Wednesday, July 17, 2013

NCAA Tourney performance by conference and thoughts on the Big Ten's future

My summer project so far has been to add coach and conference data to my database of NCAA tournament results since 2003. This has made it even more fun to play around with. For instance, here is the performance of each conference that has won at least 10 games in the Round of 64 or later since 2003:


You can see that the Big Ten has about the same overall winning percentage as the other major conferences. It also has the second-most Sweet 16s and second-most Final Fours and has sent as many teams to the championship game as any conference over this period. (And, notably, Indiana went to the finals in 2002, the year before this dataset begins.) Yet the Big Ten has failed to produce a champion in this period because it has gone 0 for 4 in the finals. 

Meanwhile, representatives from the Big East, ACC and SEC are a combined 10 for 11 in the championship game since 2003. The lone failure was Paul Hewitt's 2004 Georgia Tech team, which lost in the finals to UConn of the Big East. That means that the ACC, Big East, and SEC are a perfect 10 for 10 in the finals against teams from any of the other conferences. Kansas is the only champion from outside those three conferences, and they beat Memphis of Conference USA.

The other stumbling block for the Big Ten has been the Sweet 16, where its record has been 10-14. The Badgers are largely responsible for this, having gone 1 for 5, so the rest of the conference is a merely mediocre 9-9 in that round.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Two spring to mind. 

First, the Big Ten has been unlucky not to win a championship over the past 11 seasons. Based on the Kenpom data, par for the Big Ten since 2003 is 1.85 championships, which makes sense. Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State were all championship quality teams that made it to the finals and lost to another good team, so if you replay those championship games they likely come out on top about half the time.

Second, talent kills. What the Big East, ACC, and SEC have that the Big Ten lacks is an abundance of top-line talent. Every team that has won a championship since 2003 has had at least five players drafted in the first round during that period—and only two (Florida and Louisville) have had less than ten. By contrast, just one Big Ten team has produced five or more first-rounders 2003: Ohio State, with seven.

Overall, the Big Ten has produced just 22 first-rounders since 2003. Meanwhile: Duke and North Carolina alone have combined to produce 24; Kansas and Texas: 21; Florida and Kentucky: 19; UConn and Syracuse:18. Those eight teams have combined for 18 Final Fours and 10 of the 11 championships.

In the Big Ten, the "Big Two" are Ohio State and Illinois, who have combined for 11 first rounders. Both of those teams have been to the finals, but no championships of course.

Still, things are looking up for the Big Ten. Michigan and Indiana have reestablished themselves as the kind of programs that can attract big-time talent, having just produced four first-round picks this year and with good classes coming in. Michigan State remains a power, and has frankly been unlucky to have been held back by personnel and injury issues over the past decade. Gary Harris could be an All-American this year. Ohio State just reloads every year. Wisconsin has a likely first-rounder in Sam Dekker, and the freshman class has potential high-level talents in Koenig and Hayes. Illinois has tradition and a wealth of local talent to draw from, as will Maryland when it joins the conference in 2014. Matt Painter has shown he can recruit elite talent to Purdue before, and he continues to land top-100 recruits.

Add it all together and I have a prediction: the Big Ten will win another national championship in basketball—eventually.

--Bart Torvik

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