The Route to The Championship Game

This is part two of three in my look at the road teams have had to travel to get to the final weekend of college basketball. A few days ago I looked at the Road to the Final Four, and examined what each of the Final Four teams (including this year) from this millennium had to do to get to the Final Four.

Simon says, "indicate the coach that will win the Championship."

This post, however, is to examine what teams actually had to do to make it to the Championship Game. I took it one step further this time though because instead of looking at just the teams from this millennium, I’ve taken the data from every team to every make it to the Championship Game since they expanded the field to 64 teams in 1985.

Like last time, I ranked the teams from most difficult to easiest for the route they took to get to the Championship Game, with the tie-breaker being that team’s seed. Ties beyond that are listed appropriately:

Rank Year Seed Team Ro64 Ro32 S16 E8 F4 Avg Seed Played
1 1985 8 Villanova** 9 1 5 2 2 3.8
2 1991 3 Kansas* 14 6 2 1 1 4.8
3 2011 8 Butler* 9 1 4 2 11 5.4
4 2000 5 Florida* 12 4 1 3 8 5.6
T5 2001 2 Arizona* 15 10 3 1 1 6.0
T5 2009 2 Michigan St* 15 10 3 1 1 6.0
7 2011 3 Connecticut** 14 6 2 5 4 6.2
T8 2002 1 Maryland** 16 8 4 2 1 6.2
T8 1997 1 Kentucky* 16 8 4 2 1 6.2
T8 1985 1 Georgetown* 16 8 4 2 1 6.2
11 1992 6 Michigan* 11 14 2 1 4 6.4
T12 2003 3 Syracuse** 14 6 10 1 1 6.4
T12 1998 3 Utah* 14 6 10 1 1 6.4
T12 1990 3 Duke* 14 6 7 1 4 6.4
T15 2003 2 Kansas* 15 10 3 1 3 6.4
T15 1994 2 Duke* 15 7 6 1 3 6.4
T17 2008 1 Memphis * 16 8 5 2 1 6.4
T17 1993 1 North Carolina** 16 8 4 2 2 6.4
T17 1996 1 Kentucky** 16 9 4 2 1 6.4
20 2010 5 Butler* 12 13 1 2 5 6.6
T21 1989 3 Michigan** 14 11 2 5 1 6.6
T21 1989 3 Seton Hall* 14 11 2 4 2 6.6
23 2006 2 UCLA* 15 10 3 1 4 6.6
T24 2009 1 North Carolina** 16 8 4 2 3 6.6
T24 2010 1 Duke** 16 8 4 3 2 6.6
T24 1992 1 Duke** 16 9 4 2 2 6.6
27 1995 2 Arkansas* 15 7 6 4 2 6.8
28 2007 1 Ohio State* 16 9 5 2 2 6.8
29 1998 2 Kentucky** 15 10 6 1 3 7.0
T30 2007 1 Florida** 16 9 5 3 2 7.0
T30 1995 1 UCLA** 16 8 5 2 4 7.0
T30 2012 1 Kentucky*** 16 8 4 3 4 7.0
33 2004 3 Georgia Tech* 14 6 10 4 2 7.2
34 1988 1 Oklahoma* 16 8 5 6 1 7.2
35 1997 4 Arizona** 13 12 1 10 1 7.4
36 2004 2 Connecticut** 15 7 6 8 1 7.4
37 1988 6 Kansas** 11 14 7 4 2 7.6
38 2002 5 Indiana* 12 13 1 10 2 7.6
T39 1991 2 Duke** 15 7 11 4 1 7.6
T39 1987 2 Syracuse* 15 10 6 1 6 7.6
T41 2000 1 Michigan St** 16 8 4 2 8 7.6
T41 2001 1 Duke** 16 9 4 6 3 7.6
43 2012 2 Kansas*** 15 10 11 1 2 7.8
44 1996 4 Syracuse* 13 12 8 2 5 8.0
45 1987 1 Indiana** 16 8 5 10 1 8.0
46 2005 1 North Carolina** 16 9 5 6 5 8.2
47 1994 1 Arkansas** 16 9 12 3 2 8.4
48 2006 3 Florida** 14 11 7 1 11 8.8
49 1986 2 Louisville** 15 7 3 8 11 8.8
T50 2005 1 Illinois* 16 9 12 3 4 8.8
T50 1999 1 Connecticut** 16 9 5 10 4 8.8
T50 1999 1 Duke* 16 9 12 6 1 8.8
T50 1986 1 Duke* 16 8 12 7 1 8.8
54 1993 1 Michigan* 16 9 12 7 1 9.0
55 2008 1 Kansas ** 16 8 12 10 1 9.4
56 1990 1 UNLV** 16 8 12 11 4 10.2
*Indicates the team lost in the Championship game.
**Indicates the team won the Championship.
***Indicates teams from this year. Haven’t played Championship game yet.

Looking at this shows us that having a difficult route to the Championships doesn’t necessarily prepare your team better for winning the Championship game itself. Only one of the top five most difficult routes actually won the Championship game. On the other hand, only two of the five easiest actually won Championship.

It gets a little more interesting when you include the next five from each end. Only three of the top 10 most difficult routes actually won the Championship, while six of the 10 easiest routes won. Then the top 15 is when it really changes: only four of the top 15 most difficult won, while a whopping 10 of the 15 easiest (excluding this year’s Kansas team, because we don’t know the result yet) routes won in the Championship game.

Of the 54 teams from the past (so, just excluding the Kansas and Kentucky teams from this year) it appears that good lines to draw are at the 6.5 and 7.5 in terms of the average seed played on the way to the Championship Game. The teams that fall in between that range (excluding this year’s Kentucky team) have gone 9-7  in the Champion ship game, so virtually a coin-flip.

The telling statistics are the records of the teams that fall outside of that range. There have been 19 teams with a route more difficult than an average seed of 6.5, and those teams have gone 6-13 in the Championship game itself. However, three of the Championship Games have featured matchups, where both teams had a route more difficult than that 6.5 mark, which means we should eliminate those games from the record, leaving it at a 3-10 mark.

On the other side of things, there have also been 19 teams (excluding this year’s Kansas team) that have had a route easier than facing an average seed of 7.5. Those teams have gone 12-7, with four of those losing teams losing to other teams that had a average seeding faced higher than 7.5. If we take out those four games, the record is 8-3.

So, with this year’s Kentucky team falling inside of that 6.5 to 7.5 range and Kansas having an average seed faced of 7.8 (higher than the 6.5 to 7.5 range), this simply begs the question: how do teams with an easier route to the Championship Game fare against the teams that have a more “average” route?

Undefeated.

Okay, so it’s only happened two times ever, but the team that fell above that 6.5 to 7.5 range won over the team that fell inside of it both times. It’s still interesting though. And you ask, what makes it so interesting?

One of those two teams was the 1988 Kansas Jayhawks.

3 Responses

  1. Excellent research and most obvious conclusion! Thank you for sharing yet another statistical confirmation that the Jayhawks will cut the nets tonight!

  2. C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS. NUMBER 8 SO GREAT.

  3. C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS! NUMBER 8 SO NICE!

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