We hear so much talk about the strongest basketball conferences each year from the talking heads that I thought I would actually take a numerical look at the past 10 and 25 year periods. While there are many ways to measure success, the one clear objective measure that everyone agrees on is success in the NCAA tournament. I chose to measure the number of teams each conference put into the Final Four over the period of time in question.
[edit 10-21-07 - Reader poll results for 3rd best conference voting; 43% Big East, 32% SEC, 21% PAC-10 and 2% Big 12.]
Note: Several Final Four teams have jumped from one conference to another but in order to keep the statistics as accurate to the conferences success for that year, I have credited the conference for which that team played in the year in question.
First the facts -- here are the number of final four teams by conference for the period indicated.
Past 10 Years (1998 - 2007):
Past 25 Years (1983 - 2007)
Now the analysis...
Conference Ranks in order:
News flash, the ACC is the best and most consistently good basketball conference. No surprise there. However, one statistic did jump out at me from the analysis; during the 25 year period, the ACC only whiffed on the FF in 6 years! Basically, you can count on at least one ACC team in most FFs. In 4 of the 25 years, the ACC put half the teams in the FF. But really this is a story of two schools; a total of 17 of the 23 FF appearances from the ACC were made by Duke and North Carolina. That is quite a testament to those two schools and partly explains the Dickie V bias for schools from the Tobacco state.
The Big Ten is clearly the second best basketball conference during the periods as they were tied with the ACC during the past 10 years and tied for second with the SEC during the past 25 years. They were not as consistent as the ACC, missing in 14 of the 25 years, however they made up for it in density. In 5 of the 11 years that they put a team in the FF, they also put a second team in. The Big Ten's representation was balanced from a number of schools with the Spartans having the most appearances at 4.
During the past 25 years, the SEC was tied with the Big Ten in FF appearances, but surprisingly in the past 10 years they had fallen off. That is until the past two years when they accounted for 3 of the 8 FF teams and Florida's back to back championships. Clearly things are looking up again in the SEC. Kentucky has been the most frequent dancer with 5 FF appearances in the past 25 years.
The next two are very close between the Big East and the Big 12, while the numbers are almost identical I have to give the slight edge to the Big East. They had one more appearance over the 25 year period but more importantly they had balanced appearances (3 each from Gtown and Syracuse, 2 from Uconn and then 3 other teams made it), whereas the Big 12 had 5 of its 11 total appearances made by Kansas. During the 25 year period, the Big East is also the only conference that produced 3 of the FF in one year, 1985.
As previously mentioned, Kansas has been the key contributor to the FF with 5 of 11 appearances, or 45%, during the 25 year period. In 3 of the 8 years that they put teams into the FF, they put 2 teams in including back to back double team appearances in 2002 and 2003.
The Pac 10 was next with 8 total appearances over the 25 year period. UCLA and Arizona were the real basketball powers from the Pac 10 representing 7 of the 8 appearances over the 25 year period. Stanford had the other lone appearance from the Pac 10.
Conference USA had a dominant period during the mid-1980s when 5 of their 7 total FF appearances occured. At the time Houston, Memphis and Louisville were all strong teams. Since that time only Cincinnati in 1992 and Louisville in 2005 had made it back to the FF. This conference has been decimated with the departures to the Big East and only Memphis looks like a serious contender to get back to the FF anytime soon.