As Louisville rolled through the Big East final, Twitter – the king of "what have you done for me in the last five minutes" – was predictably ablaze with people chalking the Cardinals into the NCAA Championship game. Then this morning the print edition of the USA Today reminded me of that same concept when they published an article which had the subtitle of "Riding momentum makes handful of teams dangerous."
The story was five blurbs on five conference winners, and how their newly instilled confidence would help them in the dance.
And it all sounds good. But is it true?
To begin to answer this question I looked at every tournament winner of the current BCS conferences over the past decade. Then I looked out how they did in the NCAA tournament.
The first thing that jumped out is that 8 of 60 lost in the first round (no, I'm not calling the round of 64 the "2nd round"). One game in and 13% of our conference tournament winners – our teams riding a wave of momentum – are gone. Syracuse and Kansas rode that momentum to losses as a 4-seed (Syracuse also lost as a 5-seed), Iowa lost as a 3-seed, and Missouri lost as a 2-seed. But they were hot!
After the 2nd round, another 13 were out. So 35% of our teams failed to make the Sweet 16. Then it got downright ugly. Fourteen more lost trying to advance to the Elite 8, which means that almost 60% of conference tournament winners fail to advance past the Sweet 16. And these are big conferences. It's not like we're looking at a bunch of 5-seeds.
In total, 9 of 60 teams advanced all the way to the Finals.
This certainly doesn't suggest that tourney winners don't have momentum, but it doesn't really suggest that they do either.