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Debunking the conference tournament myth

Over the past few years, there has been an increasingly audible voice stating that a team is less likely to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament if it plays the maximum possible number of games in its conference tournament the week before.

The two main points this voice uses in its assertion are: 1) Sometimes a good team needs a loss before the big dance in order to restore focus, and 2) Playing three (or four) games in as many days will leaves a team exhausted and vulnerable the week after.

To put it mildly, this is a sentiment I take issue with.

I formed the opinion at a young age that there was no such thing as a good loss, and rolled my eyes every time I heard a coach bust out the cliché from that point forward (and then had to run sprints). I'm also a firm believer in game-to-game momentum, that a winning streak actually inspires a team to play harder rather than go through the motions while thinking about how great it is.

The groups that need more than three days of rest to be 100% for a game and the ones that aren't mature enough to approach each and every contest with the right mindset are probably the ones you want to avoid advancing too far in your office pool. If a team doesn't have the focus to win in early March or the legs to win three games in three days, then it likely doesn't have the focus to win in late March or the legs to win six games in three weeks.

The point I'm trying to make and will now hammer you over the head with is that conference tournament performance matters, even for the teams that are locks to hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

People nowadays are always bringing "facts" into arguments, and since I'm a sucker for fads (anyone wanna compare pogs later?), I'll go ahead and share a few for you all to wrap your heads around (literally).

  • All four national semifinalists a year ago won their conference tournament, and three of the final four teams left standing in 2007 did as well.
  • The combined NCAA Tournament record of the six major conference tournament champions last year was 17-5.
  • There were 12 conferences that sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2007. Of those 12, only three (WAC, A-10, Pac-10) had a team that didn't advance to its conference tournament championship game advance further in the NCAA Tournament than a team that did. Of those three teams, only UCLA won more than one game.
  • There were 10 conferences that sent multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2008. Of those 10, only three (Big East, A-10, SEC) had a team that didn't win its conference tournament advance further in the NCAA Tournament than the team that did.
  • All six BCS conference tournament champions advanced to the Elite Eight in 2007. The other two quarterfinalists were Memphis - which won the Conference USA Tournament - and UCLA.
  • The combined NCAA Tournament record of the six BCS conference tournament champions in 2007 was 24-5. Of those five losses, only one (Kansas' Elite Eight loss to UCLA) came against a non-fellow BCS conference tournament champion.
  • Eight of the last 11 national champions have won their conference tournament. North Carolina in '05, Syracuse in '03 and Maryland in '02 are the exceptions.
  • Fourteen of the last 20 Final Four teams have been conference tournament champions, and three of those six teams that didn't win their league title played in the same conference as the fellow semifinalist which did.

I'm not trying to say that winning a tournament title gives a team some magic edge heading into the big dance, I'm just saying that the best teams in the country generally win their conference tournaments and are at absolutely no disadvantage when play resumes five or six days later.

There is no part of you that should be quietly wondering whether or not Louisville advancing to Saturday night's title game is a good or a bad thing. You want U of L to bring home the big trophy from Madison Square Garden.

Go Cards.