The theory about championship games is that the hot team, not the best team, will come away with the title.
But if “hot” is measured by a semifinal performance, that theory may be misleading.
Inspired by this post, I looked into the margins of victory for semifinal playoff games to see if the teams that won by bigger margins in the semifinals were more likely to win the state championships.
I found that, since 2009 when title games moved to the neutral War (isn’t that an oxymoron?), the teams that win big in the semis are actually LESS likely to win the title game — but just barely.
Since 2009, the team that has won its semifinal game by fewer points is actually more successful in the title game, going 23-22. However, teams that win their semifinal games by wide margins that play teams that won their semifinal games by small margins do have an advantage.
Of the 11 instances since 2009 when a team that won its semifinal game by more than 25 points played a team that won its semifinal game by single digits, the team that won by 25-plus is 9-2 in those title games. The only teams not to uphold this were Douglas in 2014 (won its semifinal by 27, lost the title game to Cody, which won its semifinal by 8) and Tongue River in 2016 (won its semifinal by 31, lost the title game to Pine Bluffs, which won its semifinal by 6). This weekend, this scenario applies to Star Valley (won by 33; opponent Torrington won by 1).
However, simply winning big in a semifinal is no guarantee of title-game success. Of teams that won their semifinal games by at least 30 points, those teams are just 14-11 in title games. This includes five instances of each team playing in the title game after winning their semifinals by at least 30 points, four of those in six-man. This year’s six-man title game matches this scenario.
Looking ahead to this weekend, don’t be fooled by conventional wisdom. Even though it would seem that Star Valley, Buffalo, Big Horn and Farson would have the advantage, having won their semifinals by a wider margin than their opponent, we’ve seen that winning big in the semis guarantees nothing a week later.