NCAA Tournament Bids: How Many Should Your Conference Expect?

Throughout the season, I will take a look at some advanced statistics and apply them to all sorts of things. Last year, I looked at the strength of the NCAA Tournament bubble versus past years and how teams dependent on the 3-point shot typically perform in March.

Disclaimer: I love Ken Pomeroy and his website. I use the numbers he generates and apply them to whatever I am exploring. Check out and consider getting a subscription for just $19.95.

This time, I am going to look at kenpom’s Strength of Conference ratings since 2006. Using these numbers, I will compare them with the amount of bids that each conference received in the NCAA Tournament. Ultimately, we can take a look at this season’s Strength of Conference ratings and see how many bids each conference can expect in the field of 68.

Going back to 2006, I used any conference that received 2 or more bids to the NCAA Tournament. Then, in order to put them on the same scale, I calculated each conference’s amount of bids as a percentage of its total teams. For example, the 2011 Big East’s 16 teams received 11 bids, meaning 68.75% of the conference made the tourney.

Charting the strength of the conference against the percentage of its teams to make the NCAA field, I set up a trend line and plugged in this season’s ratings. I was interested in eleven conferences with the potential to get more than one team in the tournament. Let’s take a look at this year’s projected bids:

Conference Strength

So let’s discuss:

ACC: It’s tough to look at the top of this year’s ACC and not immediately think it’s the strongest conference in the country. Projected to get about 6 teams in the field, we can safely assume that group will include Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, and Virginia. Who will the other teams be? Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Miami, and NC State all have a good chance to break through as the season goes on.

Justice Winslow, Duke

Justice Winslow could help Duke get back to the Final Four

Big 10: Projected to put about 6 teams in the tournament, the Big 10 will certainly send Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan. The next tier includes Maryland, Iowa, Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota. I agree with this number, if not more, because that next tier has already performed well in wins over Iowa State (Maryland) and BYU (Purdue).

Big 12: With just 10 teams, the Big 12 is projected to get just about 5 into the tourney. Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma should have no trouble making it, as Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State, West Virginia, and Kansas State all have a good chance, too. Since the conference schedule is a round robin, these schools will beat up on each other. It will be interesting to see how many teams eventually advance from one of the country’s deepest conferences.

SEC: This is one I firmly disagree with. The SEC is projected to send somewhere between 4 and 5 teams into the field of 68, but I personally think that number could be as low as 2. Kentucky is the best team in the country, and it’s not close at this point in the year, but the rest of the conference is a mess. Florida and Arkansas offer the best chances for the next two bids, but after that, I don’t think any team deserves it. Look for the SEC to only have two teams called on Selection Sunday.

Kentucky might be the only SEC team dancing

Kentucky might be the only SEC team dancing

Big East: Somewhere between 3 and 4 bids for the “new” Big East is probably a safe bet at the moment. Villanova will be there, and from the way Georgetown has played in the Bahamas, they should be there, too. Providence has looked like a tournament team, as well. Xavier, St. John’s, Creighton, Butler, and Seton Hall all should have a shot going into Big East play. Can the Big East get upwards of 5 teams in?

Pac 12: Like the Big East, the Pac 12 is picked to get somewhere between 3 and 4 teams in. Its two additional teams, however, make it comparatively weaker. Arizona is a national championship contender and will likely be on the top seed line in a few months. Stanford, UCLA, Utah, California, and Oregon will all likely be able to make a case, but they have had some issues. UCLA looked lost in Atlantis, and Oregon left the Barclays Center without a win in the Legends Classic. This is dangerous territory for a conference trying to maintain its reputation as a top basketball power.

The Rest:

The Atlantic 10 is the next strongest conference with 2-to-3 bids expected. One of those will surely go to Shaka Smart’s VCU squad. The other spot(s) could go to Dayton, Richmond, George Washington, La Salle, and/or Massachusetts.

The American Athletic Conference showed up relatively weak here due to its ugly lower tier, but the AAC should expect to get at least three teams into the field. Defending national champion Connecticut is a safe bet to make it, while Memphis should be able to build a solid résumé, as well. The return of Markus Kennedy should help SMU in the second half of the year, and Cincinnati and Tulsa will look to make a case for themselves, too.

The West Coast Conference will send Gonzaga once again to the tournament, but what about a second or third team? BYU and Saint Mary’s are perennial contenders to have their name called on Selection Sunday, but they will have to prove they belong in early season contests. In Maui, BYU lost to San Diego State (in 2OT) and Purdue (in OT). National Player of the Year candidate Tyler Haws will try to help the Cougars get a big win in the coming month, as they play home against Utah, Stanford, Massachusetts, and Gonzaga before the new year. Saint Mary’s is currently 4-0, and the Gaels will be tested soon at Creighton and at St. John’s.

Is this Mark Few's best Gonzaga team ever?

Is this Mark Few’s best Gonzaga team ever?

The Mountain West is picked to get between 1 and 2 bids just like the WCC. San Diego State looked impressive in Maui despite a championship game loss to Arizona, and they will be right in the thick of things in March. I am not entirely sure where the next bid will come from. It could be Wyoming, Colorado State, New Mexico, Boise State, UNLV, or even Utah State. The MWC race for second place is wide open.

Finally, the Missouri Valley looks to send two teams to the tournament for the first time in a couple years. Wichita State is back and loaded up for another big year, but can the MVC get another bid? The only true candidate at this point in the season is Northern Iowa. The Panthers have jumped out to a 6-0 start with good wins at Stephen F. Austin and against Northwestern on a neutral floor by 19. They take on Richmond on Sunday and travel to VCU on December 13th. Big opportunities for the Missouri Valley!

As always, let us know what you think! Find us on twitter @BEandBeyond or comment below.


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