Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Correlation Between Conference Tournament, Final Four? We Analyze

Can a team win the NCAA National Championship despite losing its  first conference tournament game?

Do Final Four teams tend to be conference tournament winners?

Does a conference tournament early exit actually help a team (re: more rest) or spell March disaster?

Due to the abundance of these questions I took on the unenviable task of looking at every Final Four team since 1999 and charting that team's result in their respective conference tournaments. That's 56 Final Four teams, 55 of which played in a conference tournament. (2001 Arizona didn't play in a conference tournament because the Pac-12 didn't have a tournament from 1991-2001).


Only one thing tends to hold true: No team has lost its first conference tournament game and won the NCAA National Championship. That said, nine teams have reached the Final Four after a first-game exit in their league tourney. However, just one of those nine teams - the 2000 Florida Gators - reached the championship game after losing the first game of its conference tournament.

There were two big surprises: First, only five conference tournament runner-ups reached the Final Four (compared to a combined 24 semifinal and quarterfinal losers). Second, 41 of the 55 teams were either No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in their respective conference tournaments.

What it says is your Final Four "sleepers" are more likely to be under-seeded teams that fared well during the conference season than a team that had a mediocre season and made a little surge in the conference tournament.

Here is the breakdown of results:


It might be worth noting two of those "No. 5 seed or Higher" teams have reached the Final Four the past two seasons (eventual champion UConn in 2011 was the No. 9 seed in the Big East Championship and Louisville was the No. 7 seed in the Big East Championship in 2012).

So, the morel of the story is the expectations for your team in the NCAA Tournament should dictate how much stock you put into a conference tournament. If you think your team is a possible national champ then make sure it wins its first game. If the Final Four is your ceiling then don't sweat a conference tournament loss as much as the experts want you to.

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