Ken Pomeroy recently put conference projections on his site and they've opened up a treasure trove of information. Of course his predictions are based on data spanning the entire season. I've been tracking to conferences - the Horizon League and Great West - on my own because of their beautiful home-and-home schedules. These make life much easier when doing analysis.
My numbers don't quite add up to 50/50 on the win-loss ledger in the Horizon League yet, but I thought I'd share some thoughts on those two leagues plus the Big Ten. There's a full analysis after the break.
There is no denying that Butler is the class of the Horizon League. Both Pomeroy and I have the Bulldogs projected to finish at 17-1 in conference. Where that one loss will come is the question. It's theoretically possible that Butler could finish undefeated in conference - Pomeroy gives it a 23.35% chance of happening. That's what happens when you are almost three times better than any other school in conference in efficiency margin 1/3 of the way through conference season.
Loyola appears to be battling with Milwaukee, Cleveland State and Valparaiso for 5th place in the conference. That's a far cry from 10th where the Ramblers were picked pre-season, but maybe not as good as fans would've liked to see after the strong non-conference record. Saturday's game against the Crusaders might be more important for the Ramblers than Butler's visit on Thursday.
For UIC it's battle at the bottom against Youngstown State. The Flames are projected to go 3-15 and the Penguins 5-13, but in conference UIC has actually played the slightest smidge better thus far. Of course for Youngstown that includes a game against Butler, which can screw up anyone's numbers. UIC gets their chance against the best on Saturday.
It is very early, but South Dakota appears to be the class of the Great West this season. Through a few games in the conference season is University of Texas-Pan American that is doing the most damage. The Broncs seemed to gain some momentum from playing Northwestern tough on the road and having returned to their home stadium have delivered two big wins.
Chicago State has struggled early in conference, but the Cougars were playing three straight road games. Benjy Taylor's squad still has two more road games - including a conference one against N.J.I.T. - before they return to the Jones Convocation Center for a three-game homestand. The road game against the Highlanders is going to be critical because Chicago State and N.J.I.T. could be battling to stay out of last place in the conference.
The Big Ten appears to be getting less-and-less respect in bracketologists' minds instead of more as the season goes on. I've seen brackets with only 4 or 5 Big Ten teams in the field of 65 and that's baffling. With Purdue's recent losing streak it appears that Michigan State and Wisconsin - if they're alright without Jon Leuer - will battle for the top spot in the league. The good news for Northwestern fans is that both already came to Welsh-Ryan Arena. The bad news is the Wildcats couldn't get a win either time.
With three bad teams in the conference - Indiana, Penn State and Iowa - Big Ten teams are going to have some inflated records. I doubt that 9-9 in the Big Ten, as Northwestern is currently projected to finish, is going to be enough for an NCAA berth. The Wildcats are going to have to pull at least one more upset along the way and challenge for a spot in the top half of the conference. The team's they're competing against include Ohio State, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois. Those four currently project to finish between 10-8 and 12-6 in conference.
All three conferences offer interesting possibilities as the season progresses. If you're curious DePaul is currently projected to finish 2-16 in the Big East and has a 11.62% chance of going winless in conference. (The Rutgers game on February 16 really hurts the calculation.)