Is Final Four "Experience" Necessary For Success?

Quick note: subjective and objective analysis follows. Please feel free to counter my points, question the analysis, or point out things that I missed. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed piecing it together. -- Aerobab


"They're playing great right now and they've got loads of talent...but they just lack Final Four experience and I think that'll hurt them on the big stage."

How many times have we heard something similar to that?  Every single year it's the same story from the "expert" sports pundits: a team shows up to "The Big Dance" with each of the requisite credentials -- record, resume, talent, and intangibles -- but lacks the respect of the pundits.  Why?  "Lack of Final Four experience".

My question: is there any validity in the pundit's statements?  Given some early projections and much recent hype for our men's basketball team, we could be looking at the first trip to the Final Four in the Vol's history!  If "experience" is a prerequisite to winning at the top-level, are we doomed?  Should we go ahead and write off this season as a "learning-experience" for the next few years?  (Pretty pictures after the jump...)

First off, I must define experience.  For the analysis that I'm about to present, I  defined "experience" as "a class of student-athletes appearing in the Final Four (F4) at least once in the preceding three seasons".  This assumes that any given player will stay on a given team for 4 whole seasons, counting the 'present' tournament year.  No red/grayshirts, transfers, early leaves (withdrawal, bolt to NBA, etc.) were considered. Another general assumption that I made is that I did not consider coaching experience/turnover.  For example, Florida's Billy Donovan's 2000 F4 coaching experience does not factor into the success of his 2006 or 2007 teams (outside of 4 yr. window) nor is UNC's Billy Guthridge's first trip to the 1998 F4 weighed less because of Dean Smith's 1995 and 1997 success (new coach within 4 yr. window).

Additionally, I need to define "team".  It seems silly, but I need to define it differently for the sake of the analysis.  My "team" is "the grouping of student-athletes for a defined season".  In other words, the 2006 Vols are a different team than the 2007 Vols, even though the team name remains the same.

I've put together this pretty powerful spreadsheet listing the champion, runner-up, and semi-final runners-up for each of the 69 annual tournaments, dating back to 1939; mostly courtesy of the wonderful Wikipedia; complete with colors, drop-down lists and the like.  (CAUTION: Not for those with photosensitive epilepsy!) (Seriously, it's probably not.)  I think most of you will have fun putting together all kinds of information, but here's what I thought were the most significant bytes of information that should put the "experts" to (partial) shame:

1.) Of 276 F4 Teams since 1939 (69 tournaments):
     a) 88 Teams had previous F4 experience (31.9%)
     b) 188 Teams had no previous F4 experience (68.1%)

2.) National Championship Winners:
     a) 39 NC winners had previous F4 experience (56.5%)
     b) 30 NC winners had no previous F4 experience (43.5%)

3.) National Championship Runners-Up:
     a) 21 NCRs-U had previous F4 experience (30.4%)
     b) 48 NCRs-U had no previous F4 experience (69.6%)

4.) Semifinal Runners-Up (138 teams):
     a) 28 SFRs-U had previous F4 experience (20.3%)
     b) 110 SFRs-U had no previous F4 experience (79.7%)

...or in pretty pictures for you visual types. (Data reduced; epilepsy hazard is less.)


[Note: "Semifinal Appearance" is intended to be "Semifinal Runners-Up".  I I'm too lazy to change it and don't want any confusion between the winners and losers of that game are.]

...and because most of us are SEC homers and we all know how awesome the ESS-EEE-CEE is (not relevant to argument - simply presented for information):

5.) SEC Notes:
     a) 15 Championship game appearances amongst 3 teams (Arkansas-2, Florida-3, Kentucky-10)
     b) 10 Championships amongst 3 teams (Arkansas, Florida-2, Kentucky-7) (14.5%)
     c) 25 SEC teams advanced to the F4 (Arkansas-2, Florida-3, Georgia, Kentucky-13, LSU-4, Miss. St.) (9%)
         i)Of the 25 teams, 18 had no previous F4 experience; 4 of the 18 won Championships and another 4 were NCRs-U.

Are the "expert" pundits correct in their "lack of experience" philosophy? Yes and No.  The data shows that those with F4 experience have the slight edge (less than 60/40) to win the championship game and only occasionally (20%) do they loose a semifinal game.  At the same time, nearly 70% of all F4 participants to date had no F4 experience

So what does this data tell us about the 2008 Vols' chances of success in the tournament?  It tells me that we've got a great shot (nearly 70%) at making it out of the Elite Eight! It tells me that we've got an excellent shot (nearly 80%) at losing the semi-final game!  It tells me that we've got a great shot (nearly 70%) at losing the championship game!  Lastly, it tells me that it'll take some work to win the tournament, given that only 43.5% of teams with no F4 experience have historically done so. (However, if you unfairly extract UCLA's amazing run from 1964-75, the F4 experience percentage of winning the tourney jumps to 50%!)

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