Genius post at ESPN

Lately, I’ve been hitting the Joe Lunardi bracketology page over at ESPN on a daily basis — the guy knows his stuff. But I scrolled down and found myself intrigued by one of the comments (by EliSilverman):

Here’s some math to prove just how much better the Big East is than any other conference. The Big East has the lowest average projected seed amongst the top conferences (3.7), surpassing the ACC (4.2), Big 12 (5.5), PAC 10 (6.4), SEC (8.0) and Big 10 (8.1). Now, here’s a bit more math….I predict there’s a 75% chance that the semi-finalists of the Big East tournament also become the Final Four in the Big Dance.

All right, I’m not a math major — I just have an engineering degree — but in order to prove conference strength, it’s not accurate to only average the projected seeds of the teams that get in the tournament. By that logic, Conference USA is the strongest conference because its average projected seed is 2.0 (Memphis).

Eli might say, “Everyone knows that C-USA isn’t the toughest conference because it only has one team in the tournament.” Well, by that logic, the Big 10 is the strongest conference because Lunardi projects that it will get eight tourney bids, one more than the Big East. You can’t have it both ways.

What makes the strongest conference? Is it the quality of the teams at the top? Or is it the strength of the conference from top to bottom. If it’s the former, then the Big East has a great argument. Pitt, UConn and Louisville are legitimate Final Four threats (and are all ranked in the top 5), while the ACC, Big 10 and Big 12 only have one team ranked in the top 7. If you’re going by total conference strength, then it’s hard to beat the Big 10 since it looks like eight of its 11 teams (73%) could get bids. (I know, it’s dumb to have 11 teams in a conference called the Big 10, but that’s another post.) The Big East has 16 teams (a fact glossed over by Big East supporters), so seven bids out of 16 teams (44%) isn’t quite as impressive.

Personally, I go by Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings. The guy knows his stuff, so if he says that the ACC is the strongest conference top-to-bottom, then I believe him. And if he says that the Big 10 is second, then I’ll believe that too.

And as for the “more math” part of Eli’s post, where he says there is a 75% chance that the Big East semifinalists will make up the Final Four, I’d take that bet any day. First, that’s not “math,” that’s a prediction, and an arbitrary one at that. Second, for that prediction to come true, Pitt, UConn, Louisville and a fourth Final Four team (Villanova/Marquette/Syracuse/West Virginia) all have to be in separate regions. It’s likely that Pitt, UConn and Louisville will be split up, but I’d say that the chances of all three making the Final Four (PLUS a fourth Big East team emerging from the fourth region) aren’t quite 75%. Maybe 5%, and that’s being generous.

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