Tuesday, March 9, 2010

2010 Men's College Basketball Conference Tournament Probabilities: Mountain West

Part 23 of a 30 part series. Using Sagarin's Predictor ratings in a prediction formula, I'll weigh the probability of each conference team in each possible tournament matchup and through a Markov chain determine their chances of winning the tournament.

UNLV gets to host the Mountain West Tournament a little too often, having hosted eight of the last eleven Mountain West tourneys. Notice how UNLV frequently tends to win the Mountain West Tournament when they're hosting: All three of their Mountain West titles in the last 10 years (2000, 2007, 2008) came at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, and two other times (2002, 2003) they reached the final only to lose the Championship and automatic NCAA Tournament bid in a tight game. UNLV did not win the Mountain West during the three non-Vegas tournaments in Denver, and only reached the final in 2004.

So the Runnin' Rebels have to be happy while the rest of the Mountain West has to be grating their teeth at yet another installment of the Mountain West Tournament at the Thomas and Mack. #3 UNLV is among the favorites to win it all at 3 to 1 (25.9%), but they're not the favorite.

That favorite, however, is not media darling New Mexico, the regular season Mountain West champ who has gotten a series of mainstream media mouthjobs from their 28-3 regular season, with talk that the Lobos might deserve a three seed. The Sagarin ratings disagree, rating them 22nd, which is around 5 seed territory. They can inch their way to a 4 seed with a run to the finals, but they are in fact a big underdog to two potential Final opponents.

One is UNLV, and the other is a familiar face among mid-major powers and the favorite to win: #2 BYU. Yes, they took a late season loss to the Lobos, but Sagarin still rates them 9th overall in the nation despite it, and the Mormon Cougars are a 3 to 2 favorite to win the Mountain West (42.3%). If BYU and the Lobos played ten more times on a neutral floor, BYU would probably win seven of those matchups.

The only other legitimate shot to win is Steve Fisher's #4 San Diego State Aztecs at 7 to 1. Don't consider that a ringing endorsement: They probably win their opening game against #5 Colorado State and then face the underdog life against #1 New Mexico (45.7%), let alone underdog odds against likely Final opponents BYU (26.5%) and UNLV (32.8%). If the Lobos send the Aztecs home, SDSU needs to cross their fingers that they looked good enough (and other teams looked bad enough) to sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Right now the 20-8 Aztecs are on the wrong end of the bubble and could really use a big (and do-able) upset against the Lobos.

But then again, SDSU made the final of last year's tournament and missed the dance despite a stronger rating than they have this year (though they parlayed that denial into a trip to the NIT Final Four at MSG). However, upsets in othe conference tourneys and a decent at-large field sunk the Aztecs' at-large hopes in 2009, while a consensus weak field of at-large teams overall and a relative lack of upsets by outsiders could play to their benefit in 2010... if SDSU can repeat last year's run and pull a big upset. Of course, the Aztecs could also just win the tournament, but that's a hardway bet at best.

Here are the Mountain West odds for every team involved:

1. New Mexico: 4.3 to 1 (18.8%)
2. BYU: 3 to 2 (42.3%)
3. UNLV: 2.9 to 1 (25.9%)
4. San Diego State: 7.3 to 1
5. Colorado State: 314.7 to 1
6. Utah: 232.2 to 1
7. TCU: 1118 to 1
8. Wyoming: 3570.5 to 1
9. Air Force: 16753.8 to 1

Next: The Pac-10

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