Auburn, Texas Tech, Purdue Among Best 2019 NCAA Tournament Bracket Picks

The 2019 NCAA Tournament isn’t over but we’re down to the Final Four and the three most popular picks to win the national championship, according to ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, have been eliminated.

Here’s a look at the teams that had the best and worst “value” in bracket challenge games, meaning the difference between a team’s pre-NCAA Tournament chances of advancing, according to the analytics site FiveThirtyEight, and the percent of ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets that picked the team to advance.

This value highlights the discrepancy between a team’s statistical chances of advancing and the public’s belief that it will.

Ultimately, you win your office’s bracket pool by picking the correct national championship matchup and outcome, as well as selecting a high percentage of the teams that make the second weekend, but it’s especially valuable to correctly identify teams like No. 5 seed Auburn to make the Final Four or No. 12 seed Oregon to make the Sweet 16.


Best Realized Value for the Final Four

Here’s the “value” – meaning the difference between a team’s projected chances of making the Final Four minus the percent of brackets that picked that team to advance to the Final Four – for each of the four remaining teams.

Auburn offered the highest value as a Final Four pick and Texas Tech provided the least, when compared to ESPN Tournament Challenge data.

School Percent of Brackets 538 Projection Difference
Auburn 3.9% 11% 7.1%
Virginia 42.6% 49% 6.4%
Michigan State 18.6% 23% 4.4%
Texas Tech 10.3% 14% 3.7%


[RELATED: Bruce Pearl Leads Auburn to First Final Four in Career Revival]

Worst Value for the Final Four

As No. 1 seeds, Duke and North Carolina had two of the four highest percentages among the 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament of making the Final Four. But the percent of brackets that picked the Blue Devils and Tar Heels to advance to the final weekend of the season far outpaced their favorable projections.

Here are teams that didn’t make the Final Four that had the greatest negative difference between the public’s confidence in them advancing and their chances based on computer projections.

School Percent of Brackets 538 Projection Difference
North Carolina 56.2% 35% -21.2%
Duke 68.7% 52% -16.7%
Tennessee 32.0% 21% -11.0%
Michigan 26.3% 17% -9.3%


Best Potential Value for Final Four

We already covered Duke. Now here are the three other schools that fell one win short of the Final Four and the potential value they had if they had advanced to Minneapolis.

Gonzaga was actually significantly undervalued by the public despite being a No. 1 seed.

School Percent of Brackets 538 Projection Difference
Gonzaga 42.4% 50% 7.6%
Purdue 7.2% 10% 2.8%
Kentucky 22.3% 24% 1.7%


Best Realized Value for the Elite Eight

Here are the schools that made the Elite Eight listed in descending order of the difference between their 538 projections and the percent of brackets that picked them to win three games in the tournament.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that No. 5 seed Auburn provided the most value for those who correctly picked the Tigers.

Teams with a positive “Difference” had a higher percent chance of making the Sweet 16, according to FiveThirtyEight, compared to the general public’s picks on ESPN.

Teams with a negative Difference were overvalued by the public but that of course doesn’t mean picking Duke or Kentucky to reach the Elite Eight was a bad idea.

It just means that picking the Blue Devils or Wildcats would likely offer little value in terms of separating yourself from the rest of the brackets you’re competing against.

School Percent of Brackets 538 Projection Difference
Auburn 8.5% 21% 12.5%
Texas Tech 25.9% 34% 8.1%
Purdue 17.7% 25% 7.3%
Gonzaga 64.3% 71% 6.7%
Virginia 74.6% 73% -1.6%
Michigan State 66.1% 56% -10.1%
Duke 86.3% 72% -14.3%
Kentucky 62.1% 47% -15.1%


Best Realized Value for the Sweet 16

Here’s the list of Sweet 16 teams from the 2019 NCAA Tournament in descending order of which correct picks provided the most value. Once again, teams with a positive Difference provided more value than teams with a negative Difference.

School Percent of Brackets 538 Projection Difference
Auburn 43.1% 49% 5.9%
Gonzaga 83.9% 88% 4.1%
Oregon 18.3% 19% 0.7%
Purdue 50.4% 51% 0.6%
Texas Tech 66.1% 65% -1.1%
Virginia 89.6% 88% -1.6%
Virginia Tech 64.8% 62% -2.8%
Duke 94.0% 91% -3.0%
Florida State 58.8% 54% -4.8%
Houston 58.7% 53% -5.7%
Michigan State 82.8% 77% -5.8%
North Carolina 92.2% 86% -6.2%
Michigan 77.3% 69% -8.3%
LSU 58.6% 50% -8.6%
Kentucky 83.7% 73% -10.7%
Tennessee 81.1% 69% -12.1%



So what can you learn from the 2019 NCAA Tournament and the public’s bracket picks in order to improve for next year?

Well, the public loves its blue bloods. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

Almost 70 percent of the brackets on ESPN picked Duke to make the Final Four.

More than half predicted North Carolina to reach Minneapolis..

While those were certainly reasonable selections – FiveThirtyEight gave the Blue Devils a 52 percent chance of making it and a significantly lower but still favorable 35 percent chance for the Tar Heels – there would’ve been a good chance that you wouldn’t have won your bracket pool even if you correctly picked Duke or North Carolina to win the national championship just because they were such popular choices.

There’s also a lesson in not letting a school’s previous shortcomings or its conference affiliation discourage you from picking it to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

Before the tournament started, Virginia had a 49 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, according to FiveThirtyEight. Those are coin-flip odds.

Yet fewer than 43 percent of brackets on ESPN picked to ‘Hoos to reach Minneapolis.

Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference team that was among the nation’s best the entire season, had similar percentages – a 50 percent chance of making the Final Four, per FiveThirtyEight, but just 42.4 percent of brackets on ESPN had the ‘Zags advancing that far.

They ultimately lost a competitive game in the Elite Eight.

Despite being a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga had the second-best “realized value” among the teams that made the Sweet 16. FiveThirtyEight gave the Bulldogs almost a 90 percent chance of making the second weekend but the public wasn’t as confident.

Finally, here’s the most difficult but arguably most important takeaway.

It’s one that’s tough to forecast for future years: Find the lower-seeded team(s) that will make a run, whether it’s to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or Final Four.

No. 12 seed Oregon had a 19 percent chance of making the Sweet 16, which was tied for the 27th-highest among the field of 68, according to FiveThirtyEight. No. 5 seed Auburn had a better chance of making the Final Four than the No. 3 and No. 4 seed – Houston and Kansas, respectively – in its region.

Based on predictive models, both Auburn and Oregon were arguably stronger than their respective seeds – or at least the teams that stood in their way early in the tournament – and better than how the public viewed them.

That’s where the value lies – exploiting the gap between public perception and advanced analytics to your advantage.

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