I was bored during a telephone conference earlier today and decided to pass the time by seeing if I could remember every Final Four for the past 20 years. Success!!! Anyway, my nerdiness will now entertain you. Here are a few observations:
1. Duke and North Carolina have combined for 17 Final Four trips in the past 20 years, which is more than any other conference. Duke has been to the Final Four ten times, North Carolina has been seven times, and only Kansas has more than four trips. (They've been six times, inevitably when I haven't picked them. I swore that I would never pick them again after I picked them every year I was in college and they never made it. So naturally, they made it twice once I started work.) However, the Big Ten has proven to be a deeper conference than the ACC, as it has sent seven teams to the Final Four over 20 years (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State), whereas only Georgia Tech and Maryland have gone from the ACC in those two decades. Ergo, as much as I sing the praises of ACC basketball, almost all of the conference's impressive stats can be attributed to the Blue Devils and Tar Heels. Annoying as he may be, Dick Vitale has a reason to be so obsessed with them.
2. Arguably, Michigan State is the best program in the last ten years, with four Final Four trips and a national title. Thanks, Maurice Taylor!
3. The Big East's struggles yesterday are nothing new for the conference, as only the Pac Ten has had fewer Final Four entrants over the past 10 or 20 years. (I only gave them credit for teams in the conference at the time that they made the Final Four, so they don't bootstrap Louisville, Marquette, and Cincinnati's trips. Likewise, the SEC only gets credit for two of Arkansas' three trips over the past 20 years.) In the last decade, the odd thing is that the Big East has had four Final Four entrants...and three of them have won national titles. The one that didn't was 1996 Syracuse, which made the finals before losing to Kentucky. Thus, Big East teams don't do much to get to the Final Four, but they're 7-1 once they get there in the past ten years.
4. The Pac Ten sucks. They have three Final Four trips in the past ten years, two from Arizona and that one bizarre trip for Stanford. They had three Final Four trips in the ten years before that, again two from Arizona and one from UCLA. I guess that the Pac Ten's enormous advantage in sophistication and mental ability only extends to the gridiron. That said, the Pac Ten isn't working on quite the same national title drought as the Big XII, none of whose current members have won a national title since 1988. That's not quite the Big Ten's 1968-97 drought in football, but it's nice nonetheless.
5. The SEC has sucked recently. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed this, but the conference has not had a Final Four entrant since the 2000 Florida Gators unleashed their armada of I-ROCs on the unsuspecting citizens of Indianapolis. The SEC is also no stranger to Final Four droughts, as they didn't send a team from LSU's cameo trip in 1986 until Kentucky arrived in New Orleans in 1993. From '93 to '00, the conference was a force of nature, sending Kentucky four times, Arkansas twice, Florida twice, and even noted power Mississippi State in 1996.