NCAA Weekly, Vol. 3.1: Preseason Tournament Week
odds for every single preseason tournament, all of which you should watch if we lose to Wales
Welcome to Extended Family Week, AKA Feast Week, AKA Preseason Tournament Week, AKA Why Is the World Cup Being Held in November Oh That’s Right FIFA Corruption Ha Ha Week. This is my favorite week of the first two months of the season for pretty obvious reasons: it crams a ton of awesome matchups into one week featuring plenty of teams you’ll see again in March, along with some you won’t that are still worth watching now.
Based on a request, I decided to run odds for every tournament on the books this week using Bart Torvik’s Tournament Simulator. It’s an incredible tool that saves so much time for me when looking into postseason odds, but it also works brilliantly for events like these. So: let’s take a look at what’s being offered to us this Thanksgiving. And unlike everything else about Thanksgiving, this post is free because you have already spent many dollars on the Honey Baked Ham.
For the tournaments that are worth fully breaking down, we’ll break the field into the following:
FAVORITES: Teams who enter with a 25% chance or better to win their tournament.
DARKHORSES: Teams somewhere in the 10-25% range.
UNDERDOGS: Everybody below 10%.
For tournaments with four teams (come on!), those ranges become 40%, 15-40%, and <15%.
ALL ODDS LISTED ARE VIA BART TORVIK’S WEBSITE. I’m working on building a sheet that does this same thing using KenPom’s numbers, but Bart’s numbers are very close to Ken’s for the most part and the KenPom odds really wouldn’t meaningfully differ in most cases. If upsets happen, they happen.
Also: for TV schedules this week, I first recommend the brilliant catch-all post by Blogging the Bracket that has every single event happening. Past that, my long-time king Matt Sarzyniak puts up updated CBB schedules within minutes of the end of a game.
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THE BIG ONES
These are the A-grade tournaments, the ones you absolutely have to watch while ensuring your extended family does not start a discussion about a sensitive subject that causes a rift for years to come. If this begins, simply shout “game’s on!” and it will stop. Maybe.
Battle 4 Atlantis
FAVORITES: Tennessee (42.3% to win), Kansas (25.2%). Tennessee-Kansas has over a 30% chance of being the final, per Torvik; no other combination of teams (second-most likely being Tennessee-Dayton) is above 14%. If that’s not the final, I’ll be a bit surprised.
UNDERDOGS: The rest of the dang field. Dayton has the best shot and may be a little undervalued here, but Wisconsin is pretty tough to beat in one-off scenarios like these. Both USC and BYU have been worse than expected, as USC’s dropped 26 spots on KenPom since opening day and BYU 14. Butler has jumped 44 spots and is likely significantly better than what the metrics say, but even if you gave them another 2-point efficiency boost they’re still just fifth-best in odds.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: The obvious one in Kansas-Tennessee.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Tennessee defeats Kansas in a tight affair. The main ‘upset’ is that USC loses to BYU, but then loses by double digits to Tennessee. NC State only loses by 8 to Kansas.
FAVORITES: …no one? But also Arizona (25.7%) and Arkansas (24.5%). This is a wide-open field with only one true dire side, but it’s >50% by a hair that the winner is one of these two, and it makes sense. Both have looked pretty solid to start the year with different key strengths, and a final with these two teams would be tasty. Also, it would force Arkansas to Actually Play a Good Team Before January so hey.
DARKHORSES: San Diego State (20.1%), Creighton (11.9%), and Texas Tech (11.9%). I think Creighton may be undervalued here. I’m a huge believer in San Diego State this year and wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them come home with the title. Texas Tech will have to win every game 62-59 to win the title, no thanks.
UNDERDOGS: Ohio State (3.4%), Cincinnati (2.2%), and Louisville (0.2%). Ohio State is undervalued here and is a significantly bigger threat than 3.4% suggests. I don’t think they’re winning Maui, but they could certainly beat San Diego State. Cincinnati got housed by Northern Kentucky and Louisville is winless, so their battle for 7th place on Wednesday is something only a mother could and would love.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Arizona-Creighton? But honestly, many different combinations would be fun. Arizona-Arkansas would be a great clash of styles. Creighton-San Diego State would be as well. What about an Arkansas-Texas Tech semifinal? Would any points be scored at all?
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Any of the top five teams listed can win this tournament. My guess, and it absolutely a guess, is that Arizona defeats Creighton in the final. Louisville finally loses a game by more than one point.
Phil Knight Invitational
FAVORITES: North Carolina (31.2%). This is no doubt aided by the fact they get Portland first, and even giving Portland half of home-court advantage still doesn’t impact the odds very much. Even so, despite UNC’s deeply unimpressive start to the season, their toughest competition is either Alabama or Michigan State. They should win this.
DARKHORSES: Alabama (17.4%), Michigan State (16.2%), and Iowa State (10.8%). These are three exceptionally-coached teams with rosters in flux and not enough questions answered to be fully trustworthy. Michigan State’s odds may be better than this in reality given their start to the season.
UNDERDOGS: Connecticut (8.3%), Villanova (7.5%), Oregon (7.5%), and Portland (1.1%). UConn has a better shot than 8.3% and should beat Oregon at minimum. Villanova…I really don’t know. They looked a lot better at Michigan State on Friday, but they seem like they need time to gel. It would be the funniest moment of the entire season if Portland beats North Carolina.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Probably UNC-Michigan State, but the argument for UNC-Alabama is there too.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: To be honest, nothing that UNC has done yet this year has convinced me they’re going to live up to the hype. Why keep waiting? Alabama defeats UNC in the final. Portland wins one of the consolation games.
Phil Knight Legacy
FAVORITES: Gonzaga (41.5%) and Duke (34.9%). This entire event is more or less a setup to produce a Duke-Gonzaga title game on Sunday on ABC. And you know what? That is precisely what it should be. No upsets, please. There’s a 46% chance we get that title game.
DARKHORSES: None. But: that 54% chance we don’t get the title game. About that.
UNDERDOGS: The rest of the field. Of that field, West Virginia (8.2%) offers the best odds to pull an upset and prevent the game everyone wants. The Florida/Xavier winner could reasonably give Duke a game as well. But: don’t do it.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Well.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: I simply believe in Gonzaga a bit more right now than I do Duke. Therefore: Gonzaga beats Duke by 5 or so.
GOING BACK FOR SECONDS
These tournaments can be good and may very well be, but for a variety of reasons, they don’t match the star power of the ones above and are a bit lower on the priority list. Still, there should be a couple good games from these that are worth a watch.
FAVORITES: None, really.
DARKHORSES THAT ARE FAVORITES: Fine, whatever. St. John’s (36.2%), Temple (26.4%), and Syracuse (25.4%). This is technically in St. John’s home city as well, so it would behoove them to win this tournament, frankly. This is the best team Mike Anderson has had and they’ve looked like a legitimate top-40 team so far, which is something I can’t say for the others in the field. One thing I can promise in this mini-tournament is points, as all four defenses are pretty rough.
UNDERDOGS: Richmond (12%). Just kinda happy to be here in a way. But: these guys take a ton of threes. Syracuse gives up a ton of threes. I’m at least curious.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Syracuse-St. John’s.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: St. John’s defeats Syracuse in a game they lead by double-digits most of the second half.
ESPN Events Invitational
FAVORITES: Memphis (24.8%), I guess. No one is actually above the 25% mark here, but Memphis is so close that I think you can count them. Anyway, they also have a very tricky first-round game against Seton Hall that’s nowhere near a gimme.
DARKHORSES: Stanford (21.1%), Seton Hall (15.9%), Oklahoma (15.6%), and Mississippi (14.9%). All four are problematic teams. Stanford has never once lived up to expectations under Jerod Haase; Seton Hall has a new coach; Oklahoma lost to Sam Houston State; Mississippi can be really dire to watch offensively. And yet, this is a pretty wide-open tournament to be a part of. Anything’s possible.
UNDERDOGS: Florida State (4.6%), Nebraska (2.9%), and Siena (0.1%). Siena is merely happy to be here. Nebraska gets a vulnerable opponent in Oklahoma, but beyond that, I don’t see the path. FSU is the interesting one: they’ve been beyond awful so far, but the dead cat bounce potential does exist, and I cannot imagine a Leonard Hamilton team staying this bad for much longer.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Honestly Memphis-Seton Hall will be the best game of this tournament; none of the title games really match that for me. But if I had to pick, probably Memphis-Stanford or Stanford-Seton Hall?
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: This one seems remarkably wide-open even for a preseason thing. Therefore: goofy mode. Seton Hall beats Stanford in double overtime on Sunday.
Look: I can’t promise you that any of these pop off the page. But chances are that they could provide a basketball fix at some point this week, and they do exist.
Baha Mar Hoops Nassau
I do care enough about this one to write a little.
FAVORITES: North Texas (43.7%). This assumes North Texas can be at least somewhat close to full strength, which they haven’t yet this season but are progressing towards rapidly.
DARKHORSES: Vermont (19%), Missouri State (12.5%), and Long Beach State (10.6%). You know of Vermont, but you should know of Missouri State. Dana Ford’s defense is one of the most analytically-friendly in all of basketball; only one team has forced more mid-range jumpers over the last two seasons.
UNDERDOGS: The rest of the field. Highlighted by Ball State.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Vermont-North Texas, obviously. Vermont isn’t as good as usual this year, but that’s a five-star mid-major game with two excellent coaches. I’d accept North Texas-Missouri State as a backup.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: A mild shocker: Missouri State beats North Texas in the final.
This is a two-bracket tournament: one for more well-known teams, one for the middies.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: Auburn is obviously the best team here. I think Liberty’s undervalued here and is a really hard team to nail down in a tournament setting because of how hard Ritchie McKay’s perimeter guards close out on threes. I’ll admit that I know very little of Bradley this year.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Auburn-Liberty. I am sick of Northwestern and Chris Collins. Please hire somebody new, just to try and be a little interesting.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Auburn beats Northwestern in a game no one remembers.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: Emoni Bates is here. Fort Wayne looks like the best team here on paper; I’m rooting for them to make their first NCAA Tournament. Winthrop and Southern Miss don’t pop off the page, really.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Anything involving an Emoni Bates 30-point showing.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Fort Wayne beats Winthrop.
Cayman Islands Classic
BRIEF ANALYSIS: Three big favorites, all at the top. There’s an 85% chance your winner is one of those three, but I wouldn’t be shocked by any of them. Besides that, the threat of Western Kentucky is always interesting, but Rick Stansbury has not delivered on the promise of his talent in many years.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Honestly it might be Tulane-Western Kentucky? That’s the one that pops off the page the most to me.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: I get part of what I want but not all of it: LSU defeats Tulane in the final.
Emerald Coast Classic
All I could find was the schedule, so no bracket.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: Tennessee was in this once and it was much better then, but the production quality of the games was awful. Hopefully that’s improved. 87% chance your winner is Iowa or TCU.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Iowa-TCU.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: I think TCU finds their way eventually, but not here. Iowa beats them by 14 in the final.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: Three bad teams and Southern.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: The one that has Southern in it.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Southern beats Omaha 80-70 and the production quality is 10% less bad this time around.
Gulf Coast Showcase
BRIEF ANALYSIS: I like that we get little mid-major tournaments like this one. The unfortunate aspect of it is that only three teams are above water in terms of efficiency - the three that combine for an 85% chance to win the title - but it should lead to some interesting games as long as the favorites take care of business.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Toledo-Indiana State, but that can only be a semifinal. So it’s Toledo-Northern Kentucky in a battle of Ohio-ish extremes.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: I feel like if Toledo doesn’t win this, that’s a bad sign for the rest of the year. So: Toledo beats Northern Kentucky in the final in a close one.
Hall of Fame Classic
BRIEF ANALYSIS: Beautiful. Two very intriguing mid-majors in San Fran and Grand Canyon; a typically intriguing mid-major in Wichita State who may be heading for a coaching search; also Northern Iowa.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: San Francisco-Grand Canyon, which is a really interesting styles clash and provides a huge opportunity for GCU in particular to get a signature win before WAC play.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: San Francisco defeats Grand Canyon in one of the most memorable finals of, uh, “Feast Week”.
Las Vegas Holiday Classic
BRIEF ANALYSIS: This is another really interesting mini-mid-major tournament. Three of these teams can win their leagues and make the Big Dance, while San Diego nearly beat Utah State in overtime on Thursday and is the second-oldest team in CBB.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: The obvious one: UC Irvine-NMSU.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: UC Irvine defeats NMSU in the final. NMSU-San Diego goes to overtime and leaves the winner exhausted.
London Basketball Classic
BRIEF ANALYSIS: For reasons unknown to me, this is being played in London in the middle of the World Cup. I’m not even kidding: the first games are played the day before the England-USA match. Why does this exist?
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Whatever has Princeton in it.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Princeton wins the tournament and none of the games are within single digits.
Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-off
BRIEF ANALYSIS: Another mini-tournament. None of these four are expected to make the Big Dance, but the top three all have coaches in their first or second year at their school.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Mississippi State-Utah. That’s the two most interesting coaches here for my money.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: I think Mississippi State’s looked very good so far. That being said: a little too good. Utah beats Mississippi State in the final in a mild surprise.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: One good team, one chaos team, two teams that have a combined 6% chance of winning the title.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Well, take a look at the odds.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Sam Houston State defeats South Dakota on a three at the buzzer.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: This is a relatively unique tournament where the Big Six school in it is possibly the worst team involved. Minnesota’s in a full-scale rebuild, while Southern Illinois just beat Oklahoma State on the road and UNLV beat Dayton last week. To top it off, Cal Baptist beat Washington, which isn’t a huge feat but is still notable for a smaller WAC school to do.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: The Chaos Bowl: UNLV’s insanely aggressive defense versus Cal Baptist.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: This one is pretty wide-open, but the winner of SIU-UNLV has a 71% shot of winning the whole thing. I’ll take Southern Illinois over Minnesota in the final.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: I will cop to admitting that I badly hope TSU wins this title.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Tennessee State-High Point, for fairly obvious reasons, but stylistically, TSU-Central Michigan would be fun, too.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: High Point defeats Tennessee State.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: I really wish we could’ve gotten UAB in a better tournament. This is the best they were invited to? Anyway, the bottom three programs are all at or near historical lows. South Florida in particular might be a disaster.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: UAB-Saint Joe’s. I don’t think it would be a great game, but Saint Joe’s strives to make every game entertaining in some way: lots of threes, lots of transition play.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: UAB beats Georgia by 13 in the final.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: To honor my biggest change of 2022, I am rooting for the Presbyterians.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Probably Austin Peay-Bucknell, but none of the four play stylistically gorgeous basketball. No team involved ranks in the top 200 in tempo.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Presbyterian pulls one upset, but not two, as Austin Peay defeats them in the final.
BRIEF ANALYSIS: I mean, Saint Mary’s looks like they might win 25 games before their conference tournament starts. They’re absurdly good, particularly on defense, and may have the shooting to make a deep run in March. I like Fresno State, too. I…do not really like the bottom two.
THE BEST POSSIBLE TITLE GAME IS: Fresno State-Saint Mary’s. I mean, we need it. Fresno would get blown out, but so would Washington.
REQUIRED PREDICTION BY JOURNALISTIC LAW: Saint Mary’s defeats Washington by 20.