I've heard lots of talk this week about Conference Tournaments and whether or not they really matter. Most of the UK fans that I know are spouting off about how Conference Tournaments don't mean anything. I'm 100% sure that their opinions about that would be different if they wouldn't have lost to Vandy on Sunday, no matter what John Calipari says he thinks. They've gone to the ole, "that loss was the best thing that could've happened to us,... look at 1996" line. We won our league bye the way, but apparently that means nothing to UK fans, and every analyst, writer, and talking head out there picking Davidson to win on Thursday. But is that really true? Are conference tournaments really meaningless exhibitions with no bearing on how a team will fare in the NCAA Tournament?
Since the 1996 Kentucky Wildcats lost their conference tournament, and then went on to cut down the nets in "The Big Dance", only 4 out of the next 14 National Champions did not win the last game of their league for that year. That seems pretty significant,...... BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!! Of the last 32 National Champions, only 10 did not win their league tournament. Thirty-two years worth of National Champions, and only 31% of them did not go into the NCAA Tournament on a winning streak.
That seems pretty significant to me; but why do they mean so much? Why does going into selection Sunday with a trophy, strapped to an airplane seat next to you, mean something? The answer isn't all that complicated. It means something because, in my opinion, it has a tremendous affect on the attitude of the team.
Sine Louisville joined the Big East in 2006, they have sent six tournament Champions into the NCAA Tournament. Between those six, they have one first round loss (Syracuse, and BTW, that was a game where Gerry McNamara was hurt early on and went 0-6 from the field), one Sweet16, one Elite8, two Final Four appearances, and one National Championship. Of the three other Conferences (ACC, Big12, SEC), who have produced National Champions over that same time span, the numbers are equally telling for their teams that went into the NCAAs on a winning streak.
- The ACC has produced six Conference Tournament Champions that finished their seasons with: three Sweet16s, one Elite8, one Final4, and one National Championship.
- The Big12 has produced one 1stRound exit, one 2ndRound Exit, three Elite8s, and a National Champion.
- The SEC has two 1stRound Exits (Miss&Georgia), one Elite8, one Fina4, and two National Champions.
In terms of how far Louisville will go this year? I don't have the ESP so I can't give you the answer to that one. What I can tell you is this. In the last six years only four times has a Conference Champion, from a Championship caliber league, gone down in the first round, and on one of those occasions the team's best player was injured. Nineteen of those twenty-four teams advanced into the second weekend. I'll take those odds, all day long.
Think about it. You win your Conference Tournament and it would seem pretty obvious that you've played some good basketball over the course of a long weekend. You win your conference tournament and suddenly your team's confidence is through the roof. More important than any of those things however, is the feeling that sweeps through the team upon accomplishing something like that.
Suddenly the team knows what it feels like to climb that ladder and cut down the nets. They know what it feels like to be in a situation where it's all on the line in a one game scenario, and then come out on top. They suddenly realize that the pressure of that moment isn't too much for them to handle,... and that means something.
Last year Connecticut was the 9th best team in the Big East, they won five games in five days, and went on to their third National Championship. I'm gonna go out on limb, although not too far, and say that they don't accomplish that if they lose in the Championship Game of the Big East Tournament. The odds tell me this would be a safe bet. They also tell me that Louisville winning the Big East Tournament this year makes them a pretty safe bet to advance past the first weekend.
Will it happen? Again, I don't know. I do know that I'll listen to history and my own eye balls, with respect to what I think this team is capable of, before I listen to Doug "put it on my credit card" Gottlieb, Jeff "we're talking about Gorgui Dieng" Goodman, or Digger "I can't stand the Louisville Cardinals because they own Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament" Phelps. We're going to beat Davidson on Thursday. This team is team full of young men who are sick and tired of being doubted by the media, a portion of their fans, and they are not going to let this team lose in the first round for the third year in a row.