Saturday, April 25, 2009

Best NCAA Conferences by Final Four Appearances

Its time to update the conference performance stats in the NCAA tournament. I last published this study a couple of years ago. I look at the Final Four appearances by conference for the past 10 and 30 years to provide some long-term trends in conference performance.

While I understand that Final Four appearances alone are not the only guide to analyzing a conferences performance, I do believe it is the most important criteria. Why? Well first off, college basketball crowns a true National Champion every year and that is the goal of every major DI school. Second, while total tournament wins by conference are nice, they don't achieve the end goal of winning an NC. So the fact that one conference might win 65% of its tournament games is nice, if they don't place teams into the Final Four -- who cares?! Third, while NBA draft picks is an interesting stat, it does not tell us anything about victories at the collegiate level. Lastly, we could look at total winning percentage in inter-conference games, but this data would be difficult to find and what's more -- does it really matter if it ain't in the Big Dance?

For those reasons, National Championships and Final Four appearances are the most important overall factors in judging the best college basketball conferences.

As it was two years ago, the ACC stands alone as the undisputed best basketball conference in the country. With 4 of the last 10 and 9 of the last 30 National Champions no conference even comes close in number of NCs. They are also the leader in Final Four appearances for both the past 10 and 30 years. The one mark against the ACC is that the vast majority of their success has been concentrated with 2 teams, UNC and Duke, representing 7 of 9 FF appearances in the past 10 years. However, dominance is dominance and certainly is not disputed because it is concentrated within two teams.

However, as was the case two years ago, I believe 2nd place will surprise you -- The Big Ten appears to be the clear leader for the second best basketball conference in the country. During the past 10 years they have 8 Final Four appearances (only 1 less than the ACC and 2 more than the next closest B12). Additionally, during the past 5 years, 3 of the national runner-ups have come from the B10 (not even the ACC has had that many teams in NC games during the past 5 years). Those three runners-up, Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois, further demonstrates the conferences depth. They had 1 NC in the past 10 years and 4 in the past 30 which is comparable to other conferences, but their total overall FF appearances were so clearly higher than other non-ACC conferences that they appear a clear choice for 2nd.

Third is a tough choice between the Big East and the SEC but I am going to give the slight edge to the Big East. They have both had 2 NCs in the past ten years and 5 in the past 30 years. In FF appearances the Big East has the edge in the past 10 years (5 vs 4), while the SEC has a couple of more appearances over the past 30 years. So, while the stats are very even between the two conferences, the subjective data points to the Big East. Most of the SEC's recent success is attributable Florida's strong two year run. However prior to that run, Florida was not a perennial basketball powerhouse. Further, the SEC's biggest basketball power, Kentucky, has been down for so many years that they have almost become a non-factor. Therefore, for annual consistency during both the past 10 years and the past 30 years, I give the Big East the edge.

Here are the actual stats by conference. Feel free to chime in with your own interpretation of the data.