Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bracket Buster Weekend: Which Conference Benefits Most

Over the last few seasons ESPN has promoted a Bracket Buster weekend slate of non-conference college basketball games, intended to help mid-major teams in undercovered conferences gain exposure in relatively high profile games. To ensure that at least a handful of worthwhile matchups result, ESPN scheduled 98 of these games between teams from a variety of conferences, including the Horizon (key teams include Butler and Cleveland State), MAC (Kent State), Missouri Valley (Creighton, Missouri State), Colonial (VCU, George Mason) and Ohio Valley (Murray State). Other smaller conferences are featured as well this time around.

To be honest, many of the participating teams have flopped this season and are playing out the string. Most of the better teams are far, far away from the NCAA Tournament bubble. Most have Sagarin ratings around the low 100's, which might not even be enough for an NIT bid. Some are legitimately in the hunt for at-large bids, though, like Butler and Utah State.

Mid majors in the hunt, however, even have a stake in games they're not involved in, because each win by one of their conference's teams can boost that conference's strength of schedule ratings, not to mention their own ratings, which in turn boosts the ratings of every team in that conference since these teams all play each other and thus factor into each respective strength of schedule. Obviously, if your conference gets hammered this weekend, that's not going to help your chances, while your conference doing well bolsters your chances even if you don't play this weekend, or your game was an easy win over a poor non-con foe.

Looking at current Sagarin ratings and utilizing probability methods, I determined the expected wins and expected losses for each conference based on the probability of each Bracket Buster game. For example, if a team has an 85% chance of winning their game, I gave that team and their respective conference 0.85 Expected Wins (E.W.) and 0.15 Expected Losses (E.L.). The underdog of course would get 0.15 E.W. and 0.85 E.L.

Here are the Expected Wins and Losses for each conference in this Saturday's games:

Wins and Losses by Conference
for Bracket Buster Saturday
(Out of)
(33 Conferences)
BIG SKY17.58.42
BIG WEST183.834.17
SUN BELT20.16.84
OHIO VALLEY214.585.42
AMERICA EAST261.371.63
BIG SOUTH281.342.66

The MAC, which is having a down year, is the most involved of the conferences, and while they're expected to pick up the most wins, they're also expected to pick up the most losses. The Ohio Valley has involved themselves quite a bit as well, but is looking to take a hit with more losses than wins. The top four participating conferences, however, are counting on a boost and expected to win more than they lose. In the case of limited participants, the Southern Conference has a fair chance at winning 2 of their 3 games, but the Big South is likely to take a beating and possibly lose 3 of 4.

It's likely that, outside of the Siena-Butler game, we don't flesh out any serious contenders from this bunch. The best of the lot have ratings in the 70's and are playing teams close in level to them. A win looks nice but proves little. However, it can help the conference a lot, plus could be the difference between a 14 seed and a 13 seed, which can always help your chances for an upset.

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