball is big business, and teams in the NCAA spend accordingly. The Duke Blue Devils topped all schools with $13.8 million spent last year, and the team has averaged expenses of $10.4 million over the last three seasons. But that spending has paid off to the tune of 12 tournament games played in those three years, including a national championship victory in 2010.
But other teams have had a similar level of success at a far lower cost. The best example, and our No. 1 best team for the money, is the Butler Bulldogs. Butler has played in the NCAA National Championship Game in each of the last two years, but the team spent an average of just $2.7 million per season. The Bulldogs failed to qualify for this year's NCAA tournament, but they have demonstrated that a team doesn't need to outspend its opponents in order to outscore them.
To find the most cost-efficient college basketball teams, we averaged each team's expenses over the last three seasons. We limited consideration to those teams that spent at least $1.6 million, the median basketball expenses of all NCAA teams. The best teams for the money are those with the lowest expenses per NCAA tournament game played in the last three years. Average expenses in that time period were $2.5 million, and all but one school on our list, 10th-ranked Saint Mary's, were above that threshold.
Saint Mary's has had the least tournament success of teams on our list, with just three games played since 2009, but the Gaels managed to limit basketball expenses to $2 million per season. The team also aims to improve on that limited success in this year's tournament: the seventh-seeded Gaels face off against Purdue, the fourth-best team for the money, in the first full round. Butler is actually the only team on our list that won't be playing in this year's tournament, though their lead on the rest of the field is so significant that the Bulldogs are likely to stay on top next year.
Three of last year's Final Four appear on our list: Butler, Connecticut (No. 6) and VCU (No. 2). Kentucky, the odd team out, has performed well in the tournament but spends over $9 million on basketball each season. Butler and VCU each kept spending under $3 million, while Connecticut spent an average $7 million in each of the last three seasons, the most by a team on our list. But the Huskies have played in 11 tournament games since 2009, including a championship victory over Butler last year, helping limit their cost-per-game to $669,068.
The second-highest expenses belong to seventh-ranked North Carolina, the other team on our list able to capture a championship in the last three years. The Tar Heels are also the second-most valuable team in college basketball, and are one of four teams that appear both here and on our list of college basketball's most valuable teams. The other three are Ohio State, Purdue and Xavier.
College basketball's best teams for the money: