What Does A College Basketball Conference Champ Look Like?

NC State is expected to compete for a conference title in 2013, which got me wondering what, exactly, a conference championship team looks like on paper. Essentially I'm wondering a) what performance baseline--in terms of efficiency margin--we need to shoot for this year and b) just how much we'll need to improve to compete and how common that amount of year-to-year improvement has been over the last five years.

I looked at the conference-only stats for each regular season power-conference champion over the last five seasons; there were multiple teams for some years where schools were tied at the top. That gave me a pool of 36 teams between the ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Pac-10/12, Big 12, and Big East.

Averages Off_Eff Def_Eff Margin Win% W-L
110.3 96.4 +13.9 .833 13-3 / 15-3

Impressive numbers, not surprisingly. Those 36 schools combined to win over 83% of their league games and had an average efficiency margin well north of +10.

Most dominant champs:

Off_Eff Def_Eff Margin W-L
Kentucky (2012) 120.2 93.9 +26.3 16-0
Kansas (2008) 116.2 91.9 +24.3 13-3
Wisconsin (2008) 109.0 90.6 +18.4 16-2
Kansas (2010) 115.5 97.5 +18.0 15-1
Kansas (2012) 111.4 93.5 +17.9 16-2

The fortunate sons (five least dominant champs):

Off_Eff Def_Eff Margin W-L
Michigan (2012) 106.3 100.7 +5.6 13-5
Arizona (2011)
108.7 103.0 +5.7 14-4
Washington (2012)
103.4 96.1 +7.3 14-4
Michigan St. (2010)
104.7 96.8 +7.9 14-4
Texas (2008)
108.8 100.2 +8.6 13-3

Thirty of the 36 teams finished with an efficiency margin of at least +10, so I think that's a pretty good baseline for "conference contender." The one sub-10 team not listed in the "worst winners" chart, Washington's 2009 club, finished +9.7, so that Huskies team was right there. If you're +10, it's safe to say you're a legit top team in your league, fully capable of taking home the league crown if graced by the dash of good fortune that every champ needs. Of course, the five teams in the last chart prove that falling short of +10 is no mark of certain doom.

NC State finished 2012 with a +3.4 efficiency margin (104.2 OE / 100.8 DE), so we're looking for an improvement of 6.6 points per 100 possessions to reach that +10 baseline. Which isn't a daunting task at all, but I'll get into that some other time.

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