Hot Reads: Teams to Pick Against in Your Bracket
Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie - USA TODAY Sports

Hot Reads: Teams to Pick Against in Your Bracket

March 14, 2018

In yesterday’s Hot Reads we took a look at the teams offering some of the best value in the NCAA Tournament based on the public’s picks versus some readily available win probabilities. Today we’ll look at the other side of the coin: Which teams don’t offer much bang for their buck?

This side of the equation is a little bit trickier as it usually includes many of the top seeds, but taking chalk deep in the tournament, depending on the size of your pool, is usually a sound strategy. You know a lot of people are going to have Duke and North Carolina deep in the tournament. If you do, too, you’re not gaining ground on anyone but that’s better than losing it and history says that approach pays off. Basically the game with the tournament heavyweights becomes when can you afford to have them eliminated?

Or when does that exit offer the biggest return (if you’ve already decided, for example, you’re not putting Xavier in the Final Four). For that reason, we’ll look at today’s group round-by-round.

1st Round

FLORIDA: St. Bonaventure and UCLA played an entertaining First Four game last night. Are you willing to take the Bonnies to win again? Eight-five percent of brackets on ESPN have the Gators advancing here against win probabilities of 66.6 (BPI) and 72 (538) percent.

TCU: If you want to mess with another team playing a play-in opponent, TCU is getting too much support. The Horned Frogs are making their first tournament appearance in 20 years, and that might have something to do with the public backing. But a tough first-round game against either Arizona State or Syracuse awaits. Should TCU get through Michigan State likely waits, meaning that if you have the Frogs out after the first round and get it wrong it shouldn’t hurt too much.

2nd Round

MICHIGAN: It is not a close race for the title of “least value” in the second round. Three-fourths of the ESPN brackets have Michigan moving on to the Sweet 16. But BPI and 538 have that game, against either Houston or San Diego State, as closer to a coin flip.

ARIZONA: Plenty of people like that the Wildcats have maybe the best player in the tournament (Deandre Ayton) and presumably a motive (show those FBI investigators, the NCAA and an ESPN reporter what you’re made of). As a result Arizona is an underlay in every round, so if you don’t think it will ride Ayton and angst to the Final Four, when are you going to have the Wildcats out? Based on BPI and 538 win probabilities, a second-round exit offers the biggest return and that game should be tough either way. Arizona will face either Kentucky or Davidson. (So many Wildcats.)

Sweet 16

XAVIER: The Musketeers are the weakest of the 1 seeds. BPI and 538 both give Xavier the 10th-best odds of winning the tournament. For most people this will be a “planned exit” team and the biggest gains to be had on the field are in the Sweet 16. If chalk holds Xavier should face Gonzaga or Ohio State here.

KANSAS: Can Clemson or Auburn (most likely) take down the Jayhawks? Much like Kentucky, Kansas’s fan support means it’s always tough to find value on the Jayhawks and if you were already wary of an up-and-down regular season the time to take a stand against Kansas is here. In the next three rounds the Jayhawks’ backing becomes much more in line with the win probabilities at 538.

Elite Eight

VILLANOVA: At this stage in the tournament there are only tough choices left. Depending upon where you look the Wildcats are the tournament favorite and I don’t have them exiting here (for what little that’s worth), but this is the spot that offers the least value for picking the top team. It’s also where the Wildcats could meet Purdue, a high-value team in this bracket.

NORTH CAROLINA: Plenty of people like North Carolina’s relatively easy path to the Final Four. If you don’t have the Tar Heels winning it all, consider predicting their demise here. North Carolina offers mostly true odds in the final two games, but 538 and BPI give it about a 25-percent chance to advance from the Elite Eight compared to 35 percent of people projecting that will happen.

Final Four

VIRGINIA: The second-choice in this tournament offers pretty good value throughout, but if there’s a spot to pick against the Cavaliers it’s here according to 538.  BPI, however, gives Virginia the best odds on this side of the bracket of advancing to the championship game. Like I said, tough choices.

Title Game

If you’ve made it this far, take whichever team you want. Maybe you’ll have your bracket wrapped up by then anyway. There aren’t really any teams here with win probabilities greatly exceeding the public support.

There are potential champion picks that offer good odds, however, namely Cincinnati, Villanova, Gonzaga and Purdue. That’s probably a better plan of attack. Pick your champion and work back from there.

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