This is the third and final part of my look at every conference race using a Monte Carlo and my current ratings for each team. The listed numbers are how many simulations each team won out of 10,000, so divide that number by 100 to get the percent chance I am giving each team of winning the one-seed for its conference tournament. (Note: not all teams listed are eligible for their conference tournament, so in some cases it’s a mythical one-seed.) If a team isn’t listed, I didn’t forget about them – they didn’t win a single simulation.
Conferences are ordered from least to most competitive. These are the ten most-competitive conference races. The following results include all games played through yesterday.
10. Sun Belt
The pick: Louisiana Lafayette. Bob Marlin’s team has looked very good aside from a 39-point drubbing to Louisville. Point guard Elfrid Payton is putting up Marcus Smart-type numbers. He’s not a great perimeter shooter, but he gets to the free-throw line so much that he’s a major problem for opposing defenses.
The contrarian pick: Georgia State. The Panthers have been exactly what you might have thought coming into the season. A great offensive team led by R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow, with a little bit of Manny Atkins thrown in. They’re the contrarian pick because I’m not sure how many people know they are in the Sun Belt this season.
Louisiana Lafayette 4056 Georgia St. 3178 South Alabama 864 Western Kentucky 763 UT Arlington 677 Arkansas St. 339 Louisiana Monroe 91 Arkansas Little Rock 18 Texas St. 10 Troy 4
9. Conference USA
The pick: Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs were picked second by an esteemed panel of experts and they haven’t disappointed, what with recently winning at Oklahoma. Michale Kyser is one of the best shot-blockers in the country and leads a defense that will give some problems to the rest of C-USA.
The contrarian pick: UTEP. Since Southern Miss was picked to win the league by that same esteemed panel of experts, the contrarian pick has to be a team that lost at home to New Orleans.
Louisiana Tech 4045 Southern Miss 3026 UTEP 978 UAB 839 Charlotte 666 Middle Tennessee 157 Tulsa 94 East Carolina 90 North Texas 47 Marshall 18 FIU 16 Old Dominion 16 Florida Atlantic 6 Rice 1
The pick: Syracuse. I’m not saying this was common thought, but if there was an idea that there’s some sort of adjustment period for a team playing in a new conference, I think Syracuse will be one of a few examples in 2014 of how that is a dumb idea.
The contrarian pick: Pitt. The Panthers’ chances are overstated here because I suspect Duke’s chances are understated. Still, I think there’s a way they could go 13-5 in ACC play and spread out those losses in a way that would prevent them from being ranked by the AP. I’m really hoping for that, actually.
Syracuse 4032 Pittsburgh 2141 Duke 1727 North Carolina 1085 Florida St. 471 Clemson 250 Virginia 165 Notre Dame 80 Maryland 26 North Carolina St. 12 Wake Forest 6 Virginia Tech 3 Miami FL 2
The pick: Belmont. You remember Belmont’s win at UNC, but overall it hasn’t a been a smooth journey through the non-conference slate for the Bruins. They’re the favorite to win the conference, but just barely.
The contrarian pick: Eastern Kentucky. There are some teams lining up behind Belmont, but the Colonels once took VCU to overtime, so beware.
Belmont 3939 Eastern Kentucky 3307 Morehead St. 1330 Southeast Missouri St. 1155 Murray St. 181 Austin Peay 44 Tennessee Tech 20 Jacksonville St. 9 Eastern Illinois 6 Tennessee Martin 4 Tennessee St. 4 SIU Edwardsville 2
6. Big Sky
The pick: Montana. I’ve never the SOS imbalance that the Griz has going on right now. They’ve faced the seventh-best set of offenses and the 295th-best defenses. Thus, their raw offensive numbers look great and the defense looks poor. Hopefully, Wayne Tinkle understands that once conference play begins, those numbers are going to even out.
The contrarian pick: Northern Colorado. The Bears won at Kansas State to start the season, which at the time was just an excuse for people to make Bruce Weber jokes. But hey, Kansas State’s actually decent, and so is UNC-Greeley.
Montana 3849 Northern Colorado 2646 Weber St. 2635 Eastern Washington 481 Idaho St. 157 North Dakota 133 Northern Arizona 51 Montana St. 25 Portland St. 17 Sacramento St. 7
The pick: Kentucky. It’s a close call between the Wildcats and Gators, but the edge at the moment goes to Kentucky. UK isn’t shooting the ball great, but they lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and free throw rate. Which means the eye test won’t give their offense as much credit as it deserves.
The contrarian pick: LSU. The Tigers are the sleeper of all sleepers. They’re a two-point loss to UMass and seven-point loss to Memphis from being unbeaten and national darlings, and from people anointing Johnny Jones as the next Brad Stevens. OK, maybe that wouldn’t be happening yet, but if LSU contends for the SEC with a sub six-foot backcourt, Jones would start getting his due.
Kentucky 3765 Florida 3277 Tennessee 1213 LSU 727 Missouri 440 Arkansas 404 Alabama 92 Mississippi 55 South Carolina 17 Vanderbilt 7 Georgia 1
The pick: UMass. The Minutemen have played a hellacious schedule, with just four true home games and only one gimme game – a home contest against Northern Illinois. They’ve risked a loss 11 times and only have one defeat to show for it.
The contrarian pick: Dayton. Saint Louis and VCU are still on the radar and got plenty of preseason ink, but Dayton’s 11-3 and been one of the unluckiest teams in the land so far.
Massachusetts 3527 Saint Louis 2921 VCU 1678 Dayton 927 Richmond 297 George Washington 282 Saint Joseph's 218 St. Bonaventure 69 George Mason 44 La Salle 36 Fordham 2
3. Big South
The pick: Charleston Southern. Charleston Southern is a fun team. They’ve only beaten two D-I teams so far, but one of those was at a really good Delaware team and they’ve been competitive against some high-quality competition such as New Mexico, Baylor, and Florida State.
The contrarian pick: Radford. The Highlanders last won the conference in 2009 when the great Artsiom Parakhouski patrolled the paint. He was 6-11, 240. The tallest player on this year’s edition is 6-8, 205 Jalen Carethers.
Charleston Southern 3307 UNC Asheville 1645 Radford 1575 Winthrop 1008 Liberty 656 Gardner Webb 650 VMI 525 Coastal Carolina 286 High Point 266 Campbell 72 Longwood 9 Presbyterian 1
The pick: Bryant. How can you not root for a team that has a player named Claybrin McMath on the roster?
The contrarian pick: St. Francis Brooklyn. The Terriers have never appeared in the NCAA tournament. This could be the year.
Bryant 3236 Robert Morris 2750 St. Francis NY 1977 Wagner 1159 Central Connecticut 297 Mount St. Mary's 237 LIU Brooklyn 185 Sacred Heart 143 Fairleigh Dickinson 14 St. Francis PA 2
1. Patriot League
The pick: Boston U. The winner for least-predictable conference race goes to the Patriot League. This is a bit of an upset in itself because before the season, it seemed like BU was the obvious choice to win the league. Now, there’s about a 70% chance they won’t.
The contrarian pick: You make the call. The bottom line is that there’s more parity at the top of the Patriot than any other conference. Bucknell, Holy Cross, Colgate, or Lehigh; even Lafayette and American, just go with whatever your gut tells you.
Boston University 3018 Holy Cross 2008 Bucknell 1941 Colgate 1303 Lehigh 749 Lafayette 460 American 441 Loyola MD 56 Army 21 Navy 1