After yesterday’s hand-wringing over bracket building, I eventually put on my hard hat and just got to work.
I’m still employing the value method, based off a composite of three power ratings (The Power Rank, 538, KenPom) compared against the percentage of people picking each team over at ESPN. Winning a pool is more about game theory than game picks. Maybe you’re sure 10-seed Marquette is beating 7-seed South Carolina for a minor upset (at least based on seeds). So do the majority of people at ESPN — nearly 55 percent of people are picking Marquette.
If you’re on the fence about a game like that, and you don’t have either team going deep in the tournament, maybe you try to gain a little ground on the rest of your pool and pick the Gamecocks. I think you have to try and maximize your edge in the first two rounds, but to do that you have to know if teams are an overlay or an underlay. Be safe but smart; every game this first weekend is a question of trying to keep up with the pack or pass it. Once you hit the Sweet 16, it becomes about keeping as many of your teams (usually the blue-bloods) alive and, of course, ending up with the winner.
I should note here that I have no idea how this approach works. This is just the second year I’ve done it, but, to use the Phil Steele method of calling attention only to what worked, last year’s value approach highlighted Yale, Wichita State, Virginia Commonwealth and Iowa as good first-round plays. All four won with little public backing.
That brings us to 2017 and the Big Ten. If your filling out your bracket as a Nebraska fan with an eye towards conference loyalty, proceed with extreme caution. There are only two Big Ten teams offering much value right now. Here’s a quick rundown on all seven, listed in order of most-to-least first-round value.
8-Seed Wisconsin: A tournament-tested program that faded late in the regular season. The Badgers are the only Big Ten team that’s an overlay right now in the round of 64 (68 percent of people are picking Wisconsin, 73 percent chance to advance). The real edge here comes in the round of 32 if you like the Badgers to beat (presumably) Villanova.
4-Seed Purdue: How deep do you think the Boilermakers can go? There’s little value here in the first two rounds, but if you want to take Purdue to get to the Final Four you’ll get big value on the second weekend.
9-Seed Michigan State: A little Izzo magic? People (50.7 percent of ’em) are counting on it, but KenPom gives the Spartans just a 45.7 percent chance to beat Miami in the round of 64. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Izzo and the Spartans put together a run here, but if that’s what you’re betting on you aren’t going to be gaining as much ground on your competitors as you think. People know the Spartans are talented and that Izzo can coach.
8-Seed Northwestern: Northwestern’s here. Good story. Now what? None of the three power rankings I consulted have the Wildcats as a favorite over Vanderbilt in the first round, but the public does (barely).
5-Seed Minnesota: More than 60 percent of people are picking the Gophers. That was nearly eight percentage points over Minnesota’s composite win probability yesterday, though it has come down a little bit since then.
6-Seed Maryland: The power rankings have Maryland’s first-round matchup against Xavier as essentially a coin-flip at best. Fifty-seven percent of the public is picking the Terrapins, however.
7-Seed Michigan: Presumably spurred by the Wolverines’ run to the Big Ten tournament title and a dusting of the vague notion known as fate, people are lining up to pick Michigan over Oklahoma State in the first round. Nearly three-fourths of the people on ESPN have the Wolverines. The Power Rank and KenPom give Michigan just a 51 percent chance of winning that game, however. There’s no bigger gap in the first round.
All the talk of a “down year” in the Big Ten this season? It’s showing up here in the win probabilities. Do with that what you will.
The Grab Bag
- Thirty Husker football players earned their first letter at Nebraska.
- Forward Nick Fuller is transferring from Nebraska. Fuller has graduated and will be eligible to play immediately.
- Illinois State basketball coach Dan Muller put out a tweet yesterday asking Power 5 teams to schedule a home-and-home with his team. Looks like Ole Miss might take him up on it.
- Two Penn State administrators pleaded to lesser charges yesterday in the Jerry Sandusky case. Former Penn State president Graham Spanier, Nebraska’s chancellor from 1991 to 1995, is taking his case to trial.
- Baylor has fired associate director of football operations DeMarkco Butler for reportedly “sending inappropriate texts to a teenager.” Butler was hired by new head coach Matt Rhule in February.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.