Over the past several years there has been an increasingly audible contingent of fans claiming 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 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.
While there are some teams that need a kick in the ass, far more often than not, those squads aren't going to be winning championships anyway. 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 probably aren't worthy of much faith 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 isn't necessarily that there's a direct correlation between conference tournament success and NCAA Tournament success - the best teams in the country win games, it's not brain surgery...one-handed brain surgery - I'm just trying to say that there is not a benefit to bowing out early in a conference tournament.
Because people in this state enjoy their college basketball just a bit, EVERYONE the supporting evidence I here at least once a year is that Kentucky lost to Mississippi State in 1996. My response is 1) UK lost in the SEC title game, which eliminates the "well-rested" argument. And 2) That Wildcat team is one of the handful that can't be judged with a normal barometer.
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).
- Three of the four national semifinalists from last year and 2007 were conference tournament champions. All four teams in the 2008 Final Four won their league tourney. The anomaly is 2009 when national semifinalists Michigan State (Big Ten...damnit), Villanova (Big East), Connecticut (Big East...damnit), and North Carolina (ACC) had all bowed out early in their respective conference tournament.
- The combined NCAA Tournament record of the six major conference tournament champions last year was 18-5.Of those six teams, only one (Ohio State) lost to a non-conference tournament champion (Tennessee). Three (Kentucky, Washington, West Virginia), were knocked off by one of the other five BCS champs (West Virginia beat Kentucky and Washington before falling to Duke).
- There were 10 conferences that sent multiple teams to the tournament last year. Of those 10, only two (Big Ten, Big 12) had a team that didn't win its conference tournament advance further in the big dance than the team that did.
- 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.
- 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.
- Over the past four seasons, the six major conference tournament champions are 70-21 in the NCAA Tournament and have claimed three of those four national titles.
- 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.
- In 2010, no tournament champion advanced to the Final Four. The record of the big six tourney champs that year was 11-6. Of those six teams, only Georgia (seeded 13th) and USC (seeded 10th) didn't make it past the first weekend. Louisville and Missouri were both defeated in the Elite Eight.
- Nine of the last 13 national champions have won their conference tournament. North Carolina in '09 and '05, Syracuse in '03, and Maryland in '02 are the exceptions.
- Seventeen of the last 28 Final Four teams have been conference tournament champions, and three of those qualifying teams that didn't win their league title played in the same conference as the fellow semifinalist which did.
Winning three or four games in as many days puts you at no disadvantage as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned. There are approximately 126 stoppages of play in every nationally televised college basketball game, and every conference tournament champion this weekend is going to have between 4-6 days of rest before tipping off in the big dance.
While hoisting a league tournament trophy may not provide any sort of magic edge for the succeeding weeks, there's no question that it improves seeding and breeds confidence. 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.