The Men's MAC Tournament: What 28,000 Games Say About Who Will Win

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?

Team Percent Team Percent
Ball State 35.6 Bowling Green 68.0
Eastern Michigan 26.0 Central Michigan 2.0
Northern Illinois 1.2 Miami 5.3
Western Michigan 37.2 Toledo 24.6

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?

Team Percent Team Percent
Kent State 75.25 Ohio 80.94
Ball State 9.92 Bowling Green 14.90
Eastern Michigan 4.38 Central Michigan 0.13
Northern Illinois 0.08 Miami 0.45
Western Michigan 10.37 Toledo 3.58

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:

Team Percent Team Percent
Akron 70.83 Buffalo 35.86
Kent State 24.61 Ohio 58.39
Ball State 2.17 Bowling Green 4.87
Eastern Michigan 0.64 Central Michigan 0.02
Northern Illinois 0.00 Miami 0.08
Western Michigan 1.75 Toledo 0.78

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?

Team Percent
Akron 33.627
Ball State 0.478
Bowling Green 1.510
Buffalo 14.054
Central Michigan 0.002
Eastern Michigan 0.073
Kent State 9.269
Miami 0.012
Northern Illinois 0.000
Ohio 40.466
Toledo 0.153
Western Michigan 0.356

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.

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