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Jordan Guskey | NCAA.com | February 27, 2019

Women's basketball: Do conference tournament championships spark NCAA title runs?

The best moments from Notre Dame's 2nd national title

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.

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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:

Year School Conference Result
2018 Notre Dame Lost, ACC finals
2017 South Carolina Won SEC
2016 Connecticut Won AAC
2015 Connecticut Won AAC
2014 Connecticut Won AAC
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
2008 Tennessee Won SEC
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
1998 Tennessee Won SEC
1997 Tennessee Lost, SEC semifinals
1996 Tennessee Won SEC
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. 

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