Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Which conferences succeed in March?

Save for the unfortunate result of the 2008 NCAA Tournament (Foul, Coach Cal, foul!), it seems to me that the Big 12 has struggled in the Big Dance in recent years. Really, the league lacks some punch historically, as only Kansas has won an NCAA title as a Big 7/8/12 member.

This year, the league's teams largely seemed to be seeded lower than expected (or excluded, if you're Colorado). This may be due to some lackluster nonconference schedules, but it may finally give the conference a chance to overachieve in the tournament. If teams play to their seed, the Big 12 would have just two Sweet 16 teams, and one team go to the Elite 8 and beyond (Kansas, the league's standard-bearer).

For some perspective on whether the Big 12 struggling in March is reality or just the product ofalways wanting a bit more, here's a look at which conferences the champions and Final Four participants have come from (based on membership during the tourneys in which the Final Fours and National Titles were achieved):

Last 5 years:
National Champions:
ACC- 2
SEC- 2
Big 12- 1
Final Fours
Big East- 4
ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Pac 10- 3
Big 12, Horizon, Colonial, C-USA- 1

Last 10 years:
National Champions:
ACC- 5
SEC- 2
Big East- 2
Big 12- 1
Final Fours
ACC- 9
Big Ten- 7
Big East, Big 12- 6
Pac 10- 4
Horizon, Colonial- 1

Since 1985 (the 64-65 team tournament era)
National Championships:
ACC- 8
SEC- 5
Big East- 4
Big Ten- 3
Big 8/12- 2
Pac 10- 2
Big West, Metro Conference- 1
Final Fours:
ACC- 24
Big Ten- 18
Big East- 14
SEC- 14
Big 8/12- 12
Pac 10- 9
C-USA- 3
Big West- 3
Horizon, Colonial, WAC, Great Midwest Conference, Metro Conference- 1

(You'll note this adds up two Final Four berths short; two Final Fours in this period have been vacated.)

Some notes: The Big West national title was UNLV in 1990. The Metro Conference national title was Louisville in 1986. Cincinnati earned a Final Four berth when it was a member of the Great Midwest Conference. So the pilgrimage of some schools like Louisville and Cincinnati to the Big East has obviously boosted the league's overall profile: see the Final Fours, last 5 years category.

As for the Big 12 (and 8), the league seems to have a similar track record as the Big Ten over the last quarter century: competitive Final Four totals, lagging behind in national titles. Maybe the top teams in the ACC (and SEC, bizarrely) have been, by and large, a bit better than top-end Big Ten and Big 8/12 teams. Or maybe that's not the case.

But yes, the last six years have been rough for the league in March. Kansas' national title was the conference's only Final Four in this stretch. This six-year run follows a run of five Final Fours in three years from 2002-04 for the Big 12. As always, we'll see how this edition of the Big Dance adds to the numbers and trends.

* * *
And, as a three-pointer for the road, here are the last three national champions for each major conference:

ACC: Duke (2010), North Carolina (2009 and 2005)
Big 12: Kansas (2008, 1988, 1952)
SEC: Florida (2007 and 2006), Kentucky (1998)
Big East: Connecticut (2004), Syracuse (2003), Connecticut (1999)
Big Ten: Michigan State (2000), Michigan (1989), Indiana (1987)
Pac 10: Arizona (1997), UCLA (1995 and 1975)

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