Friday, March 13, 2009

How Important Is Winning Your Conference Tournament?

In the last few days we've seen many a high seed fall in conference tournaments. Kansas and Oklahoma fell in the Big 12, while UConn and Pitt fell in the Big East, and that's only a few.

The question that must be asked, however, is just how important these tournaments are for a team's national championship hopes. I'm not talking about schools from one-bid conferences, or bubble teams, but rather teams in the top fifteen or twenty teams in the nation that are already guaranteed a spot in the dance.

I took a look back at the last twenty seasons, this season not included, to see how NCAA finalists did in their conferences prior to the season. It turns out that, in this 25 year window, only nine of twenty-two teams that played in a conference with a tournament won that tournament prior to winning the title. Similarly, six of twenty-two runner-ups won their tournament that season.

So in total, only about a third of the finalists from the last 25 seasons have won their conference tournament (when possible) in that same year. It's good to have, but by no means a necessity or a predictor of future successes.

While it seems obvious that regular-season conference championships would be a good predictor of tournament success, since there's at least two dozen games involved, I took a look for that same same of 25 winners and runner-ups.

A notably higher 17 of 25 winners and 12 of 25 runner-ups won at least a share of their conference title for that year, as one would expect. Still, this still means over 40% of finalists didn't win the regular season either.

The last four years, however, have been a bit of a different story. Seven of eight finalists, with the 2005 champion UNC team as the exception, won both a share of the regular season title and the conference tournament.

So, maybe these tournaments are important after all? Do these highly ranked teams with early losses have something to be worried about?

This post also appeared on [BleacherReport]