NCAA Football fans were up in arms about Alabama making it to the BCS title game when they didn’t win their own conference championship. I wondered, is winning a conference championship a leading indicator of winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?

Methodology

I looked at the 64+ tournament era (since 1985) to see how many teams that won the NCAA Tournament also won their conference championship. For conferences with a tourney, I used those results, and for conferences that didn’t have a tournament at the time, I used final regular season records.

I then did a separate analysis for teams that won either the conference tournament championship or regular season championship.

Results: Winning the conference tournament matters, but not as much as I thought it would

56% of NCAA tournament champions won their conference tournament (or regular season if there was no tournament). However, that still leaves 44% of teams that didn’t win their conference tournament, but managed to put 6 wins together in the NCAA tournament.

I was a bit surprised by the result. I thought that teams that conference tournaments were great indicators of success in the NCAA tournament. But, teams that lose their conference tournament shouldn’t be counted out.

However, 85% of NCAA tournament champions have won either the conference regular season or tournament

Looking at conference championship and regular season combined appears to be the better indicator of success. 85% of NCAA Tournament champs won either one.

Even more telling: No team in the past 14 years has won the NCAA Tournament without winning either their conference tournament or regular season

Implications for this year’s NCAA tournament

In the 2012 NCAA Tournament, there are a few teams you’ll need to avoid crowning the champion if they don’t win their conference tournament:

  • Duke: While they had a great season and may still clinch a #1 seed, they’re 2nd in the ACC. Unless they make a run in the ACC Tournament, stay away
  • Missouri: They fell 2 games back in the Big 12, so don’t count on them to have a resurgence in the NCAA Tournament
  • Wisconsin and Indiana: The Big 10 is stacked this year, and even though there was a 3-way tie at the top, Wisconsin and Indiana fell short.
  • Florida: You have no business picking an NCAA Tournament Champion out of the SEC that is not Kentucky
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