As each conference gets started with games by Saturday, it’s a good time to look at who is likely to win each of the 32 D-I leagues. I’ve run the season 10,000 times using the current ratings and then recorded how many times each team finished at the top of its conference. If teams shared the top spot, I gave them the appropriate fraction for that trial. (Because of these fractions and the rounding I do at the end, totals for each conference may not add up to exactly 10,000. Also, some teams can be listed as having zero titles because they were involved in a single multi-team tie for the top spot.)
The count listed for the favorite is going to be somewhat inflated since it assumes that the team’s current rating will remain constant for the remainder of the season. But everyone’s level of play is going to change, and it’s more likely that one of the three or four contenders in each conference will improve than it is for the favorite itself to improve.
What follows is the list of teams that won at least one simulation for each conference season. This is presented in order of least to most competitive races. This is Part 1. Part 2 will contain the more interesting races.
Duke 9381 North Carolina 288 Florida St. 147 Maryland 96 Virginia Tech 54 Boston College 23 Clemson 8 Miami FL 4
No surprise here, as Duke has basically lived up to early expectations and whoever was going to challenge Duke hasn’t.
31. Pac 10
Washington 9122 Arizona 672 Washington St. 90 Southern California 82 UCLA 30 Stanford 2 California 1 Oregon St. 0
Washington appears to be the best team in the league, and by virtue of escaping the SoCal road trip with a 2-0 record the Huskies significantly increased their chances of winning the conference. Then Arizona went and lost at Oregon State, nearly clinching it for the Huskies.
Utah St. 9052 Boise St. 901 New Mexico St. 32 Nevada 12 Idaho 2 Fresno St. 0
I have to admit that I’ve been thinking Boise State had a legit chance to steal the top seed in the WAC. Utah State has looked sluggish in winning its two WAC home games to start conference play. But apparently, it’s a little early for Bronco fans to dream big.
29. Atlantic Sun
Belmont 9019 Lipscomb 468 Jacksonville 330 East Tennessee St. 163 Campbell 19
Belmont’s three losses have included competitive defeats at Tennessee (twice) and at Vanderbilt. They’ve mostly taken care of business in other games against weaker competition and sport a healthy 9% chance to run the A-Sun table, which is impressive considering it’s a 20 game slate.
28. Big Ten
Ohio St. 8791 Purdue 943 Illinois 98 Michigan St. 94 Wisconsin 74 Northwestern 0
While the Big Ten is more top-heavy that people give it credit for (at least, relative to the Big East), it is *really* top-heavy at the very top.
27. Big 12
Kansas 8352 Texas 554 Baylor 416 Missouri 342 Texas A&M 240 Kansas St. 53 Nebraska 24 Iowa St. 14 Oklahoma St. 5 Colorado 0
Somewhat surprisingly, Nebraska has the seventh-best chance of gaining the top seed. The Huskers have yet to play a true road game, which in today’s world is enough for analysts to disregard them. But you heard it here first – Nebraska will apply a “bad loss” to at least one team in the Big 12 hierarchy.
26. Summit League
Oakland 8247 South Dakota St. 811 IUPU Fort Wayne 416 IUPUI 251 Oral Roberts 217 North Dakota St. 58
Most teams in the Summit have played four of their 18 conference games already. Oakland played a famously difficult non-conference schedule to start the season – it ranked 5th hardest in my system – but has had no problem starting 4-0 in conference.
Stephen F. Austin 8165 Sam Houston St. 989 Nicholls St. 731 McNeese St. 78 Texas San Antonio 20 Lamar 6 Texas St. 4 Northwestern St. 3 Texas Arlington 2 Southeastern Louisiana 2 Texas A&M Corpus Chris 1
The Southland has yet to play a conference game and so all kinds of possibilities exist. Most of them involve SFA and its nation-leading defensive turnover percentage winning the league.
24. Big Sky
Montana 7951 Northern Colorado 871 Northern Arizona 810 Montana St. 249 Weber St. 115 Portland St. 4 Eastern Washington 0
The Griz have the road win over UCLA which was widely assumed to be evidence that UCLA is no good this season. However, the Bruins have not been a pushover at home when healthy, so maybe we should give Montana a bit more respect.
Butler 7861 Cleveland St. 2085 Valparaiso 32 Wright St. 18 Loyola Chicago 2 Detroit 1
This is the closest thing to a two-team race in the nation – only 53 simulations have a team other than Butler or Cleveland State winning the title and receiving the honor of hosting the conference tourney. Even with Cleveland State already having two more wins than Butler, the Dawgs are still a substantial favorite.
22. Great West
South Dakota 7808 Utah Valley 1691 Texas Pan American 394 North Dakota 73 Houston Baptist 18 NJ Inst of Technology 16
The GWC tournament is essentially meaningless since there is no auto-bid to the NCAA tournament on the line. But the regular-season champ does get a bid to the CIT.
21. Big West
Long Beach St. 7308 UC Santa Barbara 1596 Pacific 970 UC Davis 55 UC Irvine 51 Cal St. Northridge 8 Cal St. Fullerton 7 Cal Poly 5
Long Beach State has already beaten UCSB on the road. Thus, they’ve assumed the clear favorite role.
20. Big South
Coastal Carolina 7165 Charleston Southern 872 Virginia Military Inst 663 Liberty 654 Winthrop 473 Presbyterian 138 NC Asheville 33 High Point 1 Gardner Webb 0
If Coastal stumbles, the conference is up for grabs. (Seriously, this is the only interesting thing I can say about the Big South.)
Kentucky 6348 Vanderbilt 2750 Florida 563 Mississippi 128 Alabama 109 Tennessee 62 Arkansas 38 Georgia 2 South Carolina 0
This analysis assumes the best record gets the one-seed, even though the divisional structure essentially produces co-one seeds. Vandy has put itself in the position of being a plausible contrarian pick heading into conference play.
Bucknell 6328 American 2433 Lehigh 1076 Holy Cross 88 Lafayette 51 Army 22 Navy 2
Bucknell boosted its profile nicely by beating Richmond on the road yesterday.
St. Mary's 6099 Gonzaga 3655 Portland 234 Santa Clara 11 Loyola Marymount 1
I’m not going to say I believe SMC should be the favorite to win the league, but pre-season hype aside, the Gaels have looked very good. Had this coin flip gone the other way, a lot more people would be considering their chances to end Gonzaga’s eight-year streak of winning the WCC outright.