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Women’s ACC Tournament simulation: Notre Dame the favorite, Syracuse at 800:1 odds

The Orange ladies are a long shot in the ACC Tournament, and it’s as much about Syracuse’s path as it is about Syracuse’s relative strength.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Louisville at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, ladies!

The women’s ACC Tournament tips off on Wednesday in wild Greensboro, North Carolina, home to . . .

[furiously flips through notes]


This season’s iteration of the ACC Tournament is heavily weighted toward the favorites — even with a ladder-style bracket giving the conference’s highest-seeded teams passes to, at the maximum, the quarterfinals, there’s about a 91% probability that the eventual champion is either Louisville or Notre Dame (the championship’s top two seeds). That may mitigate some of the lunacy that often wraps itself around conference tournaments, but it doesn’t mean that anything is guaranteed (other than Greensboro being a trash pit that exists as a “pretty good place” for people that have never actually been to a “pretty good place”).

In an attempt to understand how the ladies’ ACC Tournament bracket will unfold, I ran a simulation of the tournament 20,000 times using ratings information from Jeff Sagarin and Sonny Moore. No home court advantage was applied, even though Greensboro is supposed to be some regal power source for schools located within spitting distance of this dump. The simulation only used these ratings as the basis for the simulation; no other considerations were made.

Here are the results of those simulations:

(Click on the image to enlarge.)

  • The odds presented are odds against — these are akin to Vegas odds. The odds against are derived from the championship probabilities illustrated. Anything that resulted in zero titles in the simulations was automatically given 20,000:1 odds against.
  • Read this as “Progress to . . . .” So, in the “Second Round” column, this should be understood as Clemson having a 5.52% chance of progressing to the second round. The same idea applies as you move left to right in the columns.

It’s probably not a huge surprise that Louisville and Notre Dame dominate the forecast: Both teams are among the nation’s elite, and with an automatic progression to the quarterfinals — a round where neither team is expected to be favored by fewer than 15 points, a virtual lock for semifinals participation — the teams have a major advantage in avoiding potential disaster.

As far as Syracuse is concerned:

  • The Orange are likely already safely in the NCAA Tournament field. There are no necessary victories in the ACC Tournament in order to assure participation, although dispatching Virginia Tech — essentially a toss-up game — would be a wise mood. Anything that Syracuse accomplishes in rotting Greensboro is merely a bonus for the Orange’s profile.
  • Progressing past quarterfinals — in a brawl with Louisville — would be atomic. Anything beyond beating the Cardinals would likely make the world swallow itself whole. There’s only about an 8% win probability that Syracuse holds against Louisville, so expecting anything more than surviving is probably asking for a lot.
  • Syracuse would likely open as a two-point favorite against Virginia Tech — Syracuse fell to the Hokies at home earlier in the year by nine, an underwhelming performance from the Orange considering Syracuse was expected to come away with a six-point triumph — with a 55% win probability. The Orange, if it toppled Tech, would then rest as a 16-point underdog to Louisville and need some jet fuel to burn down the Cards.
  • Syracuse’s seed is consistent with its relative strength.

Some general thoughts on the bracket:

  • The most likely team to overprogress its seed is Georgia Tech. There’s about a 4% chance that the Jackets end up in the semifinals despite starting on the first day, and Georgia Tech’s odds are as good or better than that of Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and Virginia to progress to the semifinals. If the Jackets somehow end up in the quarterfinals, though, they draw the Irish, which is some 100% butt.
  • The team most likely to underprogress its seed is Virginia. The Cavaliers only rate as the ninth or 10th strongest team in the league based on the two ratings models considered, yet Virginia drew a seven-seed based on a tiebreaker between itself, Syracuse, and Miami. Assuming Georgia Tech beats a dreadful Clemson team, the Cavs are going to be an underdog in their tournament opener and could take a final bow on the same day their curtain rises. Nine teams have better title odds than Virginia.
  • The best chance for something other than a Louisville-Notre Dame final comes out of the top of the bracket with either Duke or NC State making a push. The Devils have about a 15% chance of making the finals; the Wolfpack is behind at around 6%. The key is that each is drawing the weaker of the two top seeds — it’s easier to get through to Sunday via the Louisville route than to face the Irish. Both Duke and NC State would be double-digit underdogs to Louisville, but their scenario — hovering between a 10- and 12-point spread — is still better than what Miami or Florida State — the presumed quarterfinalists feeding into Notre Dame — would need to deal with: 12- to 15-point spreads.