Alex Abreu and the Akron Zips are hoping to make a return to the NCAA tournament. But are the odds in their favor? (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
When the MAC created the spaceship-shaped bracket for its personal version of March Madness, they set up a dream scenario for teams that could finish at the top of the conference.
If you don't have to play in the first two games, you increase your chances of winning the whole thing. That the top two seeds get a bye into the semifinals makes winning during the regular season even more important.
But how important? Well, that is where the computer comes in.
Over the past 10 years, I have on and off ran a computer basketball ranking system known as the MRI. During that time, I have tracked the results of some ridiculous number of games, and then how well teams did based on their ratings.
With over 28,000 games in the tracking system, I have a pretty good model for telling you the chance of any team winning a game based on the difference in the ratings between the two.
By playing out all the combinations possible in the MAC tournament, we can determine what the final chance of winning is for each team. Here is a warning now: a lot of numbers follow.Let's start with Monday, because the bottom of the conference has to play through a first round on home courts, and then into the second round on Wednesday.
What are the chances of these teams even making the quarterfinals?
|Ball State||35.6||Bowling Green||68.0|
|Eastern Michigan||26.0||Central Michigan||2.0|
In the top half of the bracket, Ball State and Western Michigan were the two best computer performer, despite Eastern Michigan finishing with the No. 5 seed. A lot of that is based on Eastern Michigan's schedule strength, which was very low -- Not as low as Ball State, but low.
It also helps Ball State that they finished at .500 overall against Division 1 teams, while Eastern Michigan would need to reach Saturday's final to even sniff being even. It is still a three-way race though.
Northern Illinois... their chance of winning doesn't even warrant firing up the bus for the trip to Ypsilanti.
On the bottom side, the battle is really between Bowling Green and Toledo, but even that isn't close. Bowling Green has better than a two-thirds chance of facing Ohio on Thursday.
By making these teams play amongst themselves for two rounds, it seriously reduces their chance of winning the whole thing. Not only are there two chances for upsets early, but even by winning both games, the teams move on to face better teams overall in the next two games.
But more on that in a moment.
How does it shake out when you add Ohio and Kent State to the mix?
|Ball State||9.92||Bowling Green||14.90|
|Eastern Michigan||4.38||Central Michigan||0.13|
Now you can see the effects of the double bye. Kent State is a pretty good team by the computer and Ohio was actually the best team in the conference by the computer, but even with that, no team that had to play the first two games has a better than 15 percent chance of making the semifinals.
Adding Akron and Buffalo in the semifinals, here are the chances to reach Saturday's championship:
|Ball State||2.17||Bowling Green||4.87|
|Eastern Michigan||0.64||Central Michigan||0.02|
At this point, everyone but the top four teams has almost been eliminated. It would take a George Mason-like miracle run to even have the chance to play on Saturday.
The MAC made the regular season truly important, even if the strength of the conference was all clumped in the Eastern division.
How does it all shake out in the end?
Chances are there is an Ohio-Akron final -- the rubber match on a neutral floor for all the marbles. The computer actually believes that Ohio has a 67 percent chance of winning that game. But based on the run to the finals, the end percentages are a lot closer.
Still, it is unlikely that the automatic bid will go to anyone other than the Zips or Bobcats. Buffalo, thanks to a beneficial seeding as the No. 2 team has a 15 percent chance to win two games and dance, but that is half of Akron's shot at the win.
Stay tuned this week for updates to the numbers and chances as the games play out.