The Importance of Winning Conference Tournaments

Rob FitzContributor IMarch 13, 2009

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

The question that must be asked—how important are these tournaments 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 15 or 20 teams in the nation that are already guaranteed a spot in the dance.

I took a look back at the last 20 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 22 teams that played in a conference with a tournament won that tournament prior to winning the title. Similarly, six of 22 runner-ups won their tournament that season.

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 success.

It seems obvious that regular-season conference championships would be a good predictor for tournament success. I took a look at 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 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.

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

Let's hear your thoughts.