Mythbuster #6: “The best tourney teams are the ones who’ve been there before”

In Mythbuster #5, I examined the adage that veteran teams have an advantage in the dance. We saw that this wasn’t the case—at least for 1-6 “contender” seeds. Younger teams have been performing increasingly better over the 29 years of the 64-team era. (Interestingly, the age dynamic is a little different for 7-12 “underdog” seeds and Power conference teams versus Mids and Smalls. Make sure to read the comments under the previous blog. Interesting discoveries prompted by my man Jared.)

Team age is very different, however, from tourney experience. You can have an old team that didn’t go to the previous dance. (They’re not good; a -.300 PASE for 1-6 seeded such teams.) Or you can have a young, tourney-tested squad. (They play about to seed expectations.).

So it’s a valid question to ask whether teams with more tourney experience, as measured by consecutive appearances, are better performers than those with less. I looked again at 1-6 contender seeds and broke them into four categories of tourney experience: 1) teams who didn’t go to the previous dance, 2) teams with 2-3 straight trips, 3) those with 4-6 consecutive bids and 4) teams with more than six straight appearances. Here’s what the PASE analysis shows:


Unlike team age, there’s a clear positive correlation between a team’s tourney experience and its performance in the tourney. Higher seeded squads that didn’t go to the previous dance underperform at the highest rate, while those with a two or three straight bids play slightly better, but still fall short of expectations. The 4-6 bid teams are slight overachievers, while the teams that have the longest tourney streaks perform the best.

This dynamic doesn’t just hold true for PASE either. More experienced squads also have a succeedingly higher rate of reaching the Final Four (6.8% for rookie teams, 7.3% for 2-3 bid teams, 20.5% for 4-6 bid teams and 22.9% of seven-plus squads). You see the same correlation in terms of championships (1.8%/2.7%/3.3%/8.4%).

So…at least for higher seeded squads, tourney experience is a key performance indicator. What about the 7-12 underdog seeds? Here’s a quick rundown on those numbers:

  • Didn’t go to last dance: -.077 PASE, 2F4 of 348 teams
  • 2-3 straight bids: +.033 PASE, 3F4 of 217 teams
  • 4-6 straight bids: +.175 PASE, 2F4 of 76 teams
  • More than six bids: +.117 PASE, 1F4 of 55 teams

The improvement in performance isn’t quite as linear with increasing tourney experience as it is for higher seeds. But it’s clear that tourney experience matters even for lower seeds.

The Verdict: Keep your eye on a team’s consecutive bids to the dance. If history is any indication, experience is a harbinger of how a team will perform in the tourney.

(NOTE: This is likely the last blog until Selection Sunday. I’m going into Excel sheet building mode—and that means late nights, bleary eyes and little sleep. I’m hoping to get the sheet posted a couple hours after the brackets are announced. The numbers that dictate how fast I can turn this around are: 1) SOS and RPI, 2) KenPom efficiency data. I’ll do my best.

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3 Responses to Mythbuster #6: “The best tourney teams are the ones who’ve been there before”

  1. BUCats says:

    Thanks for your hard work Pete! Can’t wait until basketball xmas (6PM on Sunday)!

  2. Gary Diny says:


    Thanks in advance for all the hard work you will be doing in the next few days!!!!

    Regarding the tourney experience, is this more a reflection of the coach, the players, or the program/institution? When a coach moves on from a program, does that at all reflect on a drop in performance in subsequent years? Not sure if this could be teased our of your “Fort Knox” of tourney data.

    Side question…..Could Wisconsin really get a #1 seed? Seems that the other contenders for the 4th #1 seed have been losing lately….Villanova, Syracuse, Kansas. Might it be down to Wisconsin and the ACC Champ (Virginia or Duke, assuming both get there).


    • Dave K says:

      Hope I’m not answering wrong but I think Pete simply looks at what a schools current streak of making the tourney is for determining ‘tourney experience”. A good example this year is Connecticut: A rich basketball history that’s playing well right now BUT was not in the tourney last year AND this will be Kevin Ollie’s first tourney appearance. I would imagine the Seed Guide gives them an early boot.

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