2021 Sweet 16 Bracket Writeup

We break down key strategy considerations and value picks in our 2021 recommended brackets for Sweet 16 (aka Second Chance) bracket pools.

We’re excited to announce the release of our customized brackets for Sweet 16 pools for 2021.

These pools, which start fresh with the Sweet 16 round, are run by several bracket contest sites such as ESPN and RunYourPool. They are often referred to as “Second Chance” bracket contests.

How We Make These Sweet 16 Bracket Picks

As with our full-tournament brackets, our first step in making Sweet 16 bracket picks is to create updated “adjusted tournament ratings” for all remaining NCAA tournament teams. Now that two rounds have been played, we know a bit more about the surviving teams than we did at the start of the tournament.

Then, we create customized brackets for your Sweet 16 bracket pool by running thousands of computer simulations.

First, we simulate the rest of the NCAA tournament games using round survival odds based on our updated tournament ratings. Those team ratings incorporate our full season predictive rating for each team, plus adjustments we make for extraordinary circumstances (injuries, recent lineup changes, etc.) and performance so far in the tournament.

We also review the latest betting market information (both futures odds and Sweet 16 game lines), and give some extra scrutiny to teams where our adjusted ratings differ from the market. Sometimes that results in us moving our numbers more in line with the market, and sometimes we stick with our own analysis.

Combining those tournament simulation results with public picking trends from national Sweet 16 contests, we then run thousands of Sweet 16 bracket pool simulations. This approach enables us to test thousands of potential combinations of bracket picks, until we find the “optimal” bracket that wins a specific type of pool the most often (i.e. a specific scoring system and pool size).

General Strategy Notes for Sweet 16 Brackets

Strategy for Sweet 16 pools is similar to that for full NCAA tournament bracket pools. In particular:

  • In smaller pools, it often makes sense to play conservatively, and let your opponents shoot themselves in the foot with too many risky upset picks.
  • In larger pools, it’s important to make more targeted value picks, in an effort to differentiate yourself from the pack.

However, there are some differences too. For example:

  • In full tournament pools, a very conservative strategy in small pools can make sense. As your opponents pick too many upsets in the early rounds, your conservative play and smart handling of a few lower risk value plays can give you the edge.
  • In Sweet 16 pools, on the other hand, there aren’t as many value opportunities earlier in the bracket, partly just because there are fewer games to choose from (14 non-champion picks, compared to 62 in a full tournament bracket). So your value bets tend to be more concentrated on a smaller number of picks, and taking at least one risk to differentiate your bracket even in small pools can boost your expected value. (This is why you’ll see No. 3 Arkansas recommended as a Final Four pick even in very small standard-scoring pools, despite our projection that No. 1 Baylor has a slightly better chance to advance that far.)

More Rationale Behind Riskier Looking Brackets

In addition, value picks to make the Elite Eight are, perhaps counterintuitively, higher risk in Sweet 16 pools than in full tournament pools. That’s because in full tournament pools, the favorite to make the Sweet 16 in many pods has less than a 50% chance to get there. So when you make a value pick, you’re switching off of a pick that most likely would have been incorrect anyway.

However, in Sweet 16 pools, the favorites to make the Elite 8 all have a better than 50% chance to do so. A value pick in that case often means switching off a likely correct pick to a likely incorrect pick, in exchange for the opportunity to gain ground on a larger percentage of your pool.

Because of these dynamics, making a value champion pick is relatively more important in Sweet 16 pools than in full tournament pools. As a result, the tipping point for when it starts to make sense to use a riskier value pick as your champion, as opposed to going with the favorite (Gonzaga this year, by a mile), happens at a smaller pool size in Sweet 16 pools.

So our recommended champion picks in brackets for Second Chance / Sweet 16 pools generally skew a bit riskier than our full tournament brackets for equivalent pool sizes. (There is though, one caveat to that this year, which we explain below when covering the portfolio picks for extremely large pools.)

Value Picks To Expect in Sweet 16 Brackets For 2021

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