No two conference tournaments are the same, and that is a major reason why conference championships can either be a gift or a curse once it comes time for the NCAA Tournament. With some tournaments ending Saturday night before Selection Sunday, others ending on Selection Sunday and even others ending over a week before Selection Sunday, teams head to March Madness on different rest and with different momentum working for them or against them.
When filling out your bracket or wagering on individual games, here are the conference tournament champions to buy this time of year and the ones to sell.
2013 Champion: Louisville
The last three Big East Champions have reached the Final Four, and they surprised many by doing so. The Big East Tournament used to be thought of a rough-and-tumble marathon that wore teams out, and with so much on the line in Madison Square Garden it often set the winners up for a letdown come Big Dance time. On top of that, Big East officials were notorious for allowing teams to play rough and taking it easy on the whistle, something that does not often happen during March Madness.
Over the last three years the Big East champs have proven that way of thinking wrong. West Virginia in 2010, Connecticut in 2011 and Louisville in 2012 all reached the Final Four with Connecticut winning the championship in 2011. More importantly for bettors, these teams reached the Final Four against the odds. The teams were a combined 14-2 ATS.
Looking even further back, there have been other strong performances by Big East Champions. Connecticut won the 2004 NCAA Championship, Georgetown reached the 2007 Final Four and Louisville reached the 2009 Elite Eight.
While this bodes well for the Cardinals this year, it does not bode well for Syracuse, the team Louisville defeated on Saturday night in Madison Square Garden. Two of the last three Big East runners-up were one and done in the NCAA Tournament. No Big East runner-up has gotten past the Sweet 16 since West Virginia did it in 2005.
2013 Champion: Miami-Florida
The ACC Champion has reached the Final Four four times since 1999. They have not lost in the first round in over 15 years. Only twice since 1999 has the ACC Champion failed to reach the Sweet 16. They are 22-7 SU since 2005. But there is a major catch. Only twice since 1999 has someone besides Duke or North Carolina won the ACC Tournament, and those two times also happen to be the only two years the ACC Champion has not been able to reach the Sweet 16. It happened with Maryland in 2004 (1-1 SU, 0-2 ATS) and last year with Florida State (1-1 SU, 0-2 ATS). Both were eliminated in the Round of 32. And this year the champion happens to be from outside Tobacco Road. Tread carefully with this conference champion.
Missouri Valley Conference
2013 Champion: Creighton
Based on past history, there is arguably no conference tournament worse to win than the Missouri Valley Conference. Many remember Northern Iowa’s memorable run to the Sweet 16 in 2010 that included an upset of No. 1 overall seed Kansas. But more often than not, Missouri Valley Conference teams cannot overcome the 11-12 day layoff between the conclusion of "Arch Madness" and the beginning of the NCAA Tournament. The Missouri Valley insists on having its conference championship game on the Sunday before Selection Sunday.
The extra rest has not worked to the benefit of the conference champion. Since 2002, Missouri Valley Conference Champions are 3-12 SU and 5-9-1 ATS in the NCAA Tournament. Eight of the last 10 champions were one and done in the dance. Creighton has been one of the biggest culprits. They won the conference in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2012 but only made it out of the first round in 2002 and 2012 and never made it to the Sweet 16 in that span.
2013 Champion: Ole Miss
This call to sell also comes with an asterisk. There tend to be a lot of upsets in the SEC Tournament, and, when there is, the Cinderella from the conference has a short stay in the dance. But when there is not an upset, look out. Kentucky won the SEC Tournament in 2003 (Elite Eight), 2010 (Elite Eight) and 2011 (Final Four). Florida won the SEC Tournament in 2006 (National Champions) and 2007 (National Champions). The rest of the SEC winners have not even sniffed the Final Four. Since 2002, SEC Champions not named Florida or Kentucky are 2-4 SU and 2-4 ATS in the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State (2002), Georgia (2008), Mississippi State (2009) and Vanderbilt (2012) all pulled off upsets to win the SEC Tournament, but all failed to get beyond the Round of 32. Ole Miss appears to be the latest SEC underdog to race to a conference title.
Big Ten Tournament
2013 Champion: Ohio State
The Big Ten Tournament Champion has escaped the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament six consecutive years. But there is a catch; the Sweet 16 also happens to be the ceiling for a lot of these teams. Since 2008, the Big Ten Tournament Champion has been eliminated in the Sweet 16 every year. Not since Ohio State reached the National Championship Game in 2007 has a conference champion made it beyond the Sweet 16. But in this day and age of let downs and upsets, a streak of reaching at least the Sweet 16 deserves a mention and a few spots on your bracket. In terms of wagering, the conference champions have been below average in the tournament, going 15-21 since Michigan State won the National Championship in 2000.
Big 12 Tournament
2013 Champion: Kansas
The Big 12 Tournament Champion has played wildly inconsistent in the NCAA Tournament. There are the Final Four appearances by Oklahoma in 2002, Oklahoma State in 2004 and Kansas in 2008 but there are also the first weekend exits by Kansas (1998, 1999. 2006 and 2010), Oklahoma (2001), and Missouri (2012). In terms of wagering, though, the conference champion has been incredibly average, going 22-22 ATS since 2000.