Conference tournaments are everything for many schools. Those few games in March make all the difference between a team having a chance to live out its NCAA tournament dreams and watching it on TV like everyone else.
For other powerhouse teams, conference tournaments mean little besides staying fresh for the Big Dance, improving tournament seeding, and maybe taking some pride points by hoisting the conference trophy.
Or do they?
Is a team's performance in the single-elimination conference tournament a good predictor of how it will do on the biggest stage? And when you fill out your bracket, should you be putting a little more faith in teams that performed well the week or two prior?
Let's take a look at each national champion since 1994 and see how they did in conference tournament play.
|2023||UConn||Lost, Big East semifinals|
|2022||Kansas||Won Big 12|
|2021||Baylor||Lost, Big 12 semifinals|
|2019||Virginia||Lost, ACC semifinals|
|2018||Villanova||Won Big East|
|2017||North Carolina||Lost, ACC semifinals|
|2016||Villanova||Lost, Big East finals|
|2015||Duke||Lost, ACC semifinals|
|2014||UConn||Lost, AAC finals|
|2013||Louisville*||Won Big East|
|2012||Kentucky||Lost, SEC finals|
|2011||UConn||Won Big East|
|2009||North Carolina||Lost, ACC semifinals|
|2008||Kansas||Won Big 12|
|2005||North Carolina||Lost, ACC semifinals|
|2004||UConn||Won Big East|
|2003||Syracuse||Lost, Big East semifinals|
|2002||Maryland||Lost, ACC semifinals|
|2000||Michigan State||Won Big Ten|
|1999||UConn||Won Big East|
|1996||Kentucky||Lost, SEC finals|
|1994||Arkansas||Lost, SEC semifinals|
*Louisville's participation in the 2013 NCAA tournament was vacated
There you have it. Now let's dig into the numbers and see what it all means:
- From 1998-2011, it was very smart to put your faith in teams that performed well in the conference tournament. Of the 14 national champions in that time, all but four went the distance in their conference tournaments.
- Since then, things have really turned around. Eight of the last 11 champions all fell in their conference tournaments. But Kansas did win the Big 12 title in 2022.
- What about just reaching the finals in your conference? Only nine of the 25 national champions since 1993 that participated in a conference tournament were bounced prior to the championship game.
- But no team since 1993 has fallen short of the semifinals, so be wary of a team that is upset early on.
- North Carolina doesn't sweat ACC tournament losses at all: In the Tar Heels' four national championship seasons since 1993, they have zero conference tournament titles and reached the ACC tournament final only once.
- Duke, on the other hand, has won the ACC tournament in three of its last four national championship years, with only its most recent national championship featuring a loss in the ACC tournament.
So when you fill out your brackets, certainly take note of conference-tournament performance, but don't feel pressured to pick your champion based off of who looked strongest against conference foes. At the same time, be careful riding teams that don't at least make a deep run. If a team loses in the semifinals, it's playing against long odds. If it falls in the quarters or sooner, it would have to make history.