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Bracket Voodoo: Most likely teams to win the 2018 NCAA Tournament

Happy Madness everyone. The bracket has arrived, and with that we have pumped data from every play of the 2017-2018 season into the bracketvoodoo.com prediction engine to calculate the probability every team will win the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here are BracketVoodoo’s favorites:

Villanova is the top ranked team in our Power Rankings and also our pick as the most likely team to cut down the nets in San Antonio (although not by much). Coach Wright has had this team on a roll ever since their magical run to the title two years ago, and this year they are flying high behind the most efficient offense in the country. They shocked a lot of people two years ago, but noone should be surprised to see the Wildcats win it all again this year.

Virginia (this year’s No. 1 overall seed) is our 2nd most likely team to take this year’s tourney, and there is a slim margin that separates these two in both our Power Rankings and in their chances of winning this year’s tournament. (In fact, both of these teams have better odds than our overall favorite last year, North Carolina, who won it all despite only a 14.2 percent chance.) What the Cavaliers have done in posting a 17-1 record in the ACC and then marching through the ACC conference tourney has been nothing short of amazing and they have done it behind the classically stingy defense that Tony Bennett’s teams have come to be known for.

After Virginia are another two ACC teams in Duke and North Carolina. These two programs are the historical powers of the ACC, so despite the fact that Virginia has surprised with its dominance this year, it is no surprise that these programs are close behind. The fact that we have 3 ACC teams in the top 5 of our Power Rankings and the top four of our tourney favorites is clear evidence that we see the ACC as the conference with the best chance of taking over this tournament, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see two or even all three of these teams in San Antonio.

After those four East Coast teams, we see three teams from the Midwest in Purdue, Cincinnati, and Michigan State. We actually see Purdue as a slightly better team than North Carolina, but the fact that the Boilermakers are in the same region as Villanova, our No. 1 team, hurts their odds of getting to the Final Four and ultimately winning it all.

Perhaps the biggest surprise when looking at this data, is how far down the list Kansas and Xavier are. Despite once again shining as the class of the Big 12, Kansas is only our eighth ranked team, with a 4.4 percent chance of winning it all. And it certainly doesn’t help the Jayhawks that the committee also gave them the strongest No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in Duke and Michigan State. For Xavier, the issue is more that, despite winning the Big East regular season crown, our algorithms only rank them as the 13th strongest team in the country. That will spark controversy for sure, especially since the regular season runner up in their conference is our No. 1 overall team. But the fact of the matter is that the Big East is not a deep conference, with Villanova and Xavier clearly outclassing the rest of the conference, so the fact that Xavier lost the two meetings between these teams by an average of 20 points has really hurt them in the eyes of our algorithms, even if it hasn’t hurt their seeding.

And what of the West Coast? Unfortunately our models don’t expect much from the Pac-12 (we actually have Arizona as the 16th most likely champion at less than 1 percent). In fact the only West Coast team on this list is the Gonzaga Bulldogs, but even though we see them as the most likely No. 4 seed to take the title, they’ve got a much harder road this year than they did as a No. 1 seed last year.

Together these 11 teams have an 87 percent chance at the title. In the graph below, we’ve plotted the cumulative probability of the top favorites winning the tourney over the last five years. Relative to the last four years, this is the second most top-heavy tournament we have seen in this span, next to the outlier of 2015 featuring that historic Kentucky team. Of course, anything can happen. We all know how things turned out for that Kentucky team (losing in the National Semis). While on the other hand, last year our top two favorites (North Carolina and Gonzaga) ended up facing off for the championship.

Cumulative Championship Probability of Tourney Favorites


In the next couple days we’ll dig a little deeper into which of these teams are the best picks for different types of pools. In the meantime, check out the advice on our website, www.bracketvoodoo.com, for more general tips on winning your pool.

Brad Null (@bradnull) is the founder of bracketvoodoo.com, the world’s most advanced NCAA Tournament bracket analysis and optimization engine. Try it out now at www.bracketvoodoo.com

Brad Null

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