Bracketology 2020: Predicting Tournament Bids By Conference

NCAA tournament bids by conference predictions

We do the mental acrobatics to figure out which conferences should get the most bids in 2020 (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Conference basketball season takes over as we move into 2020. If you want to see our current predictions for who gets into the tournament, check out our Bracketology page. While those are the best estimates of each team’s chances, the ordering of teams within conferences can certainly change. Bubble team identities are still to be decided.

One thing is more certain, though. Overall conference strengths (and thus available future “quality wins”) are largely set based on what has happened. Conferences rated higher are generally going to have a higher percentage of teams get into the tournament. Almost every game from here until Selection Sunday is a conference game, with the Big 12/SEC Challenge being one of the few exceptions. Because of that, we can largely assess on a broader basis and predict tournament bids by conference with some accuracy.

Last season, at the same point, we correctly predicted the number of bids within one tournament bid of the final result for every conference. As one example, the Pac-12 had a rough non-conference season a year ago. We projected only three tournament teams from the Pac-12. That’s exactly how many the conference ended up getting in after Oregon claimed the automatic bid.

Predicting Tournament Bids by Conference

For 2020, ten conferences project as more likely than not to have multiple bids and get at least one at-large. Here are those ten conferences with the projected number of bids. These numbers are the result of adding each individual team’s odds in our Bracketology projections.

ConferencePredicted No. of TeamsNo. of Teams with 50% or greater oddsNo. of Teams with 10% or greater odds
Big Ten7.7712
Big East6.379
Big 125.159
Atlantic 102.726
West Coast2.633
Mountain West1.613

If you add all of those up, you get 45.7 bids. Subtracting out the 10 automatic bids leaves 35.7. With 36 at-large selections, all, or almost all, of the at-large bids will come from these conferences.

Some other notes:

  • The ACC has averaged 7.4 tournament teams the last five seasons, but projects to come in well below that. The last time the conference had only five bids was in 2013 (when there were 12 member schools);
  • The Pac-12 is top-heavy, with three schools projected with 90% odds or better of reaching the tournament, but only 4.4 projected tournament slots overall. Washington (56%) is the only school besides Arizona, Oregon, and Colorado given more than a 30% chance of reaching the tournament.
  • The SEC and Big 10 are the opposite, with a large middle class of schools competing for tournament spots. Ten different SEC schools and 12 different Big 10 Schools have at least a 30% chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
  • The American Conference was negatively impacted by the results this weekend. Conference favorites Wichita State and Memphis, along with SMU, played three of the five lowest ranked SEC schools. While Wichita State beat Ole Miss and SMU beat Vanderbilt, Memphis lost at home against Georgia in a game that had a ripple effect on the power ratings for the conference. Add in losses by Temple and Cincinnati, and the American now has only three schools projected with a greater than 50% chance of reaching the tournament.