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The Big East Tournament: Curse Of The 1 Seed

The #1 Seed historically falls short in the BET

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova has dominated the Big East since realignment four years ago, racking up four consecutive outright conference championships. They’ve gone a combined 63-9 over that time in conference play, and no team has finished better than 2 games behind them. That regular season dominance has also earned them four straight #1 seeds in the Big East Tournament and what should be the easiest path to victory.

However, in the past three seasons, Villanova has only come out on top once. In fact, they haven’t even made the finals every year. In doing some research, I’ve found that this has been a problem for all Big East #1 seeds. Since the conference switched back from division seeding in 2004, 1 seeds have won the BET just 3 times in 13 seasons.

At first I thought, ok, probably some type of statistical fluke. But then I did some digging, and down the rabbit hole I went. In the past 13 seasons, the 3 seed has won just as many times as the 1 seed. Hell, the 7 and 9 seeds have combined for four titles, one more than the 1 seeds. There had to be an explanation, but the further I went, the more ridiculous my findings became.

Five times since adopting the current tournament format in 2004, the #1 seed has been eliminated in their first game, the quarter finals. In fact, the #1 seed has been eliminated before the Championship game more than 50% of the time during that period. It’s hard to win Championships if you can’t even get there.

So this wasn’t just a case of just not winning the whole thing, Big East 1 seeds haven’t been winning games in the BET, period. From 2010 through 2014, the #1 Seed won a total of two games in the tournament, never making it out of the semi-finals. Villanova finally broke that streak with back to back Championship game appearances, but that’s been the exception, not the rule.

Then I started thinking outside the box. Maybe this is just how conference tournaments are? The Big Dance rarely has the top team win it all, why should the conference tournaments be any different. Well, because when you’re a major conference, they are different.

1 Seed Results In Conference Tourneys Since 2004

Conference Quarter-Final Semi-Final Runner Up Champs
Conference Quarter-Final Semi-Final Runner Up Champs
ACC 0 3 3 7
Big Ten 1 2 3 7
Big 12 1 3 3 6
PAC-12 2 1 5 5
SEC 1 3 5 4
Big East 5 2 3 3

While the rest of the major conference’s 1 Seeds have been making the championship game over 69% of the time, the Big East 1 Seeds only makes it to 46% of their tournament finals. The ACC and Big Ten 1 Seeds have won more than half of their conference’s tournaments, while the Big East 1 Seeds have won just three. Heck, all five other major conferences COMBINED have had their 1 Seeds eliminated in the Quarter-Finals the same number of times as the Big East.

And that’s when it finally hit me. There’s no curse on the Big East 1 seeds, it’s a blessing. In that same time period, the Big East is tied for the most NCAA Champions with four. All four played in the finals of the BET, and three of them won it. The two most recent were BET 1 Seeds. The Big East Tournament is a gauntlet that tests each team with a number of different styles and challenges that prepare them for the NCAA Tournament.

Even as a #1 Seed, you’re tested right out of the gate. The 8/9 seeds are usually up and coming teams that have now come together over the course of a season and will give it their all to beat the top team. All but one of the past 13 years, the 4/5 seeds have both been NCAA tournament teams that are more than capable of upsetting any team in the country. And finally, you’re likely to face a ranked team that wants to get the last laugh against the team that won the regular season. No other conference provides a tougher test for the top seed as they prepare for the NCAA tournament. If you can come out on top at MSG, you can go on to win the whole thing.

Last time Villanova won the Big East Tournament as the #1 seed, they won a National Championship the following year. Hopefully this time they can do it in the same season.