Commentary

How do SEC's struggles stack up?

Updated: January 26, 2009, 1:03 PM ET
By Joe Lunardi | ESPN.com

When Georgetown lost at Seton Hall on Sunday, there was a trickle-down effect across the college basketball landscape. One unintended consequence was that a spot opened in today's bracket for a No. 4 seed.

Normally, it wouldn't be news that Kentucky grabbed this spot. The Wildcats, after all, are among the most accomplished programs in the history of the sport. But a different kind of history is being made in the same conference UK calls home. For a so-called power conference, the 2008-09 SEC may be historically weak.

What if Kentucky doesn't maintain its modest No. 4 seed? And what if no other SEC team emerges to challenge for one of the top four lines of the NCAA bracket? More significantly, has one of the six power conferences ever failed to produce a protected (1-4) seed?

There have been 24 prior seasons in the 64/65 team NCAA tournament era -- 144 opportunities for the "Big Six" conferences to produce at least one protected seed apiece. These six leagues -- the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC -- have fallen short in this category only five times. In other words, the BCS leagues have succeeded 96.5 percent of the time in having at least one team in the top quarter of the NCAA bracket.

The chart below lists the average seed of the top team from each of these conferences, along with the year(s) in which each failed to give us a 1-4 seed:

A few thoughts on this data before we move on:

• The top ACC teams have been high seeds far more often than those of any other conference. In fact, the worst ACC seed in the 64/65 team era was a No. 3 (Duke) in 1990. Naturally, both Duke and No. 4 seed Georgia Tech still advanced to the Final Four that season.

•In the remaining 23 seasons, the ACC has produced a No. 1 seed 18 times and a No. 2 seed on five occasions. No other conference even comes close to this sustained excellence.

• For the majority of the era in question (1985-2008), the ACC had the fewest number of teams, yet consistently achieved the most. Any discussion of the best conference in the modern game should begin and end with that statement.

Back to the topic at hand, let's look at the five power-conference seasons in which a BCS league didn't give us a 1-4 NCAA tournament seed:

• 2004 (Big Ten): Only three Big Ten teams made the tourney, with Illinois (No. 5) having the best seed in the group. The Illini were the only one to advance to the second weekend.

• 1999 (Big 12): The Big 12 sent five teams to the tourney that year, with Kansas (No. 6) getting the best seed of the bunch. Ironically, No. 13 Oklahoma -- the worst seed ever for a BCS at-large team -- was the only conference member to reach the Sweet 16.

• 1989 (SEC): Five SEC teams made the NCAAs, yet the best seed of the group was No. 6 Alabama. Not a single one of the five won a game.

• 1986 (Pac-10): In the worst-ever showing for a BCS conference in terms of quantity, the Pac-10 sent only No. 9 seed Arizona and No. 12 seed Washington to the Big Dance. Both lost in the first round.

• 1985: (Pac-10): Three Pac-10 teams were selected in the first year of the 64-team field, No. 5 Washington, No. 8 USC and No. 10 Arizona. Each lost its first-round NCAA game.

Looking ahead to the 2009 tourney, we can probably assume that at least Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida will be part of the NCAA field. As such, the 2009 SEC probably won't dip as low as the 1986 Pac-10 in terms of number of teams selected. However, every other standard of power-conference futility is within reach.

Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio. Comments may be sent to Bracketology@comcast.net.

Joe Lunardi | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com