Bracket Analysis

Last Updated: 3/18/2017 9:24 AM ET
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The Predictalator has already played the 2017 NCAA Tournament 50,000 times to create the Bracket Odds table with the chances of any team making it to any level in the tournament, as well as the Predictalated Bracket with the machine's most likely outcomes. Here, we break down each region to look at the best teams, sleepers and Cinderellas.

See: How it Works, a Tournament Summary and Regional Previews: South, West, East and Midwest.

How it Works
The Predictalator uses current rosters and strength-of-schedule and pace-adjusted team and player stats (weighted slightly more toward recent games), to play, one possession at a time, every game 50,000 times before it's actually played. For this analysis, we are tracking how likely a team is to make it to any level of the NCAA tournament. Each tournament is played individually, with the team that wins the game in that instance advancing. See the Bracket Odds and Predictalated Bracket.

Tournament Summary

Villanova, the top overall seed and the defending National Champions, is our most likely title winner at 19.8% likely despite playing in the toughest overall region. That percentage is identical to our most likely champion at this time last year. In 2015, Kentucky was the most likely champion we have ever seen at 44.3% (Duke and Wisconsin were next). In 2014, no team won the title more than 11% of the time. This year may seem "wide open" in a relative sense, but it is right in the middle based on the previous 13 seasons' simulations.

Just three teams this year - Villanova, UNC (15.4%) and Duke (11.2%) are more than ten percent likely to win it all, while there are only five other teams - Gonzaga (8.0%), Kansas (6.7%), Kentucky (6.6%), West Virginia (5.2%) and Arizona (5.1%) that have a five percent chance or better.

Duke, which entered the season as the number one team in the nation and battled through injuries, suspensions and Coach Krzyzewski's mid-season break for back surgery, is in an interesting spot. The Blue Devils, likely the most talented team in the country, rank second overall behind Villanova in our final Power Rankings and would be in our most likely Final Four from any other region. Duke and Villanova from the East combine to be 72.5% likely to make the Final Four (they are two of just four teams that are more than 50% likely to make the Elite Eight), 47.7% likely to make the Championship Game and 30.9% likely to win it.

It has already been a wild 2016-17 season. We saw three of the top four teams in the AP Poll lose in the same night in late January and in another weekend, six top ten teams went down in action. In a season that has been as unpredictable as this one, how wide open is the NCAA tournament going to be?

To answer that question we looked back at the last seven tournaments on (2010 to 2016) we simulated and averaged the probability for each of the top ten teams to cut down the nets. Then we compared that average to the ten most likely 2017 champions as of right now.

How much of a difference is there heading into March Madness?

Title Chances Rank Average 2010-2016 2017 Simulations
1 21.4% 19.8%
2 13.2% 15.4%
3 10.3% 11.2%
4 9.1% 8.0%
5 7.9% 6.7%
6 6.0% 6.6%
7 4.5% 5.2%
8 3.9% 5.1%
9 3.2% 4.8%
10 2.8% 2.5%

That's not as eerily similar as this exercise earlier in the season, but it's still pretty close. There are still ten teams with at least a 2.5% chance to win the championship and that top ten is roughly 85% likely to do so. The difference that we are seeing now is fairly common when looking at one season instead of an aggregate of many seasons.

The most likely Final Four for 2017 is (in order of likelihood) UNC, Villanova, Gonzaga and Kansas. Zzzzzzzz... Yes, we know that is all one seeds. Due to the difficulty of the East, UNC is actually a little more likely to make the Final Four (45.5%) than Villanova (42.7%), though they are the two favorites in this tournament. It's important to keep in mind that this exact Final Four only happens 1.7% of the time. Duke is actually more likely to make the Final Four than Kansas, but isn't in the most likely with Villanova better. Kentucky is next, while only Arizona, Louisville, and West Virginia have a better than one-in-five chance at the Final Four otherwise.

In the most likely "Predictalated Bracket," a quick review of the results may seem pretty boring. The most likely Elite Eight has four one seeds and four two seeds. However, one five seed and one six seed make the Sweet 16. And, on the flip side to that, we predict on 12 seed and two 11 seeds to win outright in the First Round. Seeds from 6 through 11 look mostly interchangeable.

While we would actually prefer to reward resume over talent in seeding and region placement ("most deserving" over "best" is what committee should review, while the Predictalator then deciphers "best"), some reasonable consideration needs to be given for talent and expected chances for success. For instance, in our updated Power Rankings, FIVE teams got into the tournament as at-large teams despite being ranked 45th or worse. Those teams are USC (#61), Providence (#58), Maryland (#47 - which got a six seed), Arkansas (#46) and Minnesota (#45 - which got a five seed). Last year, NINE such teams made the tournament, so this is better, but the seeding is confusing. Last year, the Big Ten was under-seeded across the board. This year, it appears, with the exception of Wisconsin, that the opposite is true.

In the previous two years to last year, no team got into the tournament as an at-large with a Power Ranking worse than #51 and no team was left out of the tournament with a ranking better than #44. The best teams that missed out this year based on our Power Rankings are Indiana (#33), Clemson (#40) and Syracuse (#41). All pretty good teams, but none of them has a strong enough resume of wins to hold a legitimate gripe.

The East region has the highest chance to win the championship at 35.5% and also has five teams in the top 14 of our Power Rankings. The Midwest, which lacks an elite team, is just 18.6% likely to win it all. The region does not have any team that currently ranks in the top six of our Power Rankings.

After Villanova, UNC, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arizona, the list of teams with at least a one percent chance to win the championship also includes (in order): Louisville, Iowa State, Oregon, Purdue, Virginia, SMU, UCLA and Notre Dame.

Iowa State, Virginia, SMU, Notre Dame and Cincinnati (the best 5+ seeds with respect to chances to make the Final Four - better than Baylor, Florida, Florida State or Butler- may be sleeper national championship contenders. They do not really qualify as Cinderella candidates (double-digit seeds who could make a deep run into the tournament).

There are some double-digit seeds with decent chances of making the Sweet 16 including: criminally underrated ten seed Wichita State at 25.9% to make Sweet 16, 12 seed MTSU (21.2%), 11 seed Rhode Island (17.9%) and 11 seed Xavier (16.7%). The strongest 13+ seeds are Vermont (13.9% likely to win a First Round game), ETSU (13.4%), Winthrop (10.8%), Florida Gulf Coast (10.7%) and New Mexico State (10.6%). No 15 or 16 seed has a better than five percent chance to win a game after the Opening Round.

There are seven predicted upsets in the Round of 64 (outlined below), yet a just eight games in which the favored team wins two thirds of the time or less (this is usually at least ten such games). The most likely 12-over-5 upset is Middle Tennessee State with a 53.9% chance to win over Minnesota. The other three five seeds have a 53.7% chance of all winning so we could easily see multiple 12-over-5 wins.

Last season, UNC earned a one seed and was placed in the always difficult East Region. The Tar Heels made it through and eventually played Villanova in the championship. Going into the tournament, Villanova slid to the two seed in the South, yet actually got an easier path to the title than UNC did in the process. This year, the opposite has happened and it benefits UNC. Even though Villanova is our favorite to win it all again, North Carolina is the most likely team in the bracket to make the Final Four.

Most Likely Final Four team: UNC (45.5%)

Final Four Sleeper: Wichita State (5.3%)

Cinderella (double-digit seeds going deep): Wichita State (25.9% to make Sweet 16)

Chance NCAA Champion is from Region: 25.3%

Three Most Important Players: Justin Jackson (UNC), De'Aaron Fox (Kentucky) and T.J. Leaf (UCLA)

First Round Upset: #12 MTSU over #5 Minnesota (53.9%) and #10 Wichita State over #7 Dayton (73.9%)

Closest First Round Game: #8 Arkansas over #9 Seton Hall (51.0%)

The East is brutal. Literally the #1 (Villanova) and #2 (Duke) teams in our most recent Power Rankings are in the East. Carrying that out further and the region also includes #10 (Virginia), #13 (Florida) and #14 (SMU) - FIVE teams in the Top 15. And that does not even include third seed Baylor at #19 or eighth seeded Wisconsin who is a Top 25 (#23) team in our rankings. The first round may be lopsided here (just one game with favorite of less than 69%), yet games after that should be close and intense. Last year's champs advance, but the path is rough.

Most Likely Final Four team: Villanova (42.7%)

Final Four Sleeper: SMU (7.9%)

Cinderella (double-digit seeds going deep): Marquette (11.7% to make to Sweet 16)

Chance NCAA Champion is from Region: 35.5%

Three Most Important Players: Josh Hart (Villanova), Jayson Tatum (Duke) and Semi Ojeleye (SMU)

First Round Upset: #10 Marquette over #7 South Carolina (51.4%)

Closest First Round Game: In addition to above, #8 Wisconsin over #9 Virginia Tech (69.1%)

The West is weak. That is an unfortunately common refrain in this annual article. In general, we share Mick Cronin's (who happens to coach at the only school in the country with a credit-worth Bracketology class) sentiments that the committee overweights dollars - tickets, ratings and travel - over what is fair with regions and seeding. When most of the best teams from the West come from the same conference and other regions are geographically loaded, this will keep happening.

Most Likely Final Four team: Gonzaga (30.6%)

Final Four Sleeper: West Virginia (22.4%)

Cinderella (double-digit seeds going deep): Xavier (16.7% to make Sweet 16)

Chance NCAA Champion is from Region: 20.6%

Three Most Important Players: Lauri Markkanen (Arizona), Jonathan Isaac (Florida State) and Bonzie Colson (Notre Dame)

First Round Upset: #9 Vanderbilt over #8 Northwestern (53.2%) and #11 Xavier over #6 Maryland (50.6%)

Closest First Round Game: In addition to above, #7 Saint Mary's over #10 VCU (71.1%)

With Josh Jackson back in the fold for Kansas, the Jayhawks rightfully get a top seed close to home and advance to the Final Four. Ultimately, this may be the band-aid bracket as Oregon, Creighton, Rhode Island, Michigan State, Miami and Nevada have been some of the most injury-riddled tournament teams. Add in Michigan and Oklahoma State and the talent in this region is easily surpassed by volatility with some of the country's least consistent good teams. Inconsistency in single-elimination tournaments tends to yield chaos.

Most Likely Final Four team: Kansas (28.9%)

Final Four Sleeper: Michigan (5.0%)

Cinderella (double-digit seeds going deep): Rhode Island (17.9% likely to make Sweet 16)

Chance NCAA Champion is from Region: 18.6%

Three Most Important Players: Josh Jackson (Kansas), Monte Morris (Iowa State) and Caleb Swanigan (Purdue)

First Round Upsets: #9 Michigan State over #8 Miami (50.4%), #11 Rhode Island over #6 Creighton (52.5%)

Closest First Round Game: In addition to above, #7 Michigan over #10 Oklahoma State (56.9%)

2017 Tournament Pages:
Bracket Analysis
Bracket Odds
Predictalated Bracket
Bracket Simulator
MLB Preview