November 24, 2020 - by Jason Lisk
Davion Mitchell and the Baylor Bears are our favorites to win a tough Big 12 (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire)
Yesterday we published our official 2020 college basketball preseason ratings. That means we also now have full 2020-21 college basketball projected standings for all teams, including:
All of these projections are data-driven and automated, and they update every morning throughout the season to incorporate the previous day’s game results.
There’s a lot of info in the giant table below. You’ll find:
But first, let’s point out a few highlights from our 2020-21 college basketball preseason projected standings.
Note: We adjusted Gonzaga’s predictive rating up by 0.5 points on Tuesday, November 24, after this post was originally published, to account for the just-announced eligibility of Florida transfer Andrew Nembhard. As a result, projection numbers quoted for Gonzaga in this piece have likely improved at least slightly. Our latest numbers are always available at the links listed at the top of this post.
Here are our projected regular season winners for the major conferences, along with their win odds:
Some observations here:
Outside the major conferences, five schools have over a 50% chance of winning their regular season conference title.
Gonzaga is the largest conference favorite of the year, and we give the Zags over an 80% chance of holding off St. Mary’s, BYU, and San Francisco. BYU and St. Mary’s had very good seasons as the Gonzaga’s biggest challengers last year, but we expect those teams to take a step back in 2020-21.
Last year, we had eight projected conference champions with at least a 50% chance of winning the regular season title, so this season also looks more balanced among the mid-majors.
A year after Dayton dominated the Atlantic 10 and was on track to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the conference looks far more balanced. Dayton lost first team All-American Obi Toppin, and is expected to fall back toward the pack.
Our simulations project seven A-10 teams to have between 10.2 and 11.9 wins, with all seven of those teams having between a 9% and 19% chance of winning the regular season conference title.
Five of the top 11 teams in our preseason college basketball power ratings are from the Big 12. With the round-robin schedule among all the conference members, that makes for a very tough schedule for anyone hoping to win the league (or earn a NCAA Tournament berth).
We currently project Baylor to win the conference, but with a most likely record of 12-6. In other words, with such a deep conference, the Big 12 could beat up on each other this season, with several strong teams ending up with win-loss records that don’t look that impressive.
When you account for (a) generally tougher non-conference schedules because of fewer low-quality games, and (b) a strong top half of the conference, you could see several Big 12 teams finish with 7 or 8 losses this year and still get high seeds in the NCAA tournament.
For a lot more info on any team, click their name in the associated conference table below to view their season projections page. Once there, be sure to also check out the team Bracketology link at the top of the page.
Other than that, just keep in mind the following two notes:
The ACC is playing a 12-game schedule this year, and not everyone is playing each other, so there is some schedule imbalance. Duke is ahead of Virginia in our rankings. While Virginia does have the easier schedule (e.g. the Cavaliers play expected ACC cellar dweller Boston College but Duke does not), Virginia has to go to Cameron Indoor for the only regular season game between the two, which could be decisive.
America East teams currently have very few non-conference games on the schedule. Like many mid-major conferences, they are also playing two games at the same venue during one road trip, rather than rotating home and away. That should reduce travel but could lead to some interesting results as teams have quick turnarounds against each other. The last time Vermont did not win the regular season title was in 2016, and they are the heavy favorite again.
The American Conference lost Connecticut to the Big East, which means the conference now has 11 members and can play a 20-game schedule with a true round robin format. Houston is the conference favorite, while Memphis, Cincinnati, and SMU are the most likely contenders to knock them off.
As noted earlier, the Atlantic 10 looks like perhaps the most balanced league entering the year, with no clear favorite. Dayton is expected to take a big step back from last year’s historic season, but will still be a contender to win the league.
|Fla Gulf Cst||9.5||6.5||12.4||8.6||13.3%||14.2%|
The Atlantic Sun is also playing a 16-game schedule where teams play the same team at home twice or on the road twice. Liberty is the favorite (they have won the conference tourney the last two years) but they have to play Lipscomb on the road twice in early January.
The Big 12 is top heavy, and with non-conference schedules being reduced, it’s going to be a challenge for any of the five teams in the bottom half of the projections to break through and get enough wins to have an impressive overall record.
The Big East adds Connecticut back to the conference and will go to a 20-game schedule with true round robin. Villanova is the favorite in a conference with a large middle class of potential NCAA tournament contenders. Six teams are projected to win between 9.2 and 10.0 games in conference play.
The Big Sky mostly is adopting the two-away-or-two-home format, but will have a couple of series where the teams will play each other at home. Eastern Washington and Montana, the two favorites, will play each other at home in the span of three days late in the year in what could decide the regular season title.
The Big South will play back-to-back games at the same venue throughout conference season, and is going to an expanded 20-game conference schedule with all teams playing twice.
The Big Ten was loaded last year and looks like a deep conference again this year, where only Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State (after head coach Pat Chambers resigned in October) looking like teams that will have difficulty contending.
|UC San Diego||9.5||10.5||9.5||10.5||3.8%||0.0%|
|Lg Beach St||9.1||10.9||10.6||13.4||2.9%||4.8%|
|Cal St Nrdge||6.1||13.9||7.4||15.6||0.4%||1.1%|
The Big West will play two-away-or-two-home format this season, which means only five road trips for Hawaii to California, and only half of the California schools visiting Honolulu this season.
|Wm & Mary||8.0||10.0||11.9||15.1||5.0%||6.2%|
Every team in the CAA is projected for between 7.8 and 10.8 wins and has at least a 5% chance of making the NCAA tournament via the conference tournament winner auto-bid.
|TX El Paso||8.0||9.0||9.3||10.7||2.3%||2.9%|
Conference USA has had five different schools win a regular season title in the last six years. This year’s favorite, Western Kentucky, is not one of them and has not won a regular season or tournament title since joining the league after leaving the Sun Belt Conference.
Wright State is favored to win the Horizon League in our projections, but they have come up short in the conference tournament each of the last two years, with Northern Kentucky winning the tournament both times.
The Metro Atlantic will play Friday-Saturday games at one venue between conference rivals each week starting in December, making for short turnarounds and no weeknight games in the conference this year.
Buffalo is the favorite, but four other teams have at least a 10% chance to win the regular season title. The MAC will continue to play home-away series in 2020-21, with each team playing 9 other conference opponents twice, and playing a single game against the remaining two teams.
|S Car State||3.5||8.5||4.8||17.2||0.5%||2.3%|
Bethune-Cookman and Maryland-Eastern Shore will not play this season, with UMES opting out of spring sports this week. That leaves nine teams competing for this season, and right now the schedules are at 12-13 games in conference.
|San Diego St||16.1||4.9||18.6||6.4||41.4%||32.2%|
|San Jose St||4.2||15.8||5.4||16.6||0.0%||0.1%|
San Diego State dominated the Mountain West last season, until Utah State beat them in the conference tournament. Those two teams are expected to compete again for the conference title.
Loyola-Chicago will try to return to the tournament for the first time since their 2018 Final Four run. Northern Iowa were the regular season champs last year, and Loyola-Chicago the year before that, but it’s been Bradley who has won the last two Arch Madness tournaments in St. Louis.
|St Fran (PA)||10.9||7.1||13.2||10.8||20.5%||20.7%|
|Mt St Marys||10.3||7.7||13.2||11.8||15.2%||15.8%|
|St Fran (NY)||8.7||9.3||9.0||10.0||7.0%||8.1%|
There are two St. Francis schools in the Northeastern Conference, and the one from Pennsylvania is the favorite to win the conference this year. St. Francis (PA) has the most wins in conference over the last four years but has no regular season or tournament titles to show for it.
The Murray State-Belmont rivalry continues this year as the two teams have been the class of the Ohio Valley. We expect more of the same this season, with the two teams projected as the clear favorites and with nearly identical odds to win the title, and matching win projections.
The Pac-12 will play a 20-game conference schedule where they play 9 other teams twice, and have two designated opponents they will play once. None of the teams in the Pac-12 made our Top 15 in the predictive ratings, but five of them range from No. 18 (Oregon) to No. 34 (Arizona), so it should be a competitive race at the top again.
The Patriot League will play an imbalanced schedule to avoid travel, with teams paired up into groups by geography. For example, conference favorite Colgate will play Army, Boston University, and Holy Cross four times each, and will play Bucknell/Lehigh twice each. But they will not play American, Lafayette, Loyola-Maryland, or Navy at all during the regular season.
Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida are expected to compete for the SEC title, while Auburn, who has been a tournament regular and frequently ranked in recent seasons under head coach Bruce Pearl, is expected to take a step back with key player losses.
|E Tenn St||9.1||8.9||11.5||11.5||3.0%||4.9%|
The Southern Conference has produced some pretty good mid-major teams in recent years, with Wofford as a No. 7 seed in 2019 and East Tennessee State finishing 30-4 and winning the conference tournament a year ago. This year, we expect Furman to emerge as the most likely team to take over that mantle.
|Ste F Austin||13.1||3.9||20.7||6.3||44.6%||36.4%|
|Sam Hous St||8.0||8.0||9.6||12.4||3.8%||5.7%|
Stephen F. Austin stunned Duke last year in one of the biggest upsets of the season. They will have to settle for Rhode Island this year as the big non-conference upset opportunity, as they do not have any power conference teams on the schedule.
|S Dakota St||15.3||3.7||16.2||4.8||61.8%||48.6%|
|N Dakota St||10.8||8.2||11.0||10.0||10.0%||12.0%|
Purdue-Fort Wayne is out (to the Horizon League) and Missouri-Kansas City is in (from the WAC). But South Dakota State is the heavy favorite in the Summit League this year, where we give them a 62% of winning the league regular season title and 49% chance to earn the automatic NCAA bid.
|AR Lit Rock||11.2||6.8||17.1||10.9||13.2%||14.3%|
Little Rock won the regular season title last year. In 2020-21, we project a bounce back season for Georgia State, who won the league in 2019 and returns most of its core players from a year ago.
|Ark Pine Bl||6.8||11.2||7.1||16.9||1.1%||2.2%|
|Miss Val St||4.2||13.8||4.4||19.6||0.1%||0.4%|
Prairie View A&M has gone 31-5 in conference play the last two years, but are projected for only fifth place this season.
|N Mex State||13.2||2.8||13.2||2.8||56.4%||49.1%|
|Utah Val St||9.3||6.7||13.1||10.9||6.0%||8.8%|
Only one team besides New Mexico State has earned the automatic bid from the WAC in the last 9 years (although the Aggies are 0-7 in the NCAA Tournament during that span). New Mexico State is again back as the heavy favorite with over a 50% chance of winning the regular season conference title and a 49% chance of earning the auto-bid.
We saved the best (as in Gonzaga, who is our preseason No. 1) for last. Last season, the WCC was almost certainly going to send three teams to the tournament who would have all been top 8 seeds. BYU was a senior-heavy team, though, and is expected to drop back this season, and St. Mary’s loses star point guard Jordan Ford. Gonzaga, meanwhile, should be among the top teams in the country and has about an 80% chance of winning the league.
Again, once the season begins and actual game results come in (and as we process information about the inevitable future stream of pandemic-related schedule changes and/or game cancellations), you can find our most up to date projections on our college basketball projections page.
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