Facebook Twitter

2015 NCAA Bracket Guide

Using our College Basketball Ratings and NCAA Tournament odds, let's run through what the optimum bracket picks are. The good news for 2015 is that the committee did a better job than usual of seeding teams accurately. The bad news, of course, is that means for the most part picking "chalk" is the best way to go. Even worse, many of the teams that are mis-seeded are stuck in areas where the mis-seeding won't be likely to have a big impact.

Lower Seeds to Definitely Pick

There are 4 lower seeds that have a greater than 50% chance of winning in the 1st round, and 2 that are likely to win in the 2nd round. However, beyond that, there are no lower seed value picks. Below are the value picks, and the value in bracket points they can be expected to add compared to picking the higher seed. Points assume 1 point awarded for correct picks in the first round, doubling each round to 64 for the champion.

1st round:
(+0.45 points) #10 Ohio State over #7 Virginia Commonwealth in the West
(+0.18 points) #9 Oklahoma State over #8 Oregon in the West
(+0.07 points) #9 Purdue over #8 Cincinnati in the Midwest
(+0.04 points) #11 Texas over #6 Butler in the Midwest

2nd round:
(+0.62 points) #5 Utah over #4 Georgetown in the South
(+0.21 points) #5 West Virginia over #4 Maryland in the Midwest

Final Four:
(+0.50 points) #1 Duke (#3 overall) over #1 Villanova (#2 overall)

Lower Seed Underdogs With the Best Value

Because this year's tournament provides so few actual net positive value lower seed picks, the following are some lower seeds that will on average lower your overall score a small amount, but have a much better chance of winning than the average lower seed. Again, the overall net effect on your bracket score from making each pick is listed. Asterisks by point values indicate that points lost come from both that round and later rounds due to the higher seed also being favored in later rounds.

1st round:
(-0.07 points) #11 UCLA over #6 Southern Methodist in the South
(-0.15 points) #11 Boise State/Dayton over #6 Providence in the East
(-0.42 points) #13 Valparaiso over #4 Maryland in the Midwest
(-0.50 points) #12 Wyoming over #5 Northern Iowa in the East
(-1.34 points*) #14 Georgia State over #3 Baylor in the West
(-1.62 points*) #15 New Mexico State over #2 Kansas in the Midwest

2nd round:
(-0.60 points) #11 Texas over #3 Notre Dame in the Midwest
(-0.84 points*) #7 Wichita State over #2 Kansas in the Midwest
(-1.16 points) #11 Boise State/Dayton over #3 Oklahoma in the East

Sweet 16:
(-0.23 points) #3 Notre Dame over #2 Kansas in the Midwest

Elite 8:
(-0.03) #2 Arizona over #1 Wisconsin in the West
(-0.86) #2 Virginia over #1 Villanova in the East

While there are limited positive value lower seed picks, and even limited late round reasonable negative value lower seed picks, there are some decent low seed picks in the early rounds that can be chosen in order to make a big splash while only making minor sacrifices in order to do so. Any bracket that doesn't pick Kentucky to win the tournament is on average sacrificing over 15 points. However, those 15 points come in the form of an all-or-nothing proposition, so they are not quite equivalent to picking many different upsets with a summed total expected 15 point loss.

Combining Upset Picks

When picking a team to complete 2 upset wins in a row, the point values above can be added together to represent the total net value of picking that combination. For instance, picking the #11 Boise State/Dayton play-in game winner to then go on and defeat #6 Providence and #3 Oklahoma can be expected to lower your total score on average by 1.31 points (a relatively small price to pay to place a #11 seed in the Sweet 16).

Certain teams like Utah and Ohio State come at a hefty price on their first upset pick, but after that have little marginal price on the next upset. For instance, picking #10 Ohio State to upset #2 Arizona has a net value of -2.72, but then picking them to also upset #3 Baylor only adds an additional net value of -0.07 points.

One handy trick to keep in mind is that when combining overlapping upsets from different teams, the overall net value is better than the simple addition of the values listed above. For instance, picking #7 Wichita State over #2 Kansas has a net value of -0.84 points and picking #3 Notre Dame over #2 Kansas has a net value of -0.23 points. But the first value already assumes Kansas being out of the next round and thus Notre Dame winning it. So the overall net value of picking Wichita State over Kansas, and then Notre Dame over Wichita State is still only -0.84 points.

Because of this effect, it is generally helpful to pair upset picks together. This reflects the reality that it's easier for a lower seed to advance if they get to face an upset winner.

Large Bracket Pool Adjustments

While the net negative points upset picks above are simply a matter of adding excitement at the expense of a few points on average in small bracket pools among friends, they can actually increase the odds of winning a larger size bracket pool. If you are more concerned about finishing at the very top of a large pool than maximizing your average total points, making picks that are rarer can have intrinsic value because they will inevitably push your score further towards the very top or bottom of all contestants.

For instance, according to ESPN, about 50% of contestants are choosing Kentucky to win the tournament while only 6% are choosing Arizona. Our analysis gives Kentucky a 35% chance of winning it all and Arizona an 11% chance. So roughly speaking, picking Kentucky gives you a 35% chance of being in the top 50% of contestants, while picking Arizona gives you an 11% chance of being in the top 6% of contestants.

Assume your goal is to be in the top 1% of contestants and that you need to pick the right champion to do so. If you are otherwise an average bracket maker, you'll have a 2% chance of finishing in the top 2% of the 50% of contestants who chose Kentucky in order to finish in the top 1% overall. Mutiply the 2% chance by the 35% chance that Kentucky wins it all and you give yourself a 0.7% chance of finishing in the top 1% by picking Kentucky.

On the other hand, you could have a 17% chance of finishing in the top 17% of those 6% who chose Arizona. Multiply the 17% by the 11% chance that Arizona wins it all and you give yourself a 1.8% chance of finishing in the top 1% of contestants. Simply counterintuitively choosing Arizona rather than Kentucky to win the tournament gives the average player twice the chance of finishing in the top 1% overall.

This example is a simplification of the more complex real overall odds, but it displays an effect that holds true not just for the champion pick, but for the earlier picks to a lesser extent as well. Therefore many of the above picks that may not increase your total point expectation can still be the best picks to make if trying to win a large pool.

Recent Articles
Wk 17 Playoff Scenarios 2017   -   12/31/17
Grading NFL Franchises   -   9/28/17
Tom Brady Is Not The G.O.A.T.   -   8/3/17
NFL Census 2016   -   4/19/17
Do NCAA Basketball Teams Get Hot?   -   3/15/17
How Good Are Pro Bowl Teams?   -   1/28/17
Wk 17 Playoff Scenarios 2016   -   1/1/17
Rating Field Goal Kickers   -   8/28/16
Rating NFL Quarterbacks   -   6/20/16
2016 NCAA Basketball Model   -   3/16/16
Fundamental Articles
Site Summary and Features   -   7/5/12
The ProFootballLogic Method   -   7/5/12
Stats Explained   -   7/5/12
How Variation Affects Outcomes   -   7/5/12
Ratings Explained   -   7/5/12
General Play Type Analysis   -   7/5/12
London and Home Field Disadvantage   -   8/21/12
Ranking College Conferences   -   1/11/13
Draft Position and Player Quality   -   4/25/13
The Changing Landscape of the NFL   -   5/21/13
College Yearly Rating Regression   -   8/28/13
How College Basketball Rankings Fail   -   2/28/14
Franchise Tag Position Problems   -   3/7/14
Developing a World Cup Model   -   6/9/14
Optimizing College Playoff Selection   -   11/26/14
The Science of Football Deflation   -   1/27/15
2015 College Football Model   -   9/3/15
2015 NFL Team Ratings Model   -   10/20/15
NFL Injury Rate Analysis   -   2/22/16
2016 NCAA Basketball Model   -   3/16/16
How Good Are Pro Bowl Teams?   -   1/28/17
Do NCAA Basketball Teams Get Hot?   -   3/15/17
NFL Census 2016   -   4/19/17
Tom Brady Is Not The G.O.A.T.   -   8/3/17
Grading NFL Franchises   -   9/28/17