Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Let's Get Out of Here? About the author, Boyd Nation

Let's Get Out of Here?

Publication Date: October 26, 2004

One of the cool things about my life is that they play the SEC Baseball Tournament about ten miles from my house every year. Although the Memorial Day weekend scheduling has cut back on my attendance a bit the last couple of years (getting rid of that conflict will be one nice bonus if the season ever does move later), it's still a highlight of my baseball year, getting to watch some of the top teams in the nation face off. Other than the fact that players at this level give it all they've got just about every time they step on the field, though, there's the occasional feeling that it just doesn't matter all that much -- the results can affect seeding for the NCAA tournament, which matters some, and every once in a while you'll get a bubble team playing for survival. For the most part, though, everybody there knows that they'll be going on the next week. The SEC is the extreme case in this regard right now, but it's not that much different at the Big 12 or ACC tournaments, either, I suspect; it's rare for anyone with the talent to win the thing to not know already that they're in the NCAA field.

Now, since baseball is a game that lends itself to occasional down time ripe for discussions of the deep issues concerning what's going on out there during the games, you get the occasional repeated topic in the pressbox or in the bleachers. One of the perennial restatements in this vein, after the amazing happens again each year and someone loses their first two games (some reporters always seem to be surprised that someone has to actually lose the games) is, "Well, they're probably better off getting to go rest their pitchers; I'll bet teams that lose early do better in the big show anyway." Made curious by that repetition (and powered from a different side by Georgia Tech fans asking if the ACC true double-elimination format was killing them), I decided to look at the connection between success in the conference tournament and success in the NCAA tournament.

Initially, I tried looking at all conferences with a conference tournament and at least three teams in the NCAA tournament. It turns out, though, that muddies things too much, because it includes a few mid-major conferences each year, where even the best teams can be expected to win four or five in the conference tournament and one or two in the NCAA. Getting a true feel required just looking at the big boys, so I took a look at the SEC, Big 12, and ACC teams from 1999 to 2004. There are a few different metrics you can look at, but they all give essentially the same result, so I'll just give you one number: The correlation between wins in the conference tournament and wins in the NCAA tournament is 0.276.

So, what does that mean? Well, first of all, that's a small but statistically significant positive result, so teams that win in the conference tournament are more likely to win in the NCAA tournament than teams that don't. There's a confounding dependent variable here, of course, in that the better teams are, the less likely they are to go 0-2 in the first place, and you could argue that the correlation should be higher, but there doesn't appear to be any advantage to the early exit and extra rest.

Looking at specific cases doesn't show any real pattern, either. There have been nineteen teams to go 0-2 in the relevant conferences during the last six years and still make the NCAA tourney. Of those, fourteen went out in the regionals, two (Mississippi State 2000 and Texas A&M 2004) went out in the super-regional round, and three (Oklahoma State 1999, Tennessee 2001, and LSU 2004) went to Omaha, with only Tennessee winning a game there. That's not a particular sign of a great strategy. In short, line up, play to win, and be bummed but not suicidal if you go 2-and-q, because it's probably a sign that you're not as good as you hoped, but it's not a death sentence.

As to the side issue of the ACC format, it turns out that, despite the potential for it to do so, the format hasn't resulted in teams playing more games than the other leagues, which kind of renders the question moot. There have been eight teams to play six games in the conference tournament out of our candidate pool; only two of those were ACC teams. A slightly higher-than-expected percentage of the five-game teams have come from the ACC, but that doesn't seem to have resulted in any degradation in NCAA performance; the ACC teams look to have performed in line with the expectations from their seeding.

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Boyd's World-> Breadcrumbs Back to Omaha-> Let's Get Out of Here? About the author, Boyd Nation