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NCAA Basketball

Vegas Vs. America Decides: Who Are The Smartest Final Four Picks For Your Bracket?


For your NCAA Tournament bracket pools, it’s valuable to have an idea of who your competitors will be picking, especially in the later rounds. Below, I’ve calculated each team’s implied Final Four probability based on the betting market at Pinnacle, followed by the percentage of America that has picked that team on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.

The betting market is probably the most accurate indicator of a team’s Final Four odds. America’s picks are probably the best indicators of who your peers will pick. That said, obviously adjust for your pool’s demographics.

Obvious Tips: If you’re in a big pool, you’ll need to get luckier to win and should probably pick more longshots. If you’re in a small one, make safer picks. (Unless you don’t want to, because this is all for fun and you should ignore probability if you want to.)

Again, don’t take these numbers too seriously. For example, I thought I was being a moron by picking Michigan to win the tournament last year in my pool of ALL CURRENT MICHIGAN STUDENTS… but it turned out I was the only one and it was a smart pick and I nearly won. But then I didn’t win. You never know what’s going to happen. Make informed or dumb picks and hope for the best.

ALSO: Realize that betting is not the same as your bracket pool. For example, betting on longshots is far smarter than picking one in your pool. (Because you can bet on multiple teams, but you can only pick one Final Four team in your bracket.) It’s cool to spot an undervalued team, but if they have something like a sub-10% chance of making the Final Four, you’re probably wasting a pick on them.

(Last Note, I Swear: I took the odds from an offshore sportsbook, so it’s not actually “Vegas vs. America.” It’s “Offshore Betting Market vs. America and Maybe Other Nationalities Participating In ESPN’s Challenge If That’s Allowed.” But that doesn’t sound very good.)

Vegas in bold, America in italics.

Midwest Region

No. 4 Louisville: 31.97% chance, picked by 37.4% of people

No. 3 Duke: 17.23% chance, picked by 21.7% of people

No. 1 Wichita St: 15.49% chance, picked by 18.6% of people

No. 2 Michigan: 9.99% chance, picked by 15% of people

No. 8 Kentucky: 5.16% chance, picked by 3.5% of people

No. 5 Saint Louis: 2.98% chance, picked by 0.6% of people

No. 11 Iowa/Tennessee: 2.50% chance each, collectively picked by 0.4% of people

No. 7 Texas: 1.68% chance, picked by 0.6% of people

No. 9 Kansas St.: 1.68% chance, picked by 0.4% of people

No. 6 UMass: 1.52% chance, picked by 0.4% of people

No. 10 Arizona St.: 1.27% chance, picked by 0.3% of people

No. 12 NC State/Xavier.: ~1.05% chance each, collectively picked by 0.3% of people

TAKEAWAYS: Louisville is the safe pick, but they’re probably a bit overrated. Duke and Michigan have huge fan-bases and are probably vastly overrated by fans of those teams, but might be underrated otherwise. They’re probably good picks, if you’re not in a pool with Duke/Michigan fans.

Wichita State seems properly rated, but I would guess that in more casual pools, they’re more popular (because uneducated people blindly pick No. 1 seeds), but in pools of real sports fans, Louisville is more popular (because everyone is slurping them down).

The only longshot picks worth considering seem to be Iowa/Tennessee or Kentucky, but Kentucky’s path is crazy-hard and like I said, picking a team with a sub-10% chance is probably a dumb strategy, most of the time.

South Region

No. 1 Florida: 32.47% chance, picked by 61.7% of people

No. 2 Kansas: 17.39% chance, picked by 16.9% of people

No. 3 Syracuse: 11.75% chance, picked by 12% of people

No. 4 UCLA: 8.87% chance, picked by 3% of people

No. 5 VCU: 5.8% chance, picked by 1.2% of people

No. 6 Ohio State: 5.39% chance, picked by 2.2% of people

No. 9 Pittsburgh: 4.65% chance, picked by 0.7% of people

No. 7 New Mexico: 4.14% chance, picked by 0.7% of people

No. 12 Stephen F. Austin: 1.84% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

No. 10 Stanford: 1.42% chance, picked by 0.3% of people

No. 11 Dayton: 1.24% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

No. 8 Colorado: 1.11% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

TAKEAWAYS: This is a tough one. If you’re in a small pool, it’s tough not to pick Florida, but you can really pull away from the pack if you do, and you’re right. Nobody seems especially underrated except UCLA, and again, they’re at below 10%. They seem like a smart contrarian pick… but they still probably won’t actually help you out. Same goes for VCU, Ohio State and New Mexico, to lesser degrees.

West Region

No. 1 Arizona: 32.93% chance, picked by 47.2% of people

No. 2 Wisconsin: 16.6% chance, picked by 20.9% of people

No. 3 Creighton: 14.59% chance, picked by 12.9% of people

No. 9 Oklahoma State: 6.02% chance, picked by 6.5% of people

No. 4 San Diego State: 7.66% chance, picked by 4% of people

No. 7 Oregon: 4.23% chance, picked by 1.4% of people

No. 5 Oklahoma: 4.2% chance, picked by 1.6% of people

No. 6 Baylor: 3.43% chance, picked by 2.7% of people

No. 8 Gonzaga: 3.9% chance, picked by 1% of people

No. 11 Nebraska: 1.41% chance, picked by 0.5% of people

No. 13 New Mexico State: 1.18% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 10 BYU: 1.18% chance, picked by 0.3% of people

No. 12 North Dakota State: 1.09% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

TAKEAWAYS: Again, the No. 1 seed is the safe pick. But Wisconsin and Creighton both seem like solid options, if you want to go contrarian. Arizona seems a bit overvalued.

EAST REGION

No. 4 Michigan State: 25.48% chance, picked by 44.9% of people

No. 1 Virginia: 19.73% chance, picked by 23.4% of people

No. 2 Villanova: 17.88% chance, picked by 9.4% of people

No. 3 Iowa State: 10.06% chance, picked by 12% of people

No. 7 Connecticut: 5.56% chance, picked by 1.4% of people

No. 6 North Carolina: 5.16% chance, picked by 4.6% of people

No. 5 Cincinnati: 3.75% chance, picked by 1.7% of people

No. 8 Memphis:2.99% chance, picked by 0.6% of people

No. 12 Harvard: 2.19% chance, picked by 0.3% of people

No. 9 George Washington: 1.53% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

No. 10 St. Joseph’s: 1.29% chance, picked by 0.3% of people

No. 11 Providence: 1.29% chance, picked by 0.3% of people

TAKEAWAY: People don’t love Virginia…. but they still might be overrated. There is definitely value in picking Villanova, if you believe the betting market. Michigan State seems massively overrated and a dumb pick… but at the same time, they are the favorites. How safe do you want to be?

SO WHO DO I PICK?!

Safe/Conformist Final Four: Florida, Arizona, Michigan State, Louisville.

Slightly Riskier But Still Reasonable Final Four: Florida, Villanova, Creighton, Wichita State

My Semi-Crazy Final Four, At The Moment: Syracuse, Villanova, Creighton, Michigan

Feel free to go a little nuts. Just be aware how nuts you’re going.

FOR THE INSANE

MIDWEST REGION

No. 13 Manhattan: 0.88% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 14 Mercer: 0.76% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 15 Wofford: 0.76% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

No. 16 Cal Poly/Texas Southern: 0.76% chance each, collectively picked by 0.4% of people

SOUTH REGION

No. 13 Tulsa: 0.93% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 14 Western Michigan: 0.75% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 15 Eastern Kentucky: 0.75% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

No. 16 Albany/Mount St. Mary’s: 0.75% chance each, collectively picked by 0.4% of people

WEST REGION

No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette: 0.89% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

No. 15 American: 0.71% chance, picked by 0.8577% of people

No. 16 Weber State: 0.71% chance, picked by 0.4% of people

EAST REGION

No. 16 Coastal Carolina (+10639): 0.78% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 13 Delaware (+10780): 0.77% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 14 North Carolina Central (+10780): 0.77% chance, picked by 0.1% of people

No. 15 Milwaukee (+10780): 0.77% chance, picked by 0.2% of people

TAKEAWAYS:Don’t pick any of these guys unless you want to be laughed at and lose your Final Four team in the first round.



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