Jeff Eisenberg

Five big surprises from Ken Pomeroy's conference projections

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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This past weekend, statistical guru Ken Pomeroy simulated the conference race in each of college basketball's 32 Division I leagues 10,000 times apiece using his rating system in order to determine the most likely champions. Here are the five most surprising results from his simulation and my subjective opinion on each of them:

1. Memphis is a long shot in Conference USA

Despite Memphis' flurry of poor performances against lightly regarded competition, the consensus remains that the freshman-heavy Tigers are at the very least co-favorites to win Conference USA along with undefeated Central Florida. Pomeroy, however, disagrees with that assertion, giving Memphis just a 7.26 percent chance to win the league -- well behind not just Central Florida (51.90 percent) but also UTEP (18.77 percent), Alabama-Birmingham (9.75 percent) and Southern Miss (8.8 percent) too.

My take: Memphis is nowhere near the dominant Conference USA favorite I expected the Tigers to be entering conference play, but I'd be very surprised if the Tigers were fifth in the league standings. If the team commits to playing energetic defense and doesn't take so many bad shots and make so many careless turnovers, winning the league is certainly still a realistic goal.

2. Kansas State is sixth in the Big 12

If Pomeroy's rating system is accurate, preseason Big 12 favorite Kansas State now has only a 1-in-200 shot of winning the conference title. More than 83 percent of the simulations showed Kansas taking the Big 12 crown, but Kansas State's three early losses have put them behind Texas, Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M in the league's pecking order.

My take: There's no doubt Kansas deserves to be a heavy favorite to win the league, but Kansas State's is a greater threat to the Jayhawks than several of the teams listed ahead of them. Even with all the early turmoil, they're still playing better than Baylor right now and their talent level gives them a greater chance to win the league than solid but overachieving Texas A&M.

3. Vanderbilt is Kentucky's biggest threat in the SEC

Picked to finish as low as fifth in the SEC East entering this season, Vanderbilt has once again emerged as a pleasant surprise, amassing an 11-2 record that includes victories over North Carolina and Marquette. As a result Pomeroy's simulation gives the Commodores a 27.5 percent chance to win the league, behind only Kentucky at 63.48 percent.

My take: This is one where Pomeroy and I are completely on the same page. While I still like Kentucky to win the SEC, Vanderbilt is playing with far more consistency than teams that received more preseason hype than them such as Tennessee, Florida, Georgia or Mississippi State.

4. Duquesne is a Atlantic 10 contender

In Pomeroy's simulation, the three leading Atlantic 10 contenders are Temple (54.95 percent), Richmond (27.14 percent) and ... Duquesne?!? Believe it or not, Pomeroy gives the Dukes a far better chance (11.02 percent) than Xavier (4.03 percent), Rhode Island (1.14 percent) or Dayton (.76 percent).

My take: Injuries have taken their toll on Xavier so far this season and Dayton hasn't lived up to expectations yet either, but Duquesne has zero noteworthy wins so far this season. Maybe close losses against West Virginia, George Mason and Pittsburgh mean we're undervaluing the Dukes, but I'd like to see some quality wins before I'm willing to buy them as an Atlantic 10 contender.

5. St. Mary's is the WCC favorite

Gonzaga has dominated this league for a decade aside from an occasional upset or two, but Pomeroy likes St. Mary's to build on its deep NCAA tournament run from last season by winning the conference crown. The Gaels won the WCC in 60.99 percent of the simulations compared to 36.55 percent for the Zags.

My take: Based on Gonzaga's recurring point guard woes and Elias Harris' regression as a result of injuries, this seems very possible. The Gaels don't have Omar Samhan this season, yet strong guard play and the emergence of forward Rob Jones have propelled them to a 12-2 start that includes a win over St. John's and a one-point loss to future conference rival BYU.

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