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Bracket Breakdown: Best Conferences Thus Far Come as a Surprise

March 21, 2011 Columns No Comments

Surprise! After the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the two conferences performing the best are the ACC and CAA.

I don’t think many people saw that coming. But those two conferences account for a quarter of the Sweet 16 teams and have more teams advancing to the second weekend than the Big East and Big 12 combined. That’s even more impressive when you consider the latter two conferences fielded 16 teams to the seven from the ACC and CAA. In addition, 12 of the Big East/Big 12 teams had seeds of No. 6 or better, while only two of seven ACC/CAA teams could say that.

And when we look at expected performance by seed, as explained by Peter Tiernan in a 2008 ESPN.com article, the numbers are even more revealing. The CAA is leading the pack, with 1.76 more wins than expected at this point in the tournament, mostly because of VCU’s run to the Sweet 16 after starting the tournament in the First Four. The ACC is No. 2 with 1.39 more wins than expected. That comes on the strength of Florida State’s Sweet 16 appearance and Clemson’s win against UAB in the First Four. As a No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed, respectively, Duke and North Carolina were supposed to reach the Sweet 16, so they didn’t contribute to the conference’s positive wins against expected performance.

However, that doesn’t diminish the success of the Tar Heels and Blue Devils because the Big East teams have proven that expectations mean nothing in the tournament.

Based on seed performance expectations, the nine Big East teams seeded No. 6 or better should have won 14.05 games so far. Those teams won seven games, with Marquette delivering two more wins as a No. 11 seed. That’s close to an epic fail for a conference that set an NCAA Tournament record with 11 teams representing the conference — and they would have put that number in the field without expansion to 68 teams.

The biggest Big East underperformer is clearly Louisville, which was supposed to win 1.52 games as a No. 4 seed. Instead, the Cardinals were taken down by Morehead State. Pittsburgh and Notre Dame weren’t much better. As mentioned above with Duke and North Carolina, No. 1 and 2 seeds are supposed to reach the Sweet 16. Those two Big East squads lost in the third round — their second game. That give the Panthers and Irish a -1 expected win total each for the tournament. And it gets worse for the Big East, with Syracuse, St. John’s and Georgetown bowing out earlier than expected.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 is off to a lackluster start. Yes, the conference has a legitimate national title contender in Kansas. But the rest of the conference flamed out by the end of the third round. Kansas State and Texas lost tough games to Wisconsin and Arizona, respectively, and losing a 4/5 seed match up — as both the Wildcats and Longhorns did — is not embarrassing. The Big 12 hasn’t had any awful losses, but they just haven’t done anything special this tournament — at least, not yet. The Jayhawks could change that with a run to the national championship.

Here’s a look at the multi-bid conferences and how they rank based on seed performance after the first weekend of action.

Multi-Bid Conferences Wins Expected Wins Total Difference
CAA 4 2.24 1.76
ACC 7 5.61 1.39
Atlantic 10 3 2.61 0.39
Pac-10 4 3.89 0.11
Mountain West 4 4.46 -0.46
Big Ten 7 7.83 -0.83
Conference USA 0 1.46 -1.46
SEC 4 5.91 -1.91
Big 12 4 6.06 -2.06
Big East 9 15.14 -6.14

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