There’s been plenty of excitement here in the regular season, but we are nearing ever so closer to the madness.
We have gotten deep into college basketball’s regular season, and some teams and standouts have risen to national prominence. The Big 12, to no one’s surprise, is a juggernaut. The Big East has been better, especially with Marquette and Xavier improving. Some teams, like Florida Atlantic, seem ready to sweep their conference tournaments and soar into March Madness.
But before we look into the end-of-season conference tournaments, let’s look at where teams project to finish the regular season. Who will win their conference’s regular-season title? How many teams are projected to finish the regular season with at least 25 wins?
With the help of TRACR, we’re here to answer those questions and more. TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster) is a net efficiency metric that calculates a team’s points per possession on both sides of the ball, adjusted by the team it plays. The model rewards teams that do well against good teams and punishes those that do poorly against weaker squads.
Florida Atlantic is ranked No. 41 in TRACR, so while we do not see the Owls as a top 25 team, they are ranked much higher than their conference foes. The next best team in Conference USA, per TRACR, is UAB (which is quite a fun team to watch!). Florida Atlantic is rated about eight points higher than UAB.
And it appears that the Owls might end the regular season with just one more loss. Standing in at 21-1 overall and 11-0 in conference play, Florida Atlantic looks ready to finish with the best record in Division I. While some of the Owls’ games in conference play have been close (they won five straight by fewer than five points), they’ve outscored opponents by an average of 13.2 points over their last five games.
It will not be smooth sailing, however. Florida Atlantic goes on the road to UAB on Thursday and then to Charlotte (98th) on Feb. 4 in what figures to be its toughest stretch of the regular season.
Behind Florida Atlantic in terms of the best projected winning percentage is Houston (No. 2), which our model forecasts to finish with about 28-29 wins entering the AAC Tournament. Houston did lose to Temple (73rd) at home, but it rebounded with wins over UCF (55th) and Cincinnati (53rd). These were two impressive wins that show once again why the Cougars are at the top of the conference.
While the competition in the AAC is still strong, and the Cougars have some tough road games ahead, TRACR still expects Houston to win at least a share of the conference title. The Cougars are 8-1 in conference play, while Temple and Memphis (39th) are behind them at 8-2 and 7-2, respectively.
Florida Atlantic and Houston, to no surprise, have a high chance of winning their conference titles. But wait a minute, how about Oral Roberts??
Paul Mills’ squad is 19-4 and 10-0 in conference play. Only three of those 10 conference games were decided by single digits and four of them were won by 20 or more points, including a 41-point rout of Denver last week. TRACR has Oral Roberts (76th) as by far the best team in the league, followed by South Dakota State (200th). Western Illinois (245th) is second in the conference at 7-4. Only a major collapse will prevent the Golden Eagles from winning the Summit.
Oral Roberts might have the best team in school history. Yes, even better than the 2020-21 team that miraculously reached the Sweet 16. Remember that team’s top scorer, Max Abmas? He’s still playing, averaging 22.0 points.
Before we get too excited about Oral Roberts in the NCAA Tournament, remember that this is still a team in a lower conference. The Golden Eagles have played one ranked opponent this season, losing 83-45 to Houston.
Though the top four teams projected to win at least a share of its regular season conference title are high, it’s important to note that all four hail from a non-major conference. That is why seeing Purdue (No. 6) up there with a 91.2% chance to win at least a share of the Big Ten title is the most jaw-dropping.
One can argue that the conference is down, but really it’s not. There are five Big Ten teams ranked in TRACR’s top 25 and 10 in TRACR’s top 50. Wisconsin (77th) has fallen significantly and Michigan (65th) has not looked great, but Indiana (14th) is almost fully healthy and is playing its best basketball. Believe it or not, Northwestern (31st) may be a tournament team. Maryland (19th) and Iowa (26th) have both picked up their play over the last few weeks.
Purdue seems to be on its own level, though. The Boilermakers’ only loss was by one point to Rutgers (22nd) on Jan. 2. Since then, they have outscored Big Ten opponents by an average of 10.0 points while shooting 39.0% from 3.
While their shooting has been good, the Boilermakers’ success is based on Zach Edey. Boy, he sure looks like the consensus pick for player of the year. Edey just dropped 38 points and 13 rebounds on Michigan State. Oh, and he’s a blocking machine as well.
The 7-foot-4 junior from Ontario is averaging 22.1 points and 13.0 rebounds, ranking third and second, respectively, among qualified Division-I players. Only one player in the last 25 seasons has finished in the top three in both: Kansas State’s Michael Beasley in 2007-08. Even if Edey falls to the top five in both, he would join Beasley, South Dakota State’s Mike Daum in 2018-19 and Texas’ Kevin Durant in 2006-07 as the only players to finish there.
It helps that Purdue is multiple games up on every other team in the conference. The Boilermakers are 10-1, while Northwestern is in second place at 6-3. Like most seasons, the Big Ten has beaten each other up – there are eight teams at 6-4 or 5-5 in conference play.
This is only but a taste of what this season of college basketball will bring down the stretch. Next week, we’ll look at some of the top conferences and see who is projected to win each one.
It’s almost March and this year, there’s going to be madness.