Well, it’s March. Welcome to the Madness.

Given the state of my finances, it would be extra special to win one of my tournament pools this year. So, I’ve started thinking about how to win even before the brackets are out.

I’m thinking that I’m going to load up on teams from the Big East and Big 12. The Top 10 has seen lots of movement all season, but these two conferences have been well represented throughout; once things kind of sorted themselves out, and people realized that North Carolina did not deserve to be ranked #6 (as it was early in the season), the Big East has been consistently represented by Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, and, occasionally, Georgetown, and the Big 12 has been consistently represented by Kansas, Kansas State, and, before its recent tailspin, Texas.

It seems to me that the teams most likely to win games in the tournament are the ones who have faced the most quality opponents during the regular season. This might seem self-evident at first, but it isn’t necessarily true that the teams that win games in the tournament come from the conferences that get the most teams into the tournament. In fact, there’s reason to think the opposite: a conference that gets 7 or 8 teams in probably got a few teams into the tournament that do not have a legitimate shot to win the whole thing, and there’s no reason, in a vacuum, to think that those conferences wind up winning more games than they lose. In other words, no law of nature says that there’s a direct relationship between quantity and quality for the purposes of predicting which conferences will generate winners in the tournament.

So, I did a bit of research, to look into whether the conferences that get the most teams into the tournament generally wind up producing multiple teams that win multiple games. I have 2 conclusions:

  1. Thank God for Wikipedia. What a brilliant site. It has each conference’s record in the tournament for the last few years.
  2. Generally, it seems to be true that conferences that get the most teams in also perform the best in the tournament. Last year, three conferences got 7 teams in each: the ACC, Big East, and Big Ten. Those conferences were 9-6, 17-7, and 9-7, respectively. Quite good. In 2008, the Big East stood out with 8 bids, and an 11-8 record. The Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC all got 6 bids. The SEC wet the bed, with a 4-6 record, but the Big 12 and Pac-10 supported my theory, going 12-5 and 8-6, respectively. In 2007, the ACC led with 7 bids, and finished a mediocre 7-7. The Pac-10, Big Ten, and Big East each got 6 bids, and supported my theory by going 10-6, 9-6, and 7-6. Wikipedia doesn’t have such detailed breakdowns for 2006, but it says that the Big East got 8 teams, and the SEC and Big Ten both got 6. That was the screwy year when George Mason made the Final Four, so it is not necessarily a model of anything. Nonetheless, UCONN and Villanova both made the Elite 8 out of the Big East, and Florida and LSU both made it out of the SEC.

This year, when the brackets come out, I’m loading up on teams from the Big East and Big 12. There are certainly exceptions to the general rule that teams from the best conferences are the safest teams to pick when the brackets come out, but it seems to be as reliable a predictor of success as any other. If anyone knows of any others, I hope you’ll share them… I need the cash.

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