The Pi-Rate Ratings

February 11, 2011

This Week’s Look At The NCAA Basketball Conference Races

Today, we here at the PiRate Ratings begin our coverage of NCAA Men’s Basketball.  In what has become our most followed sport, we have generated a little publicity with our PiRate NCAA Tournament rating system.


In past years, we waited until Selection Sunday to re-issue our system, but this year we have chosen to release it early so you the reader can have time to familiarize yourself with it.  We will also apply it to a couple of teams every week to give you some time to play with the ratings.


Remember this:  this rating is only good in the NCAA Tournament and cannot (REPEAT CANNOT) be used in the regular season or even in conference tournaments.  It has been back-tested for decades and has proven to locate the serious contenders from the so-called contenders and pretenders.


How good has this rating been for us:  Let’s start with 2009-10.  Kansas and Kentucky were the overwhelming favorites to face off for the championship.  Our ratings said they would not make it there.  We would love to say we chose Butler to make it to the Final Four, but we did not (although we rated them highly).  We did choose Duke to run the table and win the title, as they had the highest criteria score.


We picked North Carolina, Kansas, and Florida to win their national titles as well, and we even hit on George Mason to make a surprise run the year they advanced to the Final Four. 


To put it bluntly, we are due for a major failure this year.  Our football predictions were just too accurate.  Our luck has to run out at some point?  Well, we can talk about our Kentucky Derby picks in recent years.  Maybe, that is the balancing point.


Without further adieu, here is our criteria for finding the top teams in the NCAA Tournament, what we call Bracketnomics 505.


Bracketnomics 505–The Advanced Level Class

This is a graduate level class that will earn you a Masters in Bracketnomics.  So you want a scientific method to guide you as you fill out your brackets?  You say you want a system that will take out most of the human-bias, and allow you to pick your teams in a mechanical fashion.  Well, we’ve got one for you that has been back-tested and holds up fantastically through the years. 

What the inventor of the PiRate system did was to discover the vital information that has worked in the past.  He’s been using this formula since the Internet made statistics-gathering easy, and it has been back-tested as far back as the days when the NCAA Tournament field consisted of just 23, 24, or 25 teams.

This method will not pick every game correctly and make you an instant millionaire.  It is geared toward finding the tendencies that historically have mattered most in picking the teams with the best chances of advancing.  Not all teams will be a perfect fit in this formula; what this formula does is pick the teams that have the best chance of advancing and making a deep run into the tournament. 

There have been a couple of seasons where the criteria didn’t apply successfully, but over the course of the 55 seasons, it has performed accurately about 47 times.  Without further adieu, here is the PiRate Bracket-Picking System.

1. Scoring Margin

For general bracket picking, look for teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game.  Over 85% of the Final Four teams since the 1950’s outscored their opponents by an average of 8 or more points per game. 

Make a separate list of teams that outscored their opponents by an average of 10 or more points per game and a third list of teams outscoring opponents by an average of 15 or more points per game.  More than 80% of the final four teams in the last 50 years outscored their opponents by double digit points per game.  When you find a team with an average scoring margin in excess of 15 points per game, and that team is in one of the six power conferences, then you have a team that will advance into the tournament’s second week.

This is an obvious statistic here.  If team A outscores opponents by an average of 85-70 and their team B opponent outscores their opposition by an average of 75-70, team A figures to be better than team B before you look at any other statistics. 

In the days of the 64/65-team field, this statistic has become even more valuable.  It’s very difficult and close to impossible for a team accustomed to winning games by one to seven points to win four times in a row.  This average gives the same significance and weighting to a team that outscores its opposition 100-90 as it does to a team that outscores its opposition 60-50.

2. Field Goal Percentage Differential

Take each team’s field goal percentage minus their defensive field goal percentage.  Look for teams that have a +7.5% or better showing.  50% to 42% is no better or no worse than 45% to 37%.  A difference of 7.5% or better is all that matters.  Teams that have a large field goal percentage margin are consistently good teams.  Sure, a team can win a game with a negative field goal percentage difference, but in the Big Dance, they aren’t going to win four games much less two.  This statistic holds strong in back-tests of 50 years. 

Even when teams won the tournament with less than 7.5% field goal percentage margins, for the most part, these teams just barely missed (usually in the 5.5 to 7.5% range).  In the years of the 64/65-team tournament, this stat has become a more accurate predictor.  Nowadays, the teams with field goal percentage margins in the double digits have dominated the field.  If you see a team shoot better than 48% and allow 38% or less, that team is going to be very hard to beat in large arenas with weird sight lines.

3. Rebound Margin

This statistic holds up all the way back to the early days of basketball, in fact as far back as the days when rebounds were first recorded.  The teams that consistently control the boards are the ones that advance  in the tournament.  What we’re looking for here are teams that out-rebound their opposition by five or more per game.  In the opening two rounds, a difference of three or more can be used.

The reason this statistic becomes even more important in mid-March is that teams don’t always shoot as well in the NCAA Tournament for a variety of reasons (better defense, abnormal sight lines and unfamiliar gymnasiums, nerves, new rims and nets, more physical play with the refs allowing it, etc.).  The teams that can consistently get offensive putbacks are the teams that go on scoring runs in these games.  The teams that prevent the opposition from getting offensive rebounds, holding them to one shot per possession, have a huge advantage. 

Again, there will be some teams that advance that were beaten on the boards, but over the course of four rounds, it is rare for one of these teams to advance.  West Virginia in 2005 made it to the Elite Eight without being able to rebound, but not many other teams have been able to do so.  There have been years where all four Final Four participants were in the top 20 in rebounding margin, and there have been many years where the champion was in the top 5 in rebounding margin.

4. Turnover Margin & Steals Per Game

Turnover margin can give a weaker rebounding team a chance.  Any positive turnover margin is good here.  If a team cannot meet the rebounding margin listed above, they can get by if they have an excellent turnover margin.  Not all turnover margin is the same though.  A team that forces a high number of turnovers by way of steals is better than a team that forces the same amount of turnovers without steals.  A steal is better than a defensive rebound, because most of the time, a steal leads to a fast-break basket or foul.  When a team steals the ball, they are already facing their basket, and the defense must turn around and chase.  Many steals occur on the perimeter where the ball-hawking team has a numbers advantage.  So, this system counts a steal as being worth 1.33 rebounds. 

The criteria to look for here is a positive turnover margin if the team out-rebounds its opposition by three or more; a turnover margin of three or better if the team out-rebounds its opposition by less than three; and a turnover margin of five or more if the team does not out-rebound its opponents.  Give more weight to teams that average 7.5 or more steals per game, and give much more weight to teams that average double figure steals per game.  A team that averages more than 10 steals per game will get a lot of fast-break baskets and foul shots.  In NCAA Tournament play, one quick spurt can be like a three-run homer in the World Series, and teams that either steal the ball or control the boards are the ones that will get that spurt.

The All-Important R+T Margin: Consider this the basketball equivalent of baseball’s OPS (On Base % + Slugging %).  Here is the PiRate R+T stat: R + (.2S * {1.2T}), where R is rebounding margin, S is average steals per game, and T is turnover margin.  When this stat is 5 or more, you have a team that can overcome a few other liabilities to win.  When the result is 10 or more, you have a team that has a great chance of getting enough additional scoring opportunities to make it to the later rounds.  When this stat is negative, you have a team that will be eliminated before the Sweet 16 and in the case of Georgetown and Vanderbilt in 2010, a team that will lose in the first round to mid-majors with much better R+T ratings.

5. Power Conference Plus Schedule Strength

I’m sure up to this point you have been thinking that it is much easier for North Dakota State or Siena to own these gaudy statistics than it is for Pittsburgh or Michigan State.  Of course, that’s correct.  We have to adjust this procedure so that the top conferences get extra weight, while the bottom conferences’ criteria ratings lose points.  Here is how we do it.  Look at the Strength of schedule for every team in the Field.  You can find SOS on many websites, such as the RPI at or at  Take the decimal difference for each team in the Field and multiply that by 100.  For example if Team A’s SOS is .6044 and Team B’s is .5777, the difference times 100 is 2.67.  So, Team A’s schedule was 2.67 points (or round it to 3) per game tougher than Team B’s.  Use this in head-to-head contests for every game in your bracket.

These are the five basic PiRate criteria used for the last dozen or so years.  You might be shocked to see that there are some key statistics that are not included.  Let’s look at some of these stats not to rely upon.

Assists and Assists to Turnover Ratio

While assists can reveal an excellent passing team, they also can hide a problem.  Let’s say a team gets 28 field goals and has 21 assists.  That may very well indicate this team can pass better than most others.  However, it can also mean two other things.  First, this team may not have players who can create their own offense and must get by on exceptional passing.  That may not work against the best defensive teams in the nation, or the type that get into the Dance.  Second, and even more importantly, it may indicate that this team cannot get offensive putbacks.  As explained earlier, the offensive putback is about as important as any stat can be.  So, consider this stat only if you must decide on a toss-up after looking at the big five stats.

Free Throw Shooting

Of course, free throw shooting in the clutch decides many ball games.  However, history shows a long line of teams making it deep into the tournament with poor free throw shooting percentages, and teams that overly rely on free throws may find it tough getting to the line with the liberalized officiating in the tournament.

Let’s say a team shoots a paltry 60% at the foul line while their opponent hits a great 75% of their foul shots.  Let’s say each team gets to the foul line 15 times in the game, with five of those chances being 1&1, three being one shot after made baskets, and seven being two shot fouls. 


For the 60% shooting team, they can be expected to hit 3 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 1.8 of the 3 bonus shots; they can be expected to hit 1.8 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to hit 8.4 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 15 out of 25.  The 75% shooting team can be expected to connect on 3.75 of 5 on the front end of the 1&1 and then 2.8 of 3.75 on the bonus shot; they can be expected to hit 2.3 of 3 on the one foul shot after made baskets; and they can be expected to connect on 10.5 of 14 on the two shot fouls for a total of 19.35 out of 25.75.  So, a team with one of the top FT% only scores 4.35 more points at the foul line than a team with one of the worst.  That is not many points to make up, and when you consider that this is about the maximum possible difference, this stat is not all that important.  Also consider that teams that shoot 60% of their foul shots and make the NCAA Tournament are almost always the teams that also have the top R+T ratings. 

Teams that make the NCAA Tournament with gaudy free throw percentages frequently get there by winning close games at the line.  In the NCAA Tournament, fouls just don’t get called as frequently as in the regular season.  The referees let the teams play.  So, looking at superior free throw percentage can almost lead you down the wrong path. 

Ponder this:  The 1973 UCLA Bruins are considered to be the best college basketball team ever.  That team connected on just 63% of its free throws.  They had a rebounding margin of 15.2, and they forced many turnovers via steals thanks to their vaunted 2-2-1 zone press.  In the great UCLA dynasty from 1964 through 1973 when the Bruins won nine titles in 10 years, they never once connected on 70% of their free throws and averaged just 66% during that stretch.

3-point shooting

You have to look at this statistic two different ways and consider that it is already part of field goal percentage and defensive field goal percentage.  Contrary to popular belief you do not count the difference in made three-pointers and multiply by three to see the difference.  If Team A hits eight treys, while their Team B opponents hit three, that is not a difference of 15 points; it’s a difference of five points.  Consider made three-pointers as one extra point because they are already figured as made field goals.  A team with 26 made field goals and eight treys has only one more point than a team with 26 made field goals and seven treys.

The only time to give three-point shots any weight in this criteria is when you are looking at a toss-up game, and when you do look at this stat, look for the team that does not rely on them to win, but instead uses a credible percentage that prevents defenses from sagging into the 10-12-foot area around the basket.  If a team cannot throw it in the ocean from behind the arc, defenses can sag inside and take away the inside game.  It doesn’t play much of a role in the NCAA Tournament.  A team that must hit 10 threes per game in order to win isn’t going to be around after the first weekend.

One Big Star or Two Really Good Players

Teams that got to the Dance by riding one big star or a majority of scoring from two players are not solid enough to advance very far.  Now, this does not apply to a team with one big star and four really good players.  I’m referring to a team with one big star and four lemons or two big scorers with three guys who are allergic to the ball.  Many times a team may have one big scorer or two guys who score 85% of the points, but the other three starters are capable of scoring 20 points if they are called on to do so.  If you have a team with five double figure scorers, that will be a harder one to defend and one that will be consistent.  It’s hard for all five players to slump at once.

We hope this primer will help you when you fill out your brackets this week. 

Now, here is a way to put numbers to the criteria.  It isn’t exactly the way our founder did it every year, but it is a close approximation.

1. Scoring Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 8.0-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a scoring margin difference of 5.0-7.9

Award 0 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a negative scoring margin

2. Field Goal % Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 10% or more

Award 3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 7.5 to 9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a FG% margin difference of 5.0-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 0.0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference below 0

3. Rebound Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 5 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 3.0-4.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 0-2.9

Award -2 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference below 0

4. Turnover Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 3 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 1.5-2.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 0-1.4

Award -2 points for every team with a Turnover margin below 0

5. PiRate R+T Formula

Once again, the formula for R+T is [R + ({.2*S}*{1.2*T})], Where R is rebounding margin, S is avg. steals per game, and T is turnover margin

Award 5 points for every team with an R+T of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with an R+T of 7.5-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with an R+T of 5-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with an R+T of 0-4.9

*** Completely eliminate from consideration all teams with a negative R+T rating ***

6. Schedule Strength

Use this to compare when looking at team vs. team.  Take the difference in the Strength of Schedule as given by and multiple it by 100.  For example, Team A with an SOS of .5252 has a schedule 7 points weaker than Team B with an SOS of .5921.  If these two teams face each other, give the Team B an extra 7 criteria points over Team A ([(.5921-.5252)*100]=6.69 rounds to 7).

If you want to compile all this information yourself, the best way is to go to all 65 official athletic websites of the teams in the Big Dance.  You will find up-to-date statistical information.  Some of these stats are available in other places, but many have been found to be riddled with mistakes, or they are not up-to-date.  All 65 school sites are accurate and timely.


If you have read this far, you are now a bracketonomist.


We will show you how this works in a bit.


A Look At The One-Bid Conferences


As we see it today, 18 conferences have no shot at landing more than one team in the NCAA Tournament.  Five other conferences have one dominant team that could earn an at-large bid if they fail to win the automatic bid.  These conferences will only send one team if the prohibitive favorite wins their conference tournament.


Today, we will concentrate on those 18 definite one-bid conferences.  We will look at the stronger mid-majors next Friday on the eve of Bracket Buster Weekend.


America East Conference

Vermont 11-2/20-5 and Maine 8-4/14-10 are the class of the league.  Maine won at Vermont72-58, but the Catamounts have a nearly insurmountable lead.  Vermont led Connecticut at the half earlier this year before losing by 16.  You can see them next Saturday in the televised part of the Bracket Buster when they play at College of Charleston.


Maine hosts Vermont next Wednesday, but even a win and sweep may not be enough to overtake the Catamounts.


The tournament’s first four rounds takes place in Hartford, CT with the championship scheduled for the higher seeded team’s home floor.


Boston U 8-4/13-13 is another team to watch.


Atlantic Sun Conference

Belmont 14-1/22-4 would have a shot at an at-large bid if not for a lousy last-minute turnover that cost them a chance to win at Tennessee.  The Bruins lost twice at Tennessee, at Vanderbilt, and at rival Lipscomb.  They beat second place East Tennessee 12-3/17-9 by 10 and swept third place Jacksonville 10-4/16-7.  Before losing at fourth place Lipscomb 10-6/15-10, they beat the Bisons 88-52.


East Tennessee hosts Jacksonville tonight in Johnson City.  The Buccaneers beat the Dolphins in Jacksonville earlier this year.  ETSU beat Mississippi State in Starkville in December, while Jacksonville has road wins against Florida and Auburn.


Lipscomb lost close games at North Carolina and Baylor, and the Bisons have the talent to make it to the conference finals if they can put it all together.  However, they won’t get there from the four hole.


The A-Sun tournament takes place in Macon, Georgia, at Mercer.  Eight of the 11 teams qualify.  If Belmont loses, it will be an upset.  The Bruins have the talent to give this league an upset in the opening round; Belmont came within a last-second missed shot of upsetting Duke a few years ago.


Big Sky Conference

This conference does not have a mini-powerhouse this year like in past years.  Four teams, Northern Colorado 10-2/14-9, Montana 9-3/17-7, Weber State 7-4/13-9, and Northern Arizona 6-5/14-9, have the talent to win the lone bid.


Northern Colorado goes to Montana tomorrow.  They clobbered the Grizzlies by 18 earlier.  UNC already split with Weber State and lost at Northern Arizona.


Montana owns wins over UCLA and Oregon State.  They split with Weber State and Northern Arizona.  You can see them on TV in the Bracket Buster next week at Long Beach State.  We believe they can run the table in conference play and earn the top seed.


Weber State blew Northern Arizona off the floor by 27 points last night to complete the season’s sweep.  They gave BYU a close game earlier in the season.


Northern Arizona was the hot team before last night.  They took Arizona to the wire in Tucson earlier this season, but they are too far back to contend for top seed.


The Big Sky Tournament first round takes place on the home courts of the higher-seeded teams.  The semifinals and finals will be played on the home court of the regular season champion.  Only six teams qualify, with the top two seeds getting a bye to the semifinals.  Northern Colorado, Weber State, and Montana all enjoy excellent home court advantages, and this conference rarely has any post-season surprises. 


Big South Conference

This is a story of one dynamo and four or five minor contenders.  Coastal Carolina is 14-0/23-2 under venerable coach Cliff Ellis.  The two losses were on the road to Georgetown and College of Charleston.  The Chanticleers carry a 21-game winning streak into the weekend.


CCU already swept second place Liberty 12-2/18-8.  They travel to third place Winthrop tomorrow, and a win could allow the Chants to run the table and finish the regular season 28-2.


UNC-Asheville 7-6/12-11 and Charleston Southern 7-7/13-13 don’t have the talent to beat CCU.  The one team that could sneak up and surprise the leaders and make a run to the title is VMI 6-8/13-11.  The Keydets average 91 points per game, and in a conference tournament, their loose style of play could give them a chance.


The Big South Tournament is played on the home court of the higher-seeded teams all the way through the championship.  We cannot see somebody upsetting CCU, and the Chants will not be an easy out in the Big Dance.


Big West

The Big West is down this year, and it hasn’t exactly been all that up in recent years.  We believe any of the top five could win the conference tournament.


Long Beach State 9-2/14-10 is not nearly as strong as they were a couple years ago when they won the conference tournament.  Their two losses in league play were to sixth place Cal State Fullerton and last place UC-Irvine.  The 49ers beat Iowa and played North Carolina and St. Mary’s close, but they are not consistent.  You can watch them on Bracket Buster weekend as they face Montana.


Cal Poly 7-4/12-11 plays football on the basketball floor.  They win ugly with an annoying defense and patient offense.  They gave San Diego State a rough game before losing 51-45.


Cal State Northridge 7-4/10-14 hosts Long Beach State tomorrow, and we believe the Matadors will pull off the upset.  Lenny Daniel (15.9 ppg/9.4 rpg) is a dominating power forward in a forward-dominated league.  CSN is hot, having won five of six.


UC-Santa Barbara 6-5/13-9 owns a win at UNLV.  The Gauchos have not lived up to expectations this year, but they have the potential to get hot and go on a roll at the tournament.  Orlando Johnson (21.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.1 ast/g) is the league’s best player. 


Keep an eye on Pacific 5-5/13-10.  The Tigers lost twice to LBSU by one point and could get a third try in a conference semifinal.  Sam Willard averages a double-double (15/11).


The Big West Tournament takes place in Anaheim with eight of the nine teams participating.


Horizon League

This should be quite an interesting conference tournament.  Butler 9-5/17-9 was supposed to waltz through the league again after going 18-0 last year.  The Bulldogs sit in a fourth place tie with four games to go.  However, Butler has won three games in a row including wins at Cleveland State 10-4/21-5 and against Wright State 10-5/17-10, two of the three teams ahead of the Bulldogs.


An old regular in the Big Dance, Valparaiso 10-3/18-7 rests in first place, after winning 12 of their last 15.  Watch them on TV in next weekend’s Bracket Buster, when Valpo hosts Missouri State.


Cleveland State began the season 12-0.  The Vikings style of play (100% full-court pressure defense and drive to the basket offense) is tough to prepare for, but it appears the team could be hitting the wall.  If CSU can take the #1 seed, they will be very tough to dethrone on their home floor.


UW-Milwaukee 9-5/14-11 is tied with Butler, but their schedule is the most unfavorable of the contenders.  The Panthers finish with three road games.


The conference tournament begins on the home floor of the #3-4-5-6 seeds with the top two seeds receiving byes.  The quarterfinals and semifinals take place on the home floor of the #1 seed, and the championship game will be played on the higher-seeded participant’s home floor. 


Ivy League

This league is the one holdout on a postseason conference tournament, so the regular season champion receives the automatic bid.  Until recently, this was a two-team race every year, but now it is more open.  Princeton 5-0/17-4 and Penn 3-2/9-10 are still very much in the running for the crown, but the two elitist of the elite, Harvard 5-1/16-4 and Yale 4-2/11-9, are very much in the race.


We believe Harvard has the inside track at winning the league title.  Princeton’s five conference wins were all home games, and the Tigers must play at Harvard, Yale, and Penn, closing with Harvard and Penn.  The Crimson won at Penn.


Yale and Harvard have yet to square off, and if one sweeps the other, it will probably be enough to grab the Ivy crown.  If they split, then we believe Harvard is the team to beat.


Penn, like Princeton, has played a majority of their games at home.  The Quakers finish with six road games in their final nine.


Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

The MAAC is loaded with decent, albeit not great mid-major teams.  Fairfield 11-2/18-5 leads St. Peter’s 9-4/14-10 and Rider 9-4/17-8, but their real advantage comes in the conference tournament, where they will be the host team.  The Stags play at St. Peter’s Sunday trying to go for the sweep after winning 70-43 in Bridgeport earlier this year.  Fairfield hosts Austin Peay in the televised part of the Bracket Buster.


St. Peter’s plays great in-your-face defense.  They were good enough to beat Alabama.  However, their offense can disappear for several minutes.


Rider actually won at Fairfield this year, so the Broncos are not to be overlooked.  They also upset Southern Cal.


Iona 8-5/14-10 and Loyola (Md.) 8-5/12-11 must be considered contenders.  Iona has the best offense in the league and took Fairfield to the buzzer in Bridgeport.  Loyola beat the Stags at home, and the Greyhounds have an easy schedule to finish the regular season.  They have a shot at running the table to head to Webster Bank Arena at 13-5 in the league.


Mid-American Conference

This league used to be considered one of the top mid-major conferences and used to send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament every year.  Now, not only will it be a one-team league, that team could even find itself playing in Dayton in the First Four if an upset winner emerges with the bid!


The MAC has no wins against the top 25 this year.  The top eight teams make it to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, and none of the eight can be considered much of a favorite.


We expect those eight teams to be Kent State 7-2/16-7, Buffalo 7-3/15-7, Bowling Green 7-3/12-12, Miami (O) 7-3/12-12, Akron 5-5/14-10, Ohio U 5-5/12-12 (the entire East Division) as well as Ball State 6-4/14-9 and Western Michigan 5-4/12-10 from the West.


Kent State has won six games in a row.  The Golden Flashes host Buffalo on February 24 after losing by 25 at Buffalo earlier.


Buffalo has the best statistical numbers.  The Bulls gave BYU a good game before losing.


Bowling Green began the season 2-9, but the Falcons have gone 10-3 since.  BGSU won at Buffalo


Miami has won three in a row, and the Redhawks have the most favorable closing schedule.


Ball State was cruising in the West before losing five of their last six games.  Western Michigan hosts five of their final eight games including a crucial game against the Cardinals.


Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

Morgan State 7-3/11-10 has not run away from the pack like in recent years.  In fact, the Bears are not in first place at this moment.  The team that finished 2010 on a roll, Hampton 8-2/18-5, has overtaken Todd Bozeman’s cagers.


Morgan State has the easier closing schedule, so there is a chance the Bears will finish on top again.


Bethune-Cookman 7-3/13-11 and Coppin State 6-4/11-11 were not expected to contend this season, but they have been surprises.  BCU had won eight of nine games until losing to Coppin State and Morgan State.  Coppin State has the best offense in the league.


The MEAC Tournament takes place in Winston-Salem at Wake Forest.  The top two seeds receive an opening round bye and then get a day off if they win.


Northeast Conference

Brooklyn’s team, Long Island University 11-2/19-5, is the hot team this year.  Julian Boyd’s return after missing a season due to a heart condition has been the difference.  Boyd has recorded seven double-doubles this year including a 34-point, 16-rebound performance against Fairleigh-Dickinson.  The Blackbirds have won five in a row and 13 of 14 games.


Central Connecticut State 10-3/17-7 has won seven games in a row by an average margin of 13.1 points per game.  The Blue Devils also welcome back a player that missed all of 2010.  Ken Horton averages 19 points and nine boards a game.  He has nine double-doubles this year.


Wagner 8-5/12-12, Mount St. Mary’s 8-5/10-16, and Quinnipiac 8-5/16-8 are the best of the rest.  Quinnipiac has underperformed after being picked to repeat as regular season champs by many publications.


Keep an eye on Robert Morris 7-6/11-13.  The Colonials have won the previous two conference tournaments, and they have underachieved as much as Quinnipiac.


The NEC tournament takes place on the home courts of the higher-seeded teams.  This conference does not have a set bracket, choosing to send the lowest remaining seeds to the highest remaining seeds much like is done in the NFL Playoffs.


Ohio Valley Conference

The cream has risen to the top in this conference.  Murray State 11-3/19-6 is on a 15-2 run that has seen the Racers pass three teams to surge into first place.  This is a balanced team with the ability to go 10-deep.


Morehead State 10-4/18-8 has the big hoss of the league.  Kenneth Faried averages 17.1 points and 14.2 rebounds per game.  The Eagles are on a 12-2 run, but they must finish with three of four on the road, including a trip to rival Eastern Kentucky 8-6/14-11.


Austin Peay 9-5/15-11 began conference play at 6-0, but the Governors have hit on rough times.  They are the lone OVC team to appear on TV in the Bracket Buster, playing at Fairfield.


Tennessee Tech 9-6/13-11 is having one of its better seasons in years, but the Golden Eagles could be looking at having to play Murray State in a semifinal round game in the tournament.  If they can finish strong and gain the number three seed, then their chances improve greatly.


The OVC Tournament takes place in Nashville with the top eight teams qualifying.  The #3 and #4 seeds get one bye, while the top two seeds get byes to the semifinals.  Murray State and Morehead State would make a great championship game.


Patriot League

Bucknell 8-1/17-8 is the clear-cut cream of the crop in the league this season.  The Bison have the talent to win an NCAA Tournament game. 


American 6-3/16-8 has some streaky shooters that can get hot and knock an opponent out. 


Lafayette 5-4/10-14 is the only other team with a winning conference record, but they should not be considered a contender.  It would be a big upset if Bucknell and American failed to meet for the conference championship.


The Patriot League Tournament is strictly a higher-seed hosts tournament.  Bucknell should be considered one of the biggest favorites in Division I to win a conference tournament.


Southern Conference

This is not an exceptionally strong year in the SoCon this year.  Chattanooga 10-3/14-11 has won all seven home conference games, which is a good sign; they host the league tournament.


Western Carolina 7-5/11-13 is the only team capable of removing the Mocs from the top spot in the North Division.  They too are 7-0 at home in conference play.


In the South, College of Charleston 11-2/18-7 leads a tight race with Furman 10-4/18-7 and Wofford 10-4/13-12 on their heels.


Charleston has the league’s top player in guard Andrew Goudelock, who averages better than 24 points per game.  The Cougars took North Carolina to the wire at the Dean Dome, and they won at Tennessee.  They narrowly missed the upset at Maryland, losing by one.  If they can top Chattanooga on their home floor, they have the only legitimate shot of winning in the Big Dance.


Southland Conference

This conference sends the top eight teams to the postseason tournament.  This year, any one of the eight we believe will earn a trip could win it.  In the East, Northwestern State 7-3/15-10 leads the entire league after winning three in a row and five of six games.  They are a quick-spurt team that relies on forcing turnovers and scoring quickly. 


McNeese State 5-3/13-8 and Southeast Louisiana 5-4/11-10 should make the field of eight as well.  McNeese is a surprise contender thanks to the double-double average of P. J. Alawoya.  SELA relies on the three-point shooting of Trent Hutchins.


The West has five good but not great teams.  Texas State 6-3/11-12 leads by a game over the other four.  The Bobcats can score points quickly when they are on their game, but they can give them up even quicker when they are not.


Stephen F. Austin 5-4/14-7, Sam Houston 5-4/12-10, Texas-San Antonio 5-4/12-10, and Texas-Arlington 5-4/11-11 are all in the hunt for the West title.  Each team has its own unique set of assets and liabilities.  If we had to choose a favorite for the tournament, it would be Sam Houston.


The tournament takes place in Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston.  It should be exciting.


Southwest Athletic Conference

This league has become a regular in the play-in round, and with four teams hoping to become #16 seeds this year, you can expect the SWAC to supply a participant in the First Four this season.


Texas Southern 9-1/11-10 plays at Jackson State 9-2/13-10 tomorrow.  Mississippi Valley State 8-3/9-15 is much better than their overall won-loss record indicates, and Alabama A&M 7-4/10-10 has the talent to win three games in three days.


Mississippi Valley has played possibly the most difficult out of conference slate of any team in the SWAC in decades.  Included in their pre-conference schedule were: Georgia, St. Mary’s, BYU, Butler, Ole Miss, Kentucky, and Marquette.


The SWAC tournament takes place in Garland, Texas, (A Dallas-Ft. Worth suburb).  The top two seeds get a day off if they win their first game.


Summit League

Flying under the radar screen, Oakland 12-1/17-9, has the talent to pull off a first round upset in the NCAA Tournament.  The Golden Grizzlies are a high-scoring team that almost won at Michigan State and won at Tennessee.  Big man Keith Benson averages 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds a game.  He went for 22 and 22 against Austin Peay.


IUPUI 9-4/15-11 ended Oakland’s 10-game winning streak with a 100-88 win.  The Jaguars gave Ohio State a major scare earlier this season in Columbus.  After going into halftime tied at 35-35, the Jags went on a run and took a 50-41 lead until Jared Sullinger went wild and finished with 40 points.


IPFW 9-4/16-8 took Xavier to overtime and narrowly lost at Cincinnati in their next game.  The Mastodons play at Oakland tomorrow.


Oral Roberts 9-5/12-14 and South Dakota State 8-6/16-9 represent the best of the rest.  SDSU averages 82 points per game and benefits from the conference tournament being held in-state in Sioux Falls.


Sunbelt Conference

This looks to be a down year in the SBC, and we cannot see any of the teams having a chance to win a first round NCAA Tournament game (unless, of course they fall to a #16 First Four participant).


In the East, Florida Atlantic 10-2/18-8 has already surpassed their win total of last year.  The Owls are the only team in the league with a winning record away from home, so that bodes well for tournament play.  FAU has already swept second place Middle Tennessee 8-4/13-12, but the Blue Raiders are the hot team in the league riding a four-game winning streak.


In the West, Denver 8-3/12-12 has gone 10-3 since opening at 2-9.  The Pioneers play the old Princeton offense under former Princeton star Joe Scott.


Arkansas State 8-4/14-13 is 11-0 at home and has won four games in a row.  They beat Denver 60-35 in Jonesboro, but they lost 74-36 at Denver.


Louisiana-Lafayette 6-5/9-14 has responded well to Coach Bob Marlin, who made Sam Houston a perennial contender in the Southland.


North Texas 5-5/16-7 has been a major disappointment.  The Mean Green was supposed to run away with the league title this year.


The Sunbelt Conference Tournament takes place once again in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Unique to this conference is that they utilize two gymnasiums due to the fact that the men and women both play at the same time.  The two gyms are close enough apart so that fans can make it back and forth in time to not miss any of the action.


These 18 conferences make up 18 of the 68 teams that will go to the NCAA Tournament.  What about the other 50?


Let’s start with five conferences that have a possibility of sending two teams to the Dance but will only send one if the favorite wins.  The Colonial (George Mason), Conference USA (Alabama-Birmingham), Missouri Valley (Missouri State), West Coast Conference (St. Mary’s), and WAC (Utah State) will send an extra team if there is an upset.  Let’s say that two of the five favorites will fail to win their conference tournament.  That means seven teams from these five conferences will get a bid.


That leaves us with 43 teams.  From this number, let us give you the 23 teams that have already become locks for the tournament: Duke, North Carolina, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Villanova, Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Arizona, Kentucky, Florida, BYU, San Diego State, and Xavier are sure things.


That leaves 20 teams to get invitations.  We have a list of about 30-35 teams to form our first bubble.


Those teams include:

Temple, Richmond, and Duquesne from the Atlantic 10.


Boston College, Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech from the ACC.


Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor from the Big 12.


St. John’s, Cincinnati, and Marquette from the Big East.


Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan State from the Big Ten.


Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth from the Colonial.


Memphis and Southern Miss from CUSA.


Wichita State and Northern Iowa from the Missouri Valley.


UNLV, Colorado State, and New Mexico from the Mountain West.


Washington and UCLA from the Pac-10.


Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Ole Miss from the SEC.



A PiRate Bracketnomics Criteria Score For Two Teams


Today, we will look at two of the one-bid conference teams to see if they have a legitimate chance to pull off an upset.


For comparison purposes, the average Strength of Schedule for the top 50 teams is about .5880 or 58.8 points


1. Coastal Carolina 23-2 overall

Scoring Margin—15.9 points per game 5 pts


FG% Margin—9.9% 3 pts


Rebound Margin—7.5 3 pts


Turnover Margin—2.3 1 pt




R+T—11.58 5 pts


Strength of Schedule—.4608 or 46.1 points -12.7 pts


Total Score—4.3


This is a high enough score to win a first round game in the NCAA Tournament and compete for a Sweet 16 spot.  Of course, if the opponent has a negative R+T score, then CCU would be our favorite.


2. Cleveland State 21-5 overall

Scoring Margin—9.6 points per game 3 pts


FG% Margin—3.4% 0 pts


Rebound Margin—0.5 0 pts


Turnover Margin—2.9 1 pt




R+T—5.79 1 pt


Strength of Schedule–.5176 or 51.8 points (-7 pts)


Total Score—(-2)


Cleveland State would not be considered a legitimate threat to upset a big team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, unless their opponent has a negative R+T rating.


1 Comment

  1. This system works great. It helped me to win 2 brackets last year.

    Comment by Mike — March 6, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

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