As done in this space last season, it’s time to look at how conference races might shake out based on what my ratings say to this point. The ground rules are similar to last year: I’ll use the current ratings for each team, simulate the conference season 10,000 times and record which team gets the one-seed for its conference tournament in each case.
Many conferences have already played a few games and those games are included in the simulations. Since conference tie-breaking logic is largely random, I don’t make any effort to break ties in the simulations. If there’s a tie in a single simulation, the tied teams are each given a fraction of the conference title. The results of all of the simulations are listed for each conference and if a team is listed having won zero simulations, that means it was involved in a single case of a multi-team tie for first. Teams that did not win or tie in a simulation are not listed.
Note that there is no provision for the ratings being inaccurate. Thus, the chances of the stronger favorites are overstated somewhat. I think there are two major reasons for this. First, a team that has played very well to this point will tend to be playing over its head more often than it’s not. Second, it’s possible that one or two teams from its seemingly distant competition is being underrated based on its play so far.
This week we’ll count down the conferences, Casey Kasem style, in reverse order based on the chances of the favorite to win the conference. Without further ado, let’s look at the six least-competitive conferences today. Keep in mind that even based on the overly-optimistic odds for these potential champs, you’d expect one of these to miss out on its league title at the end of the season.
32. OVC (Predicted champ: Murray State, 93%)
The travails of the Racers have been documented here and many other places. It’s not so much that Murray State is a Final Four contender as it is they are a very good OVC team in a year when their conference is down.
Murray St. 9315 Austin Peay 240 Morehead St. 149 Tennessee Tech 126 Tennessee St. 77 Eastern Kentucky 53 Eastern Illinois 37 Jacksonville St. 2 Southeast Missouri St. 0
31. Atlantic Sun (Belmont, 93%)
The Bruins’ bandwagon has lost some fans because they have lost five games already. But all five losses were true road games and four of them were by a combined ten points. They have had the misfortune of playing three games total against sneaky good Middle Tennessee and Marshall who are underrated nationally. Despite the L’s, Belmont appears to be every bit as good as last season and has a 1-in-9 chance of going 18-0 in conference.
Belmont 9261 Mercer 635 USC Upstate 48 North Florida 33 East Tennessee St. 15 Lipscomb 5 Florida Gulf Coast 1 Jacksonville 0
30. Ivy (Harvard, 89%)
Tommy Amaker’s team has been as good, if not better than, the preseason hype associated with the Crimson. They’re as dominant relative to the rest of their league as Belmont and Murray State, but the shorter 14-game conference slate adds a bit more uncertainty to the proceedings. There’s about a 9% chance of a season-ending tie and thus invoking the Ivy League tournament.
Harvard 8911 Princeton 356 Yale 292 Columbia 182 Penn 146 Cornell 112
29. MAAC (Iona, 75%)
There’s a large drop from the three least-competitive conferences to the MAAC. Iona has put some distance between itself and preseason co-favorite Fairfield. Both have won two road games against bottom-dwellers to start MAAC play and Iona made 74% of their twos in those games. It’s pretty amazing that Siena somehow tied in one of the simulations. They are ranked 241st (Iona is 44th) and are already two games behind the Gaels and Stags in the conference race.
Iona 7516 Fairfield 1639 Loyola MD 534 Manhattan 311 Siena 0
28. SEC (Kentucky, 73%)
The Wildcats haven’t disappointed at all to start the season, but the impressive play from Florida early on this season has eaten into Kentucky’s chances a bit. The ratings say Mississippi State is the most overrated team in the land. They’ll have a chance to correct that in Wednesday’s showdown with Baylor.
Kentucky 7269 Florida 1799 Alabama 834 Mississippi St. 54 Vanderbilt 33 Louisiana St. 4 Mississippi 3 Arkansas 2 Tennessee 1 Georgia 0
27. Big West (Long Beach State, 69%)
Almost all of the national press the Big West has received has gone to the Beach this season, but their stature took a hit with a loss to Kansas State yesterday that was more lopsided than expected. UCSB gets a modicum of publicity, mostly because of the play of Orlando Johnson, but Cal Poly is one of the better sleeper picks in the country for a conference title. (Coincidentally, their style of play will actually put you to sleep what with the second-slowest pace and the 47th-ranked defense in the nation.) Regardless, the point is that due to having two other strong teams in its conference, LBSU’s chances of winning the regular-season title (let alone the conference tourney) are quite a bit less than the casual fan might think.
Long Beach St. 6928 UC Santa Barbara 1500 Cal Poly 1437 Cal St. Fullerton 132 UC Irvine 2