Punching Tickets: March Madness Conference Tournament Predictions
NCAA

Punching Tickets: March Madness Conference Tournament Predictions

You thought the games over this past weekend were wild? Well, yes they were.

It was the first time that the top six teams in the AP Poll all lost on the same day. It was also the first time seven of the top 10 lost on the same day.

Chaos. But now…it is March.

With March comes the NCAA Tournament, but right before is the second greatest time of the year – conference tournament time. While the major conferences are finishing up, the smaller conferences will play for a chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Some of these tournaments will finish up next week, but let’s take a look at the tourneys that begin this week and which team is projected to win. We’ll do this using TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster), our net efficiency metric that evaluates how well teams perform based on who they play.

The model, which is trained on over 15 years of college basketball data, rewards big wins over good teams and punishes losses to bad ones or even wins that were closer than expected.

ohio valley prediction

Bubble teams will keep an eye on this tournament.

Murray State (43rd in TRACR) has most likely already punched its ticket to the dance – the Racers are 28-2 and ranked 22nd in the AP Poll. They went 18-0 in conference play and will most likely continue that success. If they do not win their tournament, that means that a bubble team will have to go.

The format of the Ohio Valley tournament looks more like a Mortal Kombat ladder than a legitimate tournament. Murray State and Belmont (96th) get a double bye and are automatically in the semifinals. Any other team will have to win three or more games to punch its ticket into the dance – that’s why TRACR points to either the Racers or Bruins winning it.

It will not be surprising to see a Belmont-Murray State matchup in the finals.

big south conference tournament projection

Longwood (160th) is the No. 1 seed in the Big South tournament, but our model likes Winthrop (163rd) as the pick.

Longwood was at home when it won the only matchup this season, but the tournament will be played at a neutral site. In addition, Winthrop has won eight straight.

The winner will be a No. 16 seed, maybe a No. 15.

Missouri Valley conference tourney predictions

Arch Madness! Loyola Chicago (25th) still is the favorite to win the Missouri Valley, but the Ramblers have an uphill climb as the fourth seed this year. They are no longer a guarantee to make the NCAA Tournament and will likely need to win the MVC tourney to get in.

Might this be the first time Northern Iowa (85th) makes the NCAA Tournament with AJ Green? When the Panthers were the No. 1 seed in the 2020 tournament, they lost their opener. Green, the player of the year in the MVC, will try and overcome Loyola to give UNI its first NCAA appearance since 2016.

This tournament is always wild. With TRACR giving five teams at least a 10.0% chance of winning, expect the chaos to continue.

Southern conference tournament projection

Furman (93rd) is the favorite to win the SoCon Tournament, but the Paladins have lost four of their last seven. It will likely be between them, Chattanooga (106th) and Wofford (120th).

The winner will likely be given a No. 13 or 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Sun Belt conference tournament projection

Texas State (130th) has won nine straight, though seven of those wins were decided by single digits. Georgia State (145th) has won seven straight.

It is interesting that TRACR does not favor Appalachian State (179th), the No. 2 seed in the tournament. After winning six straight, the Mountaineers have gone 4-4. TRACR includes a recency bias, which is why Texas State and Georgia State are the preferred picks.

west coast conference tournament projection

This is another ridiculous tournament that looks like a Mortal Kombat ladder.

Gonzaga (No. 1) and Saint Mary’s (18th) get triple byes. San Francisco (35th) is likely already in the NCAA Tournament, but losing early would hurt its chances. BYU (68th) and Santa Clara (75th) will need to win the tournament in order to dance.

If we get the Zags and Saint Mary’s in the final, it’ll be quite a treat. Both teams will make the NCAA Tournament, but a rematch of Saturday’s showdown will be exciting.

The Bulldogs probably have a No. 1 seed either way – the Gaels deserve a No. 5, maybe even a No. 4 seed if they win the tournament.

Atlantic Sun conference tourney projection

In the off chance that Bellarmine (258th) wins the conference tournament, the team that played the Knights would qualify for the NCAA Tournament. That’s because Bellarmine joined Division I play last season and is ineligible for the tournament.

Either way, the ASUN tournament will likely be claimed by its higher seeds. This won’t be decided on a neutral site, but rather at the home court of the higher seed.

Jacksonville State (162nd) is the top seed in the West Division, while Liberty (138th) is the top seed in the East. If games were played at a neutral site, Jacksonville (137th) might have a bigger edge.

TRACR Conference Tournament Projection: Colonial Athletic

Team% Chance of Winning Tournament
Towson61.1
Hofstra14.1
Charleston7.3
Delaware5.5
UNCW4.0
Drexel3.9
Elon3.5
Northeastern0.6

Folks, Towson (64th) is legit.

The Tigers are 24-7, with four of those losses being decided by five or fewer points. If they manage to win the CAA tournament, they could be a No. 13 or 14 seed that would be a great pick for an upset.

TRACR Conference Tournament Projection: Horizon

Team% Chance of Winning Tournament
Northern Kentucky23.3
Cleveland State22.2
Wright State20.8
Oakland14.5
Purdue Fort Wayne10.1
Detroit6.1
Youngstown State3.0
Green Bay0.2

The Horizon tournament has a fun favorite – the first-round and quarterfinal games are hosted by the teams with the higher seeds, while the remaining games will be played in Indianapolis.

The pairings are re-seeded after the quarterfinals. Kind of cool, right?

It is a pretty even conference. Oakland (156th) is the top rated team by TRACR, but is the fifth seed in the tourney and does not have a bye. That’s why Northern Kentucky (180th), Cleveland State (193rd) and Wright State (182nd) are neck-and-neck with each other.

The winner will be a No. 16 seed in the tournament, maybe a No. 15.

TRACR Conference Tournament Projection: Northeast

Team% Chance of Winning Tournament
Bryant32.3
Wagner24.2
LIU12.9
Mount St. Mary’s12.8
St. Francis Brooklyn5.3
Sacred Heart0.7

No team in the Northeast is above average in Division I, per TRACR. After a rough nonconference schedule, Bryant (199th) finished by winning 13 of its last 14 games. Wagner (188th) is the other way around – the Seahawks have lost three of their last five after winning 14 straight.

The winner of the tournament is likely a 16 seed.

TRACR Conference Tournament Projection: Summit League

Team% Chance of Winning Tournament
South Dakota State54.6
Kansas City15.4
North Dakota State10.2
Oral Roberts8.6
South Dakota8.3
Western Illinois2.3
Denver0.5
Omaha0.1

The Summit League made a huge splash in last year’s tournament with Oral Roberts making the Sweet 16. Max Abmas could carry the Golden Eagles (159th) to another appearance, but will have to win three games to get in.

South Dakota State (79th) went 18-0 in league play and is a heavy favorite. The Jackrabbits have not made the NCAA Tournament since 2018 (Mike Daum!) and are 0-5 all-time in the big dance.

TRACR Conference Tournament Projection: Patriot League

Team% Chance of Winning Tournament
Colgate56.1
Navy25.6
Boston University7.8
Lehigh5.1
Army West Point2.2
Loyola Maryland1.4
Lafayette0.8
Bucknell0.7
American University0.2
Holy Cross0.1

Colgate (118th) was a popular pick to upset Arkansas in last year’s tournament, and even had an early lead in that game before falling by 17. The Raiders should still be on everyone’s minds this year if they win their conference tournament.

After losing five straight, they have won 16 of their last 17. They just finished the regular season with a win over Navy (174th).

This is still Colgate’s time to shine.

TRACR Conference Tournament Projection: America East

Team% Chance of Winning Tournament
Vermont74.7
UMBC16.4
Stony Brook2.8
UMass Lowell2.6
New Hampshire1.6
Binghamton1.1
Hartford0.6
Albany0.2

Vermont (63rd) went 16-1 in conference play and is once again the heavy favorite. No other team in the conference is above average in TRACR.

Among all teams playing in the first week of conference tournaments, the Catamounts have the best chance at winning their tourney.

Keep in mind, however, that when UMBC (221st) became the only 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (Virginia), it was Vermont’s conference to win. The Retrievers upset the Catamounts on a late 3.

Still, this is a stacked Vermont team that could make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.


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