Momentum is key during the NCAA tournament.
The right touch of confidence, or lack thereof, can be the difference between a team advancing with a clutch bucket or floundering as time runs out. It propelled Connecticut to a national championship in 2016, the Huskies’ fourth in a row. And two years later it sent Notre Dame on the path to its second title in program history.
But take a step back to the conference tournaments. Can UConn and Notre Dame's performance help us make a prediction for how far a team could advance in the NCAA tournament? The Huskies won the AAC tournament. Notre Dame lost in the ACC finals. Would knowing that have made you more likely to pick UConn to beat Oregon State in the Final Four? Would you have soured on the Fighting Irish enough to give Oregon the edge in a regional final?
Here’s how national champions have performed in their conference tournaments since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994:
|2018||Notre Dame||Lost, ACC finals|
|2017||South Carolina||Won SEC|
|2013||Connecticut||Lost, Big East finals|
|2012||Baylor||Won Big 12|
|2011||Texas A&M||Lost, Big 12 finals|
|2010||Connecticut||Won Big East|
|2009||Connecticut||Won Big East|
|2007||Tennessee||Lost, SEC semifinals|
|2006||Maryland||Lost, ACC finals|
|2005||Baylor||Won Big 12|
|2004||Connecticut||Lost, Big East semifinals|
|2003||Connecticut||Lost, Big East finals|
|2002||Connecticut||Won Big East|
|2001||Notre Dame||Lost, Big East finals|
|2000||Connecticut||Won Big East|
|1999||Purdue||Won Big Ten|
|1997||Tennessee||Lost, SEC semifinals|
|1995||Connecticut||Won Big East|
|1994||North Carolina||Won ACC|
That’s 16 national champions, from North Carolina in 1994 to South Carolina in 2017, out of the past 25 that have also won their conference tournaments.
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And here are five takeaways you should leave with:
- With 64 percent of the past 25 champions also boasting conference tournament crowns, fans should feel confident picking one to win the national title but not beholden to doing so. Thirty-six percent is more than a third and only twice have teams combined to put together back-to-back years of a non-conference champion winning it all.
- UConn seems to be a safe pick no matter what year. The Huskies have 11 national titles during this span and three came when they didn’t win their conference tournament. They won four national championships in a row from 2013-16, back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, three straight from 2002-04, one in 2000 and another in 1995.
- It’s rare a school doesn’t make its conference final and wins it all. Just three times in the past 25 years — Tennessee in 1997, UConn in 2004 and Tennessee again in 2007 — has it happened. Pick teams that have overcome adversity, but shy away from those who are bounced early in their conference tournaments.
- An ACC tournament champion hasn’t won a national championship since UNC in 1994. Maryland, before it joined the Big Ten, lost in the ACC tournament final in 2006 before it won a national title. And Notre Dame did the same thing last year. The conference is talented, but success in its tournament hasn’t translated to the national stage.
- Put your faith in a team more than you would its conference. While the three ACC national championships are all from different schools, UConn can boast of 11 of the Big East’s 12 and is no longer in the conference. The Huskies now have all three of the AAC’s. Tennessee owns five of the SEC’s six. And the Big Ten only has one, Purdue back in 1999. Five different times a team has won at least two titles in a row.