You’re Not Mistaken: Conference Races Are Tighter This Season

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 19th, 2016

We are quickly approaching March and that means the regular season is almost over. Usually by this point in the season there are a few teams running away with the crowns in the power conferences, but it hasn’t quite gone that way this year. Analysts have described the level of parity this year in college basketball as unprecedented, but we decided to look into it ourselves. Exactly how close are the conference races this season as opposed to in previous years? Here’s a look at the last six years of the power conference races three weeks from the end of the regular season.

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A quick glance at each league reveals that the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and especially the SEC are having some of the most contested conference races in recent memory. Interestingly, for every conference other than the Big East, the current first place team (e.g., Kansas at 10-3 in the Big 12) has as many or more losses than any first place team the past five years has had on this date. That also means that second and third place teams across the board have a better chance of winning their leagues than they usually would.

Speaking of actually winning these leagues, how can we know which teams are going to prevail in such close races? With Iowa losing to Penn State, undermanned Duke winning at North Carolina and Maryland losing at Minnesota, the answer is that anything can happen and we truly won’t know until the games are played. We can, however, use team ratings and win probability data from KenPom to make educated predictions. In the below tables, we simulated the remainder of the season for each power conference and tabulated each team’s projected chance to win the crown, taking into account tiebreakers.

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It is noteworthy that both Virginia and Miami have an edge over their ACC rivals in their tiebreakers and Kansas appears well on target to win its 12 straight share of the Big 12. But perhaps the biggest takeaway from this data is that this conference season is nowhere close to over. Outside of Villanova, it appears that there are no locks even this close to the end of the season. So let’s sit back and enjoy the ride all the way into March.

William Ezekowitz (30 Posts)

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