Last Chance to Dance: March Madness Conference Tournament Predictions
NCAA

Last Chance to Dance: March Madness Conference Tournament Predictions

Three teams have already punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. There are 29 others that have a chance to get an automatic bid. This is March, and it is madness.

Last week, TRACR projected Murray State (46th in TRACR) to win the Ohio Valley Tournament, Loyola Chicago (16th) to win Arch Madness and Winthrop (166th) to narrowly win the Big South Tournament. The Racers and Ramblers made it, while the Eagles lost to the second-highest rated team, Longwood (125th), in the championship game.

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.

Who are the favorites? Who might surprise? This week is going to rock.

ACC tournament projection

North Carolina (22nd) made a huge jump in TRACR after spoiling Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor. However, Duke (No. 8) still is the heavy favorite to win the ACC title.

Last year, Georgia Tech (123rd) surprised the country by winning the ACC tournament, but the Yellow Jackets now have a miracle shot at winning. That being said – could another team surprise and make it to the top? Perhaps it could be Virginia Tech, who is ranked 25th in TRACR but has just a 7.8% chance of winning the tournament.

After struggling during the middle of the season, ACC play has stepped up and looks like it can get five, maybe six teams in the Big Dance.

Big 12 tournament projection

Oklahoma State (23rd) is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, so the Cowboys will not play in the Big 12 tourney either. They are the highest-rated team in TRACR that cannot make the tournament.

The projections look a lot like last year’s tournament predictions – Baylor (No. 4) and Kansas (10th) were favorites, but it was Texas (21st) that won the title. Keep in mind that the Jayhawks are not playing far from home in Kansas City.

TRACR does not like TCU (40th) and Iowa State (43rd) as much, but these are tournament teams. It would not be surprising if the Horned Frogs or Cyclones made a run.

Oklahoma (35th) has won three straight after losing four in a row. Could the Sooners upset Baylor in the quarterfinals? They’ll need to in order to keep their tournament hopes alive.

Big East tournament projection

Like most recent years in the Big East, Villanova (No. 6) is the favorite to win the tournament, while a number of other teams have a smaller chance. This season, TRACR projects Providence (30th), UConn (24th), Seton Hall (33rd) and Marquette (36th) with similar odds.

Last season, Georgetown (161st) shocked the world by winning the Big East tournament. It’s tough to envision that happening again.

Maybe, however, St. John’s (53rd) or Xavier (50th) make a big run.

Big Ten tournament projection

Wisconsin (29th) clinched a share of the Big Ten title with Illinois (27th), but it could not win the conference outright after losing at home to Nebraska (107th). Especially with Johnny Davis questionable for the tournament, TRACR does not favor the Badgers as high as others.

While Purdue (12th) is the favorite, Illinois (15th) is not too far behind and Iowa (14th) could be a surprise team. TRACR loves the Hawkeyes because they’ve won five of their last six, with the one loss coming by two points at Illinois. They’ve averaged 80.8 points during that stretch, which has included a 26-point win over Michigan State (41st) and an 11-point win over Michigan (27th).

Speaking of the Wolverines, their matchup against Indiana (42nd) in the tournament will be one to watch. The Hoosiers lost a close game to Purdue over the weekend and likely need a win in order to go dancing. Michigan coach Juwan Howard could also return for the game.

Pac-12 tournament projection

With USC (60th) winning close games and losing big recently, the Pac-12 has become a two-team race with Arizona (No. 3) and UCLA (13th). In fact, the chances of either the Wildcats or Bruins winning the tournament title are about 82.2%.

The reigning champs, Oregon State (227th), is the worst major conference team, per TRACR, and has little to no shot of winning.

SEC tournament projection

Kentucky (No. 5) is the highest rated team in the SEC, but Auburn (No. 7) has the edge on winning the tournament title. That is because the Wildcats would possibly have to go through Alabama (26th) and Tennessee (No. 9) just to reach the championship game.

Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas (17th) all have double byes in the tournament, which is why they are the large favorites to win.

Plus, you know, they are really good.

AAC tournament projection

Among all teams that begin their conference tournament this week, Houston (No. 2) has the highest chance of winning. After winning six straight, however, the Cougars lost by 14 to Memphis (18th) to end the regular season.

Do the Tigers have their team together at the right time? They have a 27.3% chance of winning the tournament.

A-10 tournament projection

St. Bonaventure (76th) was the favorite to win the Atlantic 10, but my beloved Bonnies will need to win the conference tournament in order to dance.

Davidson (49th) is the top seed in the tournament, but our model points gives Dayton (39th) the best chance. VCU (48th) could also make a run, but the Rams would possibly have to face the Flyers just to reach the championship.

TRACR also sees good things in Saint Louis (64th), but the Billikens do not have a double bye like Dayton, VCU, Davidson and St. Bonaventure. They’ll need to win four games in a row.

Mountain West tournament projection

Colorado State (45th) is the lone team from the Mountain West that is ranked in the AP Poll (23rd). However, TRACR projects the Rams to have the third-highest chance of winning the Mountain West tournament. Winners or not, they will be in the NCAA Tournament.

This tournament is always one to watch out for bubble teams. If Wyoming (75th) falls early, does it still make the NCAA Tournament? What if Utah State (68th) makes a surprise run? As of now, the Mountain West will have four teams in the Big Dance, but this tournament could shift that to three teams or five.

I miss when this tournament was early and opened the conference tournament chaos. Oh well.

Big Sky Conference Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Southern Utah23.4
Weber State23.0
Montana State20.3
Northern Colorado16.0
Montana6.0
Eastern Washington5.2
Portland State4.1
Sacramento State0.9
Idaho0.6
Idaho State0.3
Northern Arizona0.2

This should be a fun one, as it is a toss-up between four teams. Southern Utah (164th) is the favorite, but by a fraction of a percentage. Montana State (160th) is the highest-rated team in the conference. Weber State (186th) has to play Montana (236th) in the quarterfinals, but still has a 23.0% chance of winning.

The winner will fall between a 14 seed and a 16 seed. Just like our model, I’ll take the Thunderbirds.

Big West Conference Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Long Beach State27.0
UC Santa Barbara16.9
UC Irvine15.1
Cal State Fullerton12.0
UC Riverside11.8
Hawaii10.2
UC Davis5.9
Bakersfield0.5
Cal Poly0.4
CSUN0.2

UC San Diego is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament and is not playing in the Big West tournament.

This is where seeding becomes important. Long Beach State (153rd) is the fourth-best team in the Big West, according to TRACR, but the Beach have the No. 1 seed and thus an easier path to the championship.

The top two teams face off in the quarterfinals – UC Irvine (136th) and UC Santa Barbara (142nd). It’s a tough draw for both, but it might be the best game of the tourney.

(On a side note: The Big West might have the best team nicknames of any conference. The Anteaters, Gauchos, Beach, Rainbow Warriors, Matadors, Roadrunners, Tritons…you have to love it.)

Conference USA Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
North Texas35.9
UAB30.9
Western Kentucky8.3
Middle Tennessee8.2
Louisiana Tech7.4
Florida Atlantic3.5
UTEP2.6
Old Dominion2.2
Charlotte0.7
Marshall0.1
Rice0.1
UTSA0.1

Last season, Charles Bassey and Western Kentucky were heavy favorites to represent Conference USA in the NCAA Tournament, but North Texas spoiled that and ended up beating Purdue in the tourney. Whoever wins this has upset potential.

This season, North Texas (52nd) and UAB (72nd) are big favorites. The Mean Green have held opponents to a nation-best 55.6 points per game. The Blazers are experienced – their top-nine scorers are either juniors or seniors. These two can square off in the championship game.

Ivy League Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Princeton51.9
Yale30.7
Cornell9.6
Penn7.8

While I miss the Ivy League having no conference tournament, the league’s format of having only the top four teams in the tourney rules. It makes sense to reward teams that do well in the regular season by only having them play in the conference tournament.

With this, Princeton (92nd) is the heavy favorite. Yale (143rd) is a heavy favorite to beat Penn (229th) to reach the championship game. Either Princeton or Yale will win it.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Iona39.5
Saint Peter’s23.1
Niagara14.5
Monmouth8.3
Siena6.4
Marist2.8
Fairfield2.0
Rider1.9
Canisius0.6
Quinnipiac0.5
Manhattan0.4

Move over, MAC-tion, it’s time for some MAAC-tion!

This will be Rick Pitino’s to lose. Iona (94th) is the favorite to win the conference tournament as the top seed. Siena (225th) has the No. 3 seed but just a 6.4% chance of winning.

While many will want to see the Gaels in the tournament, watch out for the Peacocks. Saint Peter’s (112th) has won four in a row, holding opponents to 48.3 points per game in that time. 

Mid-American Conference Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Toledo53.8
Kent State15.5
Ohio11.3
Buffalo9.2
Akron7.4
Miami (OH)1.6
Ball State1.0
Central Michigan0.2

The MAC tournament only welcomes the top eight teams from the regular season. Thus, Northern Illinois (269th), Bowling Green (294th), Western Michigan (310th) and Eastern Michigan (311th) did not qualify.

Toledo (61st) is by far the best team in the MAC, according to TRACR. However, Kent State (122nd) has won 12 in a row, including a 13-point win on the road against the Rockets. Toledo has won five straight since that loss, averaging 87.2 points.

They could get a rematch in the championship game.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Norfolk State46.1
Morgan State17.4
Howard15.3
Maryland Eastern Shore6.9
South Carolina State5.6
Coppin State4.7
North Carolina Central4.0

Not only is Norfolk State (174th) the best team in the conference, but the MEAC tournament is held in Norfolk, giving the Spartans a home-court advantage.

One team that could spoil their chance to dance is Morgan State (284th), who beat Norfolk State at home on Feb. 21.

Whether it is Norfolk State or someone else, the winner will likely be a 16 seed. 

Southland Conference Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Nicholls51.8
Southeastern Louisiana21.3
New Orleans13.3
Texas A&M – Corpus Christi9.4
Northwestern State2.2
McNeese State0.9
Houston Baptist0.9
UIW0.2

Nicholls (214th) is a heavy favorite to win the Southland tournament. The Colonels have won 10 of their last 11, with the one loss being decided by just two points to Southeastern Louisiana (289th).

They also beat UNI to begin the season and lost by just three points to Wisconsin in Madison. A conference that was once dominated by Stephen F. Austin now could be the Colonels to rule.

This is one of those weird Mortal Kombat ladders where Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana get double byes. Why have a tournament if it looks like this?

The tourney is played at McNeese State, but the Cowboys (327th) would need three wins to come out on top, so it seems like a long shot.

Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Southern University23.5
Texas Southern22.2
Alcorn State18.6
Alabama A&M8.7
Jackson State8.2
Florida A&M7.5
Prairie View A&M7.2
Grambling State4.1

The SWAC is the worst conference in Division I, per TRACR. Still, it could be a fun one to watch with Southern University (268th), Texas Southern (258th) and Alcorn State (286th) being favorites to win. Only the top eight teams in the regular season make the conference tourney.

Winner gets a 16 seed. 

Western Athletic Conference Tournament Projection

Team% Chance of Winning
Grand Canyon30.3
New Mexico State27.9
Stephen F. Austin15.9
Seattle14.2
Abilene Christian5.4
Utah Valley3.2
Sam Houston2.8
California Baptist0.3

Dixie State (260th) and Tarleton St. (226th) are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament and are not in the WAC tournament.

This tournament is another Mortal Kombat ladder that looks like the West Coast tournament. What is with the west coast and weird tournament brackets? New Mexico State (100th) and Seattle (158th) are the top two teams from the regular season and get triple byes. Why?

Though the Aggies and Redhawks need only two wins to punch their ticket, they are not the favorites to win. Grand Canyon (98th) holds that distinction, needing three wins to make it. The Antelopes will have to go through the Aggies in order to win, though. TRACR doesn’t rate Seattle highly, ranking it seventh in the league.

Despite setting it up to favor New Mexico State and Seattle, our model doesn’t point to that being the title matchup. This one could be exciting.


Enjoy this? Subscribe to our mailing list to receive exclusive weekly content.

Design by Briggs Clinard.