NCAA Tournament: Assessing Which Conferences Have Over and Underperformed

NCAA Tournament: Assessing Which Conferences Have Over and Underperformed


NCAA Tournament: Assessing Which Conferences Have Over and Underperformed

I’ve been working on putting together a tournament database this weekend, which will come in handy for all sorts of things going forward. One of the first things I can do is look at what conferences have overperformed or underperformed relative to their tournament seeding in recent years.

Now, I will warn that this is entirely descriptive, and is not meant to suggest which conferences will overperform in the future. In fact, I am quite confident there are natural ebbs and flows, conferences can go from undervalued to overvalued, and luck can change.

So, I’ve got all tournament results sorted by seed going back to 1985, when the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams. I looked at how often each seed advanced to a certain round, and found the average result by seed. For example, #1 seeds average 3.4 wins in the tournament, so a #1 seed that reaches the Final Four has performed above the average (45 of 104 #1 seeds reached the Final Four). #11 seeds average 0.5 wins, and only two of them have reached the Final Four; thus, a first round win for a #11 is an above average performance.

To measure how a conference did relative to expectations, I took each team and calculated an expected win total based on seed, and compared it to the actual results, then combined all the conference teams over the last four years. Here are the results for all conferences that have had at least 10 total tournament teams over the last four years.

Conference Total Teams   Exp. Wins   Actual Wins   Difference
Big Ten   22   27.7   32   4.3
Big XII   23   36.1   39   2.9
Pac 10   20   24.7   27   2.3
Southeastern 16   20.8   21   0.2
Atlantic 10 11   9.6   9   -0.6
Mountain West 10   8.6   5   -3.6
Atlantic Coast 24   36.5   31   -5.5
Big East   29   49.8   43   -6.8

Just so you understand what you are looking at, the Big East has had 29 tournament teams in the last four years, based on their seeding and the historical performance of those seeds, we would have expected the Big East teams to combine for 49.8 wins, and they actually won 43 games.

Now, let’s compare the “BCS” conferences (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-10 and SEC) with everyone else.  Here are the results in the last four years for teams seeded in the top 6 seeds in a region, broken down by whether they were BCS conference or not:

Type   Total Teams   Exp. Wins   Actual Wins   Difference
Seeds 1-6                
BCS Schools 82   160.5   162   +1.5
Non-BCS   14   23.5   29   +5.5
Seeds 7-12              
BCS Schools 52   34.1   30   -4.1
Non-BCS   44   26.7   25   -1.7

It’s interesting that the top 6 seeds have performed better in the last four years overall, compared to all seasons since 1985. Perhaps it is luck and random, or perhaps the selection committees are getting better at identifying the best teams. Within that, the Non-BCS schools have actually performed better, though we are talking about only 14 teams, and a big chunk of that is Butler’s run to the championship game last year.

The Non-BCS schools have also been better than BCS Schools seeded 7-12 over the last four years, relatively speaking. Both groups have underperformed in recent years as the top seeds have been upset slightly less frequently.

[photo via Getty]

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