KU Men’s Basketball recently won its eleventh straight Big 12 title, which made us curious to know how their feat stacks up against streaks of some of the most famous teams of all time. The five longest conference winning streaks ever include the likes of John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the 80’s and 90’s.
This data visualization proved to be a fun challenge because we had to beware of something we are always careful to avoid at our analytics consultancy – lying with data – or omitting context that misleads the audience. Unlike baseball, which has had extremely consistent statistics for over a century – college basketball has changed a lot during that same timeframe. Most notably, the field of teams invited to the NCAA tournament has expanded from a low of 16 teams when UConn began their conference winning streak, to 68 teams during KU’s current run. For this reason, we thought a better determination of conference parody may be to count the number of teams selected in the final AP poll each year; a poll that has run continuously since the 1950 -1951 season (the first season of UConn’s historic run). Even that approach had some limitations as the number of teams selected for the poll expanded from 20 to 25 teams for the 1989 – 1990 season.
So what is the best measure of conference parody? After all, an 11-season conference winning streak is not that impressive if the teams the champion are competing against are never ranked and aren’t good enough to be invited to the NCAA tournament. The following analysis looks at the share of the NCAA tournament field from each conference and share of the final AP poll from each conference.
The Five Longest NCAA Men’s Basketball Conference Winning Streaks of All Time
Our research and this data viz reveal several interesting insights:
- Of the five conferences included in this analysis, the Big 12 stands a noticeable step above when it comes to the share of the final AP poll they capture each year. Only once during KU’s current conference winning streak did the Big 12 represent less than 10% of the final AP poll. No other conference ever had more than a 10% share.
- The Big 12 historically made up the largest portion of the NCAA tournament bracket as well. Most years of KU’s run, the Big 12 had the highest share, but UCLA did tie the Jayhawks with just over 6% of the tournament field on two occasions.
- KU was the only school in the top five to not win 100% of its conference games at least once during their winning streak; an indication of better competition.
- Not only does UCLA have the longest run, they had the outright highest conference winning percentage compared to the rest of the teams in their league every single year (they never tied).
- During UConn’s run, they only had to beat five other teams for the title each year, and four of those schools were not considered major at the time.
All and all, Kansas basketball’s current run should be considered one for the ages and will likely stand among the greatest if somebody takes another look at this data in another 50 – 100 years.