This post contains a detailed review of how our bracket picks performed in 2015. In case you’re not familiar with it, we sell a premium product for NCAA bracket pool picks.
Our goal here is to quantify how effective our NCAA Bracket Picks product was in delivering value to its customers. This is actually a somewhat complex process, for a number of reasons, but we do our best given the constraints.
(If you want to learn more about the details, you can read the appendix at the end of this post entitled “How We Measure Bracket Pick Performance.”)
The Bottom Line
- 31% of our customers won a prize in at least one bracket pool this year, compared to an expectation of 19%
- So compared to expectations, our customers were about 60% more likely to win at least one bracket pool prize this year
- Our customers finished “in the money” in 14% of pools they entered, compared to an expectation of 10%
- So compared to expectations, our customers were about 40% more likely to win a prize in any bracket pool they entered
Note: These numbers assume that all competitors in our customers’ bracket pools were equally skilled. In addition, we have adjusted prize winning expectations to account for any cases where customers played multiple brackets in the same pool, and where customers played in multiple pools. If the baseline expectations for winning a prize seem high, that’s why.
Last week, FiveThirtyEight published a post reviewing the accuracy of their 2015 NCAA tournament projections.
In that post, they compared their round-by-round survival odds against those from other analytically-oriented sites using a technique called Brier scores.
Since FiveThirtyEight didn’t include TeamRankings in the comparison (no hard feelings, as our advancement odds weren’t publicly available prior to the First Four play-in round, since they are part of our premium NCAA Bracket Picks package), we went ahead and added our 2015 results to the mix.
What We’re Measuring: Projections, Not Bracket Picks
What is being measured here is not the actual bracket picks we advised our customers to make; coming up with optimal picks for a bracket pool requires the analysis of several other types of data, such as pool size and public picking trends, in addition to team survival projections. (We’re going to publish another post soon on how our recommended brackets did this year.)
The table below simply compares how accurate various sites were at predicting how far teams were likely to make it in the 2015 tournament.
The first game on tonight’s docket is projected to be the closest: 3 seed Notre Dame vs 7 seed Wichita State. The teams tip off at 7:15PM Eastern in Cleveland, expecting that victory will bring a game against overwhelming favorite Kentucky in the Midwest Regional Final on Saturday.
Though some might see that as a dubious reward since either Notre Dame or Wichita State would only have a 15% chance to win against Kentucky, both teams also would relish the opportunity to hand Kentucky its first loss, particularly Wichita State given their battle last year against the Wildcats.
Despite the seeding, Wichita State is the slight favorite tonight. The offshore betting markets currently favor Wichita State by two points, and our models give them a 51% chance to emerge victorious.
Perhaps the juiciest matchup Thursday night pits Wisconsin against North Carolina in the early game (7:47 PM Eastern tip) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The game features the 1 seeded (and 4th in our Predictive Rankings) Badgers against the marquee program of the 4 seeded (8th in Predictive Ranking) Tar Heels and will showcase multiple future pros on the floor.
At the moment, our models currently give Wisconsin a 69% chance to win the game, while the betting markets see them as 6 point favorites.
Wisconsin on Offense
As you’d expect from one of the top teams in the nation, Wisconsin has a a number of strengths. Most notably, they have the #1 offense in the nation on a per possession basis scoring 118.5 points per 100 possessions. This fact is often overlooked by the general public since the team is only 46th in points per game as a result of playing at one of the slowest paces in the nation. UNC’s defense ranks 82nd in the country allowing 95.4 points per 100 posessions. What makes the Badgers offense so effective and does UNC have a chance to stop them?
Here at TeamRankings, we like to say that every tournament is unique — kind of like a snowflake, many of which happened to be falling on my New Jersey office during last Friday’s games. (If you live in the area, hopefully you avoided a rough commute and took the day off to watch the games.)
Similarly, the path of teams through the NCAA tournament can get rougher, or easier, based on events outside of their control. Here’s a look at how various teams’ chances have evolved over the course of the tournament so far.
2015 NCAA Champion Odds
The chart below charts the odds of each Sweet 16 team to win the 2015 NCAA championship, and how those odds have changed from round to round:
Previously, we have looked at Kentucky, Villanova, and Duke’s path to the National Championship. Today, let’s look at the 1 seed in the West: the Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin’s Odds by Round
We’ve released our round by round survival odds for each team that made the tournament. From those numbers, we can determine the chances Wisconsin wins in each round, if they make it there:
Previously, we looked at Kentucky and Villanova’s path to the National Championship. Today, let’s look at a team not nicknamed the Wildcats: the South 1 seed Duke Blue Devils.
We can drill into the data we have used while generating optimized bracket picks for you. Duke’s progression of game win odds, as it turns out, is quite comparable to Villanova’s.
Duke’s Odds by Round
We’ve released our round by round survival odds for each team that made the tournament. From those numbers, we can determine the chances Duke wins in each round, if they make it there:
On Monday we looked at Kentucky’s path to the 2015 NCAA Championship.
Now let’s take a look at the Selection Committee’s overall 2 seed, Villanova, using the projections we generate while calculating our optimized bracket picks.
Not surprisingly, Nova’s chances to cut down the nets are much lower than Kentucky, and not just because Kentucky is their most likely opponent in the Championship Game.
Villanova’s Odds To Win Each Round
With the 2015 bracket now out, we’ve released round by round survival odds for each team that made the tournament. We can use that data to determine the chances Villanova wins in each round, if they make it there:
Optimizing your bracket picks for your scoring system is a critical, yet often overlooked element of NCAA bracket pool strategy. Our customized 2015 NCAA bracket picks “solve” your bracket pool by running millions of computer simulations to identify the best picks for your pool’s rules.
The results of our pool simulations often illustrate some clear inefficiencies in how the general public picks brackets. For instance, most people tend to get too risky in popular scoring systems like 1-2-4-8-16-32, and hurt their chances to win by picking too many upsets early on.
But there are also indications that people in pools that award upset bonus points have the opposite problem, picking too conservatively. If your pool awards big points for seed-based upsets, you seriously need to consider making some risky bets on teams that didn’t land a great seed, but are still legitimate threats to advance.
Best Odds To Be Final Four Cinderellas In 2015
Below are five teams seeded 5 or worse that we calculate as having good odds to go on a deep tournament run.
Picking one of these teams to make the Final Four certainly isn’t the optimal decision in many types of pools. But we’ll be watching these teams closely as potential Cinderellas this year, and they all warrant strong consideration in upset pools.
March Madness brackets often have multiple goals in mind. Everybody wants to get lots of picks right, but the bragging rights that come along with nailing a huge upset pick are tantalizing indeed.
After all, if you pick that 15-seed to upset a 2, and get it right, your legendary show of boldness will be the talk of your bracket pool for years to come.
How Many First Round Upset Picks Should You Make?
There’s really no golden rule to how many first round upsets your should pick; it depends a lot on factors like the scoring system of your pool. Most bracket pickers go too crazy picking upsets, though, especially in the Round of 64. As a result, they actually hurt their overall chances of winning their pool.
If you use our 2015 NCAA bracket picks to optimize your bracket picks this year, you’ll get a huge leg up on those opponents.
But still — sometimes it’s just plain fun to spice up your bracket with a bunch of bold calls, even if it may not be the wisest thing to do. For this post, we’re going to look at teams seeded 11 or higher, and figure out which are the smartest risks of the bunch.