Although the story lines from the first weekend of March Madness are dominated by the Cinderella stories of the Norfolk States and Lehighs, the Final Four is generally reserved for the big boys. The six power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 & SEC) dominate the field of the Final Four every season. Since the last of the power conferences, the Big 12, came into existence in 1997, every National Champion has come from one of the six. Not only that, but an astounding 88 percent (42 out of 48 through 2008) of Final Four teams came from the power conferences.
From 2005 to 2012, the power conferences received 267 of the 520 bids to the tournament. The most bids have gone to the Big East who average eight bids per year. The Big 10, Big 12 and ACC average between five and six bids per year while the Pac-12 and SEC average between four and five bids per year.
An evaluation of how these conferences did during the tournament cannot be based simply on how many bids each conference got or which conference representatives in the Final Four. One of the ways to value the conferences is to calculate the actual record of each conference during the tournament and compare it against the expected record of that conference.
The expected record is determined by the seed each team receives. In other words, if every team with a better seed won their matchups, the expected record would be the actual record — so a No. 2 seed has an expected record of 3-1 because it is expected to win its first three games against teams seeded 15, 7 and 3, but lose to the No. 1 seed in the regional final. Meanwhile, a No. 11 seed has an expected record of 0-1 because it faces a higher seeded team, a No. 6, in the first round.
The following is the ranking of the power conferences based upon the actual records and expected records for the NCAA Tournament.
1. SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE
Expected Record: 7-4
Actual Record: 8-3
In the last seven years, the SEC has lived up to their seeding by not only exceeding their expected record as a conference but pulling in two National Championships along the way. Once again, the SEC has the favorite to cut down the nets next Monday in New Orleans. Kentucky entered the tournament as the overall number one seed and has lived up to lofty expectations by cruising to the Final Four.
The conference received an unexpected boost from the Florida Gators this season. Many believed the Selection Committee underseeded the Gators when they received a seven seed on Selection Sunday. Norfolk State’s defeat of number two seed Missouri cleared the way for Florida to make a deep run. The Gator’s took advantage advancing to the Elite Eight where they appeared destined for New Orleans until a late 18-3 run by Louisville sent them home to Gainsville.
Once again the SEC has proven to be one of the top performing power conferences in the tournament. The conference has already exceeded its expected record and has the favorite to win the Championship next week.
2. BIG EAST CONFERENCE
Expected Record: 13-8
Actual Record: 14-7
Since 2004, the Big East has received 99 bids into the Tournament that produced two National Champions, Connecticut in 2004 and 2011. However, during that same time period the Big East has performed the worst out of any of the power conferences when comparing its actual record to its expected record.
This season the fifth seeded Louisville Cardinal have followed in the footsteps of the 2011 Connecticut Huskies by winning the Big East Tournament and advancing to the Final Four. Despite losing in the Elite Eight, the Syracuse Orange had a good showing after losing their starting center just before the tournament began. All in all the conference finally exceeded its expected record and as a result comes in as the second ranked power conference this year.
3. BIG 12 CONFERENCE
Expected Record: 10-6
Actual Record: 9-5
In the 16 year history of the Big 12 Conference, the Kansas Jayhawks have won or shared the regular-season title in 12 of those seasons. This year’s team did not come as highly touted as in past seasons, however, behind the strength of Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawks have advanced to New Orleans and will meet the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday.
With four teams advancing out of the second round and two teams to the Elite Eight, the Big 12 Conference had a strong showing this season and it can only get stronger.
4. BIG TEN CONFERENCE
Expected Record: 14-6
Actual Record: 11-5
The Big Ten Conference is one of only two power conferences who have exceeded their expected record over the past seven tournaments. However, the conference has also gone without a National Championship since Michigan State won it all in 2000. The Ohio State Buckeyes will have an opportunity to bring the conference a championship this weekend.
The Big Ten came into the NCAA Tournament with the highest expected win total, 14, of all of the power conferences despite having two less teams than the Big East. The conference looked strong with four of those six teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Only the Buckeyes were able to advance, however, and the conference failed to live up to its expected record.
5. ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
Expected Record: 10-5
Actual Record: 6-5
As is the case nearly every year, expectations were high for the ACC coming into the tournament this year. Any hope of reaching or exceeding the conference’s 10-5 expected record went out the window when the number two seeded Duke Blue Devils were upset by Lehigh in their first game.
North Carolina looked to be the championship contender the experts predicted at the beginning of the season until their point guard, Kendall Marshall, broke his wrist in the Sweet Sixteen matchup against Ohio. Despite advancing to the Elite Eight, the Tar Heels never looked the same. The conference can only be disappointed with its showing this year.
6. PACIFIC 12 CONFERENCE
Expected Record: 0-2
Actual Record: 1-2
The Pac-12 Conference had one of the most disappointing seasons in the history of power conferences. For the first time in its history, the Pac-12 regular season champion, Washington Huskies, who won 14 regular season conference games, was left out of the field. The Pac-12 has the lowest winning percentage of any of the power conferences during the last seven tournaments. Despite that, the conference performed on par with their expected record consistently throughout the last seven years.
With only two bids, both double digit seeds, it was easy for the Pac-12 to exceed their 0-2 expected records. However, the conference has been trending downward and any power conference that gets two bids and only one tournament win cannot be anywhere but last in the rankings.