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What Imaginary Six-Team League Could Challenge the ACC?

Outside, of course, a conference comprised of Freedom, Liberty, Old Glory, Camaros, Cheesesteaks, and Voter Fraud.


In a piece addressing the ACC lacrosse-SEC football comparison, "cuse2012" asked a question that immediately made my face melt:

Out of curiosity
Is it possible to put together a 6 team league of the best non-ACC teams that would top the ACC by the metrics you’ve been using to rank them?

I hadn't thought of that. The charge was simple: Excluding the six teams that will comprise the ACC's lacrosse concern next season -- Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Virginia -- is there a six-team league -- regardless of their current or future conference affiliation -- that can top what the ACC will have? After thinking about this at a high level I assumed the answer was "Hell no!" After looking into, though, the response is "It's pretty damn close." This result made brains leak out of my ears that had already melted from my face.

Here's what I did to try and figure this out:

  • I took the top 40 teams in the 2013 Pythagorean win expectation rankings and used that as my starting point to whittle down potential members of a six-team conference that could challenge the ACC. (I set the membership count at the bare minimum for automatic bid inclusion to maximize the league's strength).
  • From there, I went back to 2010, noting the Pythagorean win expectation ranking of each school in the 2013 top 40. After getting four years' worth of rankings together, I averaged each schools ranking over the periods.
  • Then I identified the six schools with the best average ranking since 2010. This became the league to challenge the ACC -- "Project: Destroy the ACC with Extreme Prejudice," a covert operation of Conference SB Nation.
  • The last step was averaging each team's Pythagorean win expectations over the periods to come up with an average league Pythagorean win expectation (the same method I've used in the past to rank conferences).

The results:

  • League Membership: Bucknell, Cornell, Denver, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, and Princeton. I had a feeling that Cornell, Hopkins, Princeton, and Denver would make the list; I wasn't surprised that Loyola made the cut, but it was interesting to see the Greyhounds' ranking improvement since 2010; I hadn't even thought of Bucknell until I started going through the process (the Bison actually finished slightly ahead of Loyola and just behind Denver). There really weren't other schools that strongly bumped up against this sextet -- Ohio State and Hofstra, the next two out, were somewhat notably behind the six teams that made the cut.
  • League Comparison: It's close -- the ACC, under its new membership constitution (including Maryland), has a Pythagorean win expectation value of 71.28 percent (remember: this isn't predictory to 2014 but rather the average of the last four season's worth of performance), the highest in the nation and significantly outpacing the Ivy League's value of 57.83 percent; "Project: Destroy the ACC with Extreme Prejudice" comes in with a 68.10 percent value. Plucking the strongest contenders from some of the country's better league's gets the conference in the same neighbordhood as the ACC. "Project: Destroy the ACC with Extreme Prejudice" is good but it also illustrates something more important: The strength of the ACC is historically ridiculous; you can fabricate a league out of the remaining Division I membership still not blow the ACC out of the water (all you can do is get in the same vicinity). That's . . . that's bonkers. What the members of the ACC have done over the last four seasons is as good as any combination you can come up with in the nation.
  • Giggles: What would the strongest six-team conference in the nation look like based on the same methodology, regardless of any conference affiliation (current or future)? It'd look something like this -- Cornell, Duke, Maryland, Notre Dame, Princeton, and Syracuse; the league's Pythagorean win expectation based on the last four year's worth of information is 71.92 percent. Johns Hopkins and Virginia just missed the cut.