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By Jeff Fox

foxyjj@sympatico.ca

March 13th 2006

 

NCAA Tournament: "Power" Conferences for a Reason

 

I hate to burst a bubble team’s bubble or make the clock strike midnight for Cinderella, but the NCAA Final Four is a fairly predictable affair.  If you want to make the Final Four, you better play for a team in one of the “power conferences”.

 

The six power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10 & SEC) rule the Final Four every season.  Since the last of the power conferences came into existence in 1997 (Big 12), every National Champion has come from one of the six.  On top of this, a staggering 92 % (33 out of 36) of Final Four squads were power conference ones.

 

The three non-power conference teams that did crash the party were from major conferences in their own right – the WAC and Conference USA.  Still, considering the numbers stated above, this is quite a feat.  So who were these party poopers?

 

1998 – Utah Runnin’ Utes – WAC – 30-4 - #3 seed – NCAA Runner-Up

 

Led by the inside attack of Michael Doleac and Andre Miller’s floor general skills, the Runnin’ Utes made a run for the national title.  The SEC’s Kentucky Wildcats, who scratched out a 78-69 victory, stopped their march to the title in the championship game.  Still, on their run through the tourney they knocked off power conference teams Arkansas, West Virginia & two #1 seeds – Arizona & North Carolina.  Doleac and Miller were both named to the 1998 All-Tournament Team.

 

2003- Marquette Golden Eagles – C-USA – 27-6 - #3 seed – Final Four

Before Marquette joined one of the power conferences, the Big East, Dwyane Wade led them to the 2003 Final Four.  The Golden Eagles knocked off power conference teams Missouri, Pittsburgh & #1 seed Kentucky before falling to the Kansas Jayhawks in the National semi-final.

 

2005 – Louisville Cardinals – C-USA – 33-5 - #4 seed – Final Four

 

Another Conference USA team that made it to the Final Four before jumping to the Big East was last year’s Louisville Cardinals.  Rick Pitino’s squad took out big boys Georgia Tech, Washington (#1 seed) and West Virginia before falling to Illinois in the National semi-final.  This season the Cardinals found out first hand how powerful a power conference is, struggling in their first year in the Big East.

 

So it is possible for a team not from a “Big 6” conference to make it to the Final Four.  That being said, who has the best chances of beating the odds this season and making it to Indianapolis?

 

Gonzaga Bulldogs – WCC

 

Currently ranked #4 in the nation, the Bulldogs have already beaten quite a few top ranked teams this season.  However, their last 3 wins over conference foes have been nailbiters, so they aren’t exactly going into the tourney on a roll.  Still, with Adam Morrison on your side, you have a chance to win against anyone at anytime.

 

Memphis Tigers – C-USA

 

John Calipari’s very deep, athletic Tiger squad has a very good shot at making it to the Final Four.  Currently fifth in the nation, they beat UCLA and Gonzaga in early season action.

 

 

George Washington – A-10

 

Currently the #6 team in the nation, however, that ranking is sure to drop after being upset by Temple in the A-10 tourney.  Would be a huge upset if they made it to the Final Four due to the fairly weak schedule they played this year.

 

Nevada Wolf Pack – WAC

 

Led by Nick Fazekas, the Wolf Pack are currently on a 12 game winning streak.  However they have only played one ranked team this season, losing to UCLA early in the year.  Very unlikely to make it to Indianapolis.

 

 

So how far can a team from a mid-major conference expect to make it in the tourney?  Stay tuned for my next column.

 

 

 

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