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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | October 5, 2018

The best conferences in NCAA tournament play since 1985

USA Today Sports Images UNC-2017 North Carolina's 2017 championship was the ACC's 10th since the NCAA tournament expanded in 1985 — the most of any conference.

It’s the only guaranteed way to play in the NCAA tournament: Win your conference, and you’re in.

But once March Madness starts, very rarely do we see intra-conference matchups. Instead, we get the best teams from each conference squaring off. So, which conferences have performed better against the competition in NCAA tournament play? We looked at every game since the NCAA tournament expanded to its modern format in 1985.

Immediately, one thing is clear: None of the 32 are better than the ACC.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has played every other conference in the NCAA tournament, other than the Summit. It also owns the most winning records against other conferences, having better than a .500 record against all except the SEC (19-27), Horizon (1-2), and Patriot (1-1).

The ACC is also one half of the most common conference matchup in the NCAA tournament, having played the Big East 70 times, with a 36-34 record. 

The most famous of those matchups came in 2016, when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beating half-court shot to beat North Carolina for the national championship. 

Close behind is Duke’s 61-59 win over Butler in 2010, as the Blue Devils avoided Gordon Hayward’s half-court miracle.

The ACC is also the only conference with double digit championships since 1985, having won 10 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. The Big East is close behind with eight — two of those coming in the past three years.

Conference Championships (since 1985) Years
ACC 10 1991, 1992, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017
Big East 8 1985, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018,
SEC 6 1994, 1996, 1998, 2006, 2007, 2012
Big Ten 3 1987, 1989, 2000
Pac-12 2 1995, 1997
Big 8 1 1988
Metro 1 1986
AAC 1 2014
Big 12 1 2008
Big West 1 1990

Speaking of the Big East, the conference is the owner of the biggest undefeated streak against another conference, sitting at 8-0 against the NEC.

The NEC happens to be the only one of the 32 current conferences without a single NCAA tournament win.

Here’s where every conference ranks in inter-conference NCAA tournament win percentage since 1985:

Conference Total wins Total losses Percentage
ACC 270 136 0.665
SEC 209 129 0.618
Big Ten 243 160 0.603
Big East 242 162 0.599
Big 12 155 113 0.578
Pac-12 35 28 0.556
AAC 14 13 0.519
C-USA 49 47 0.510
Horizon 19 19 0.500
WCC 38 38 0.500
A-10 76 89 0.461
MVC 38 52 0.422
Big West 16 27 0.372
WAC 31 55 0.360
CAA 19 36 0.345
MWC 21 41 0.339
MAC 15 30 0.333
Sun Belt 12 32 0.273
Ivy 6 28 0.176
A-Sun 5 26 0.161
Southland 5 26 0.161
Southern 5 30 0.143
OVC 5 32 0.135
MEAC 3 22 0.120
Patriot 3 24 0.111
Big Sky 3 28 0.097
MAAC 3 28 0.097
AEC 2 20 0.091
Summit 1 11 0.083
Big South 1 19 0.050
SWAC 1 22 0.043
NEC 0 22 0.000

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