With Champ Week well underway, ESPN Analytics set out to identify the upcoming conference tournament games with the most impact on the NCAA tournament field. To do this, we're using Bubble Factor: a metric driven by the College Basketball Power Index (BPI), which simulates the results of the rest of the season and the March Madness tournament 10,000 times.
By filtering the season simulations based on a game's result, BPI can see how a win or loss will affect a team's chances of advancing to the Big Dance. The difference between a team's chance to qualify with a win vs. with a loss is called leverage. Bubble Factor considers the leverage each team has, as well as how close the score is projected to be, to create a measure of how much a game projects to impact which teams qualify for the postseason tournament.
We've calculated the Bubble Factor for all possible matchups throughout the remaining conference tournaments, and removed conference championship games. These are the games with the most potential impact on the NCAA tournament that we were left with.
BPI's Prediction: Ohio State, 61% (by an average of 2.5 points)
As it stands, Wisconsin makes the national tournament in 33% of BPI's simulations and is in the First Four Out category of Joe Lunardi's bracketology. But beating the Buckeyes in their Big Ten first-round matchup can put the Badgers in a good position to qualify. After filtering the simulations to those in which they win, their chances to qualify are 60%. Filtering for a loss, that percentage falls to just 15%, a swing of 45 percentage points.
For Ohio State, winning this game alone won't be enough, but the Buckeyes aren't totally out of the running yet. Using the same technique of looking at the results of the season sims, OSU could boost its tournament odds to 46% if it can advance to the Big Ten championship game, although the chance of that is just 4%. If the Buckeyes can't advance past Wisconsin, though, they're on the outside looking in 98% of the time.
BPI's Prediction: Oklahoma State, 58% (by an average of 2 points)
This matchup features two teams in the top 10 in strength of schedule. As with Wisconsin, Lunardi has Oklahoma State in the First Four Out, and defeating Oklahoma could be enough to validate its season. A win pushes the Cowboys into the 64-team pool in 80% of BPI's season sims. A loss drops their chances to 45%.
Oklahoma will likely need a run of upsets even if it can get past its rival. Wins against Oklahoma State in the first round and a big upset of Texas in the second have the Sooners punching a ticket 58% of the time.
BPI's Prediction: Mississippi State, 54% (by an average of 1 point)
Florida's odds to qualify for the postseason are slim, but for Mississippi State, this might as well be the conference championship final. Its 60% swing (84% with a win, 24% with a loss) is the single biggest among these teams. Currently listed in the Last Four In, the Bulldogs would solidify their standing as a tournament team with a win. The Gators, meanwhile, will need a lot more than just a win here. Even in those simulations where they make the SEC tournament championship game, they grab a bid only 42% of the time.
BPI's Prediction: Illinois, 63% (by an average of 3 points)
Bubble Factor loves this game because both teams have big swings in their tournament odds. Penn State is among the Last Four Byes, and makes the field of 68 in 47% of simulations right now. That chance shoots up to 81% with a win and plummets to 27% with a loss. Illinois, currently an 8-seed, has a similar swing, dropping from a shoo-in with a win to a bubble team with a 48% chance to advance after a loss.
BPI's Prediction: Rutgers, 61% (by an average of 3 points)
This is about as high stakes as it gets. Rutgers sits in Lunardi's Last Four In, Michigan is in the Next Four Out, and either advancing will likely be at the other's expense. For Rutgers, a win pushes it to the national stage 68% of the time, while a loss gives it an 82% chance to miss out. The Wolverines get their name called in 44% of simulations if they win this game and get up to 68% if they can follow that up with a Purdue upset.