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Kentucky, SEC shatter statistical expectations; ACC underwhelms

April 4, 2012 Columns No Comments

It’s good to be an SEC fan.

On Monday night, Kentucky completed its return to national supremacy by winning the program’s first championship since 1998. The title run marked the Wildcats’ second consecutive Final Four under coach John Calipari, who figures to make Kentucky a national championship contender pretty much every season that he’s on the sidelines.

Even though many people figured the Wildcats would cut down the nets in New Orleans, Kentucky exceeded expectations from a statistical perspective as soon as the Wildcats beat Baylor to reach the Final Four. Based on seed expectations, the typical No. 1 seed wins 3.32 games. So reaching the Elite Eight isn’t much to crow about for No. 1 seeds.

With Kentucky’s six wins in the tournament, the Wildcats helped the SEC become the best-performing conference in this year’s NCAA tournament. Besides Kentucky, Florida also delivered a strong performance, reaching the Elite Eight as a No. 7 seed. Given that seed, the Gators were expected to win 0.85 games. They won three. That’s a nice hefty boost to add to the Wildcats’ contributions. In sum, the SEC won 10 tournament games, which is nearly 70 percent more than expected based on the teams’ seeds.

Outside the SEC, most of the other major conferences pretty much did what they were supposed to do. The Big 12 and Atlantic 10 delivered about 15-20 percent more wins than expected, while the Big East and Big Ten were pretty much right on schedule. For the Big 12, Kansas’ run to the championship game helped overcome the one-and-done letdown of No. 2 Missouri.


Conference Expected Wins Actual Wins % More/Fewer Wins vs. Expected
SEC 5.9 10 69.49
Big 12 8.48 10 17.92
Atlantic 10 2.58 3 16.28
Big East 12.78 14 9.54
Big Ten 10.98 11 0.18
West Coast 2.39 2 -16.32
ACC 8.67 6 -30.8
Pac-12 1.5 1 -33.33
Missouri Valley 1.84 1 -45.65
Mountain West 4.21 1 -76.25
Conference USA 1.27 0 -100


The ACC and Pac-12 had the roughest tournaments among the Power Six conferences, though you won’t get any argument from me if you’d rather discuss Pac-12 on the same tier as the Missouri Valley or Mountain West conferences. The ACC was particularly disappointing given the Final Four aspirations of North Carolina, Duke and Florida State. The conference came up 33 percent short on its expected win total, primarily because the Blue Devils dropped a shocker in their first game against No. 15 Lehigh, while the Seminoles’ offense sputtered against No. 6 Cincinnati. North Carolina State had a surprising run to the Sweet 16, winning two games as a No. 11 seed, which usually win 0.5 games. But that wasn’t enough to make up the difference.

This tournament marks the fourth time in seven tournaments that no ACC team reached the Final Four. Before 2006, you have to go back to 1980 to find more than four tournaments that didn’t include an ACC team in the Final Four. Since the tournament expanded to include more than just one team from a conference in 1975, there has never been a three-year stretch in which the Final Four hasn’t included an ACC team. The pressure is on for 2013.

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