2023 Round Recaps: Second Round

We review key 2023 tournament results, and compare the positioning of PoolGenius bracket performance to the general public.

Second Round 2023 Bracket Performance

We’ll dive into detailed analysis of the Second Round below, but first, here’s how PoolGenius (“PG”) subscriber brackets stack up to the public averages for picks correct or still alive after the Second Round.

(To see our First Round Recap, click here.)

Bracket TypeCorrect R1 PicksCorrect R2 PicksElite 8 Teams AliveFinal 4 Teams AliveFinalist Teams AliveChamp Teams Alive
PG "Best Brackets"
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
PG "Best Brackets"
For All Scoring Rules
All PG Brackets
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
All PG Brackets
For All Scoring Rules
The General Public21.
  • On balance, the Second Round was very good for our Best Brackets, and provided moderately good results for our other brackets relative to the public.
  • We entered the Second Round with the public having some future value advantages over our brackets in some later rounds (after the Purdue and Arizona losses), but those advantages disappeared by the end of the Second Round.
  • The highlight of the Second Round was our Best Brackets for traditional 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring, which got about 1.5 games more correct that the public average (out of 16).
  • Those Best Brackets also lost no NCAA champion picks, only a tiny percentage of finalist picks, and far fewer Final Four picks than the public did, as several popular public picks lost in the Second Round.
  • Looking at the Sweet 16 and beyond, our brackets across all types are now better positioned, on average, in every future round. Things can change in a hurry, of course, but that’s much better than the alternative.

Best Brackets: Positioned Well on Average, But How Well Depends On Opponents

The relative outlook of our Best Brackets in a given pool right now is of course dependent on exactly how everyone in that pool picked.

We can make some projections based on how our average number of correct picks compares to the public’s. However, you never know which small pool might have one entrant randomly pick, say, No. 7 Michigan State in the Final Four—and still have a solid shot to beat one of our otherwise well-positioned brackets.

Small Pools

Overall, results like No. 1 Kansas losing—since they were the top seed our brackets were fading the most—should have our Best Brackets in decent shape in small pools. (Plus, there were more likely some No. 2 Arizona, No. 1 Purdue, or No. 2 Marquette champion picks among subscriber opponents, as the public had those teams going deeper than some of our brackets did.)

In very small standard pools, our Best Bracket did lose Purdue as a Final Four pick early, along with Arizona to the Elite Eight. But it is otherwise in good shape. And in many small pools, it’s likely that no one else is going to get Final Four points out of the East, because Purdue, Marquette, and No. 4 Duke were the three most popular options.

Midsize & Large Pools

As we go up in pool size, the Arizona and Purdue early losses are definitely a little more costly.

Still, a No. 1 Houston vs. No. 4 Connecticut Final Four pairing is still potentially able to grab a prize spot in a midsized pool, if some very unpopular picks end up going to the Final Four from the East (e.g. No. 9 Florida Atlantic, or Michigan State).

At even larger pool sizes, several Best Brackets have Connecticut as champion, which means they are still alive heading into the Sweet 16, even if those brackets lost a Final Four team in Purdue early.

At the largest pool sizes, No. 7 Texas A&M replaced No. 8 Arkansas as the long shot value champion pick in our final release of our Best Brackets, so those brackets are unfortunately out of the running. But playing multiple entries is the best strategy in these pools, and several of our alternate brackets for big pools are still alive (see next section).

Alternate Brackets: Some Options Still Open

On average, our alternate brackets aren’t currently as well positioned as the Best Brackets, but they are also now ahead of the public both in points scored, and future options.

But these alternate brackets are also highly variable. Those with a champion pick of Purdue or Marquette are likely dead, as are those in much larger pools that had a Texas A&M or No. 6 TCU champ run. Some larger pools with Houston as champ may also be facing an uphill climb if the left side of the bracket is wrecked.

But plenty of alternate brackets are plausibly alive, with champion picks like No. 1 Alabama, Connecticut, No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Gonzaga, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 3 Xavier, and No. 6 Creighton. That’s especially true of some of those less popular champion picks, even if either the East or South Region has few possible points remaining.

We want to emphasize that this is the whole point of our alternate brackets—to increase your chance of winning a prize by playing multiple entries. These “Option 2” through “Option 5” brackets are intentionally designed to do well when the Best Brackets do not do well, and also to complement each other.

So when some of the alternate brackets are in bad shape, others should be better off.

Future Positioning of PoolGenius Brackets

Here’s a summary of the average points scored so far, and the average maximum score still possible, for various categories of PoolGenius brackets.

Bracket TypeCurrent Score AverageAverage Max Available Score
PG "Best Brackets" For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring41.5126.8
PG "Best Brackets" For All Scoring Rules39.0125.7
All PG Brackets For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring40.2117.6
All PG Brackets38.0115.4
The General Public36.2108.4

First, we should point out that this scoring is based on the standard scoring rules, but a percentage of our “All PG Brackets” are optimized for other scoring formats (and do things like pick No. 15 Princeton over No. 2 Arizona because of a seed-based bonus).

So judging all our brackets by standard scoring rules can be a bit unfair, as they intentionally make lots of riskier picks that won’t do as well under those rules, but have huge rewards in seed-based scoring systems.

Even with that caveat, all of our brackets are on average better positioned than the public both in past scoring and future points available.

Our Best Brackets are now heavily leveraged on Houston and Connecticut as champion picks, so those two teams continuing to win would maintain the current advantage over the public. Though as noted in the previous section, we do have a variety of champion picks still alive across alternate brackets and brackets for non-standard scoring systems.

General Second Round Commentary

Before we get to specific region/pod breakdowns from the Second Round, let’s review some high level observations about the tournament so far.

In our bracket pick analysis we often talk about how winning a bracket pool doesn’t depend on how many picks you get right, in a vacuum. You simply need to score more points than your opponents do. That means two things:

  • In years when many favorites make deep runs, you usually need to score a lot of points to win a pool.
  • In years when a lot of crazy upsets happen and/or several long shots make the Final Four, a score that isn’t usually considered very good can still end up winning a prize.

So far, the 2023 NCAA Tournament has been a mix of both.

The Right Side of the Bracket

Before the tournament, our power ratings showed the right side of the bracket, particularly the West Region, to be the strongest side of the field. Six of our top eight teams were from that side, and five of those have advanced.

The only one that didn’t, Kansas, lost to a No. 8 seed, Arkansas, that we had rated as the 12th-best team in the tournament, and one of the tournament’s biggest sleeper team threats.

So on the right side of the bracket, things have gone pretty well for PoolGenius subscribers, and several key deep runs are still a possibility for teams like Arkansas and Connecticut, while Houston and Texas are still alive in the Midwest Region.

The Left Side of the Bracket

The left side of the bracket, on the other hand, is absolutely wrecked already.

If we had to project which regions would have experienced the most chaos, based on our power ratings and the lack of top-rated teams, it would have been the two regions on the left side. Unfortunately, some of our key picks (when not taking Alabama on deep runs) lost early.

There’s some silver lining in that most public bracket entries are also largely done scoring points from the left side. But the public does have a few more runs from teams like No. 3 Kansas State and No. 4 Tennessee still in play.

So most subscribers are likely rooting for their opponents’ picks on the left side of the bracket to get knocked out as well, to then hopefully beat them on the right side of the bracket.

Sweet 16 Teams By the Numbers 

Here’s what the 2023 bracket looks like coming out of the Second Round:

  • 9 out of 16 teams seeded No. 4 or better made the Sweet 16, with two more No. 5 seeds and a No. 6 seed.
  • A No. 15 seed (Princeton) made the Sweet 16 for only the fourth time ever, but for the third tournament in a row. (No. 15 Oral Roberts and No. 15 Saint Peter’s made it the last two years, with Saint Peter’s going to the Elite Eight last year.)
  • No other double-digit seed reached the Sweet 16, but we did get a straight, with at least one team seeded No. 1 to No. 9 advancing. No. 7 Michigan State, No. 8 Arkansas, and No. 9 Florida Atlantic have also won two games so far.
  • We’ve seen some deep runs by No. 11 seeds in recent years, but none made the Sweet 16 this year. In fact, it’s the first year since 2007 without either a No. 11 or No. 12 seed in the Sweet 16.

The Big East and SEC Lead the Way

A year after the SEC took it on the chin in the 2022 NCAA tournament, with several top picks getting knocked out early, the conference has rebounded with some big wins thanks to Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

In total, 11 different conferences are represented in the Sweet 16, including all nine that had multiple bids this year. That is the most since the 2010 NCAA Tournament, when 11 different conferences also had teams in the Sweet 16.

The Big East, meanwhile, also has three teams still alive, though conference regular season and tournament winner Marquette is not among them.

  • SEC (3): No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 Tennessee, No. 8 Arkansas
  • Big East (3): No. 3 Xavier, No. 4 Connecticut, No. 6 Creighton
  • Big 12 (2): No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Kansas State
  • American (1): No. 1 Houston
  • Pac-12 (1): No. 2 UCLA
  • West Coast (1): No. 3 Gonzaga
  • ACC (1): No. 5 Miami
  • Mountain West (1): No. 5 San Diego State
  • Big Ten (1): No. 7 Michigan State
  • Conference USA (1): No. 9 Florida Atlantic
  • Ivy (1): No. 15 Princeton

Region-By-Region Analysis

To wrap up, let’s examine the outlook specific to each region in terms of picks to reach the Elite Eight.

South Region

No. 1 Alabama Rolls, No. 5 San Diego State Also Advances

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 74% Alabama 89% Alabama
Second Most Popular Pick 12% Virginia 5% West Virginia
Third Most Popular Pick 6% San Diego St. 3% Maryland
Fourth Most Popular Pick 3% Maryland 1% San Diego St.
Other Picks… 3% West Virginia 1% Virginia
2% Charleston <1% Furman
1% Furman <1% Charleston
<1% Texas A&M-CC

With the rest of the left side of the bracket in shambles, Alabama advancing is an important result for most PoolGenius subscribers, and would be an edge over about a quarter of other entries.

Chaos Reigns with No. 15 Princeton vs. No. 6 Creighton

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 49% Arizona 81% Arizona
Second Most Popular Pick 27% Baylor 8% Creighton
Third Most Popular Pick 12% Creighton 6% Baylor
Fourth Most Popular Pick 4% Missouri 4% Utah St.
Other Picks… 3% N.C. State <1% N.C. State
3% Utah St.
1% Princeton
1% UC Santa Barbara

This section of the South bracket is largely ruined for everyone, with a small percentage of both public brackets and PoolGenius brackets having Creighton advancing. If you don’t have Creighton in your bracket(s), root for Princeton.

East Region

No. 9 Florida Atlantic Advances After No. 1 Purdue Loses to Fairleigh Dickinson

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 46% Purdue 69% Purdue
Second Most Popular Pick 24% Duke 19% Duke
Third Most Popular Pick 19% Tennessee 8% Tennessee
Fourth Most Popular Pick 6% Memphis 2% Florida Atlantic
Other Picks… 2% Oral Roberts 2% Memphis
2% Florida Atlantic <1% Oral Roberts
<1% Louisiana-Lafayette
<1% Fairleigh Dickinson

Our brackets, and most public brackets, are wrecked in the East, starting with this pairing. Purdue and Duke were the two most common picks for both the public and in PoolGenius brackets.

The public is a little heavier on Tennessee advancing, so your rooting interest may depend on whether your opponents picked them. In small pools with traditional scoring, it’s less likely that any entries have No. 9 Florida Atlantic in the Elite Eight.

No. 7 Michigan State Knocks Off No. 2 Marquette

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 47% Marquette 75% Marquette
Second Most Popular Pick 21% Kansas St. 14% Kentucky
Third Most Popular Pick 16% Kentucky 5% Southern California
Fourth Most Popular Pick 8% Michigan St 4% Kansas St.
Other Picks… 3% Southern California 1% Michigan St
3% Providence 1% Providence
1% Vermont <1% Vermont
<1% Montana St.

The Michigan State win over Marquette was probably the most costly result of the Second Round for PoolGenius brackets, as we would have been even more ahead of the public if Marquette had advanced.

As it stands, a small percentage of the public is going to get points from this result, though Kansas State is the relatively more popular pick than Michigan State.

Midwest Region

No. 1 Houston and No. 5 Miami Both Advance

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 68% Houston 92% Houston
Second Most Popular Pick 13% Indiana 6% Drake
Third Most Popular Pick 9% Miami 1% Auburn
Fourth Most Popular Pick 4% Auburn <1% Kent St.
Other Picks… 3% Iowa
2% Drake
1% Kent St.
<1% Northern Kentucky

Houston is our champion pick in Best Brackets for smaller to mid-sized pools with standard scoring, as well as plenty of other brackets. So Houston advancing is probably the single key result that most PoolGenius brackets have in common.

No. 2 Texas Faces Off Against No. 3 Xavier

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 54% Texas 70% Texas
Second Most Popular Pick 22% Xavier 14% Xavier
Third Most Popular Pick 9% Texas A&M 11% Texas A&M
Fourth Most Popular Pick 8% Iowa St. 3% Penn St.
Other Picks… 4% Penn St. 1% Iowa St.
2% Pittsburgh <1% Pittsburgh
1% Colgate
<1% Kennesaw St.

Texas and Xavier were the two most popular picks to get here, but we are even heavier than the public on Texas advancing to the Elite Eight. So that is the preferred result for the majority of PoolGenius subscribers.

West Region

No. 8 Arkansas Knocks Off No. 1 Kansas

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 59% Kansas 53% Kansas
Second Most Popular Pick 23% Connecticut 35% Connecticut
Third Most Popular Pick 6% St. Mary’s 10% Arkansas
Fourth Most Popular Pick 5% Arkansas 1% VCU
Other Picks… 3% Illinois <1% Illinois
2% VCU <1% Iona
1% Iona
<1% Howard

We were lighter than the public on No. 1 Kansas to make the Sweet 16 (and much lighter on Kansas making deep runs), and heavier on both Connecticut and Arkansas.

Both UConn and Arkansas are featured in some deep runs in PoolGenius brackets, depending on pool size and scoring system, so this is a key swing game for different subsets of subscribers.

No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Gonzaga Both Advance

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 46% UCLA 45% UCLA
Second Most Popular Pick 38% Gonzaga 43% Gonzaga
Third Most Popular Pick 8% Texas Christian 13% Texas Christian
Fourth Most Popular Pick 4% Michigan <1% Boise St.
Other Picks… 3% Northwestern <1% Arizona St.
2% Boise St.
1% NC-Asheville
<1% Grand Canyon

Overall, PoolGenius brackets are pretty even with the public here, and fairly evenly split between UCLA and Gonzaga. So some subscribers will be rooting for UCLA and others for Gonzaga.

The only lock in this one is that you will see lots of old clips of Adam Morrison crying, which came from the last big UCLA/Gonzaga Sweet 16 showdown. (Plus maybe Jalen Suggs’ shot in the Final Four two years ago.)

Enjoy the Sweet 16!

First Round 2023 Bracket Performance

Here’s how things are looking across PoolGenius recommended brackets overall after the First Round:

Bracket TypeCorrect R1 PicksSweet 16 Teams AliveElite 8 Teams AliveFinal 4 Teams AliveFinalist Teams AliveChamp Teams Alive
PG "Best Brackets"
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
PG "Best Brackets"
For All Scoring Rules
All PG Brackets
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
All PG Brackets22.
The General Public21.411.
  • Our Best Brackets for traditional 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring, on average and across all pool sizes, outperformed the public by about two wins in the First Round: 23.7 correct picks on average vs. 21.4 for the public.
  • Overall, Best Brackets for all scoring systems were also better than the public, but by a smaller margin: 22.3 points on average vs. 21.4 for the public.

(Note that since “all scoring systems” includes pools that use upset bonuses and seed-based scoring, where our recommended picks take much bigger risks and are expected to get more First Round picks wrong, this number for all scoring systems also likely understates our performance vs. the public in terms of actual bracket scoring.)

  • On average, our Best Brackets have more Sweet 16 teams alive than the public does.
  • The two big upset losses by No. 1 Purdue and No. 2 Arizona had a significant negative impact to our brackets, especially in later rounds. For example, our brackets were significantly heavier on those two teams to make the Final Four than public brackets were.
  • As a result, the public has more finalist and Final Four picks alive than our brackets do coming out of the First Round. But our brackets still have slightly more champion picks still alive, on average.

Note that there will be plenty of variation in First Round performance from PoolGenius bracket to PoolGenius bracket, as there were many toss-up and swing games in the No. 6 to No. 11 seed range this year, where we also got hit by some negative variance this year.

Of the 12 games in that seed range, the better seed went 8-4 this year, while the betting market favorites only went 6-6. (Missouri and Maryland both won as slight underdogs with the better seed.)

An outcome like that typically benefits less-skilled players who pay more attention to seed numbers than betting lines. Unfortunately, the less-informed bracket pickers came out ahead this year.

A Note On Bracket Performance Tracking

We are always transparent in sharing data on how our brackets do in a particular year, and more importantly, how they are doing against the public.

Unlock all bracket picks articles with a premium subscription

52% of subscribers win a bracket pool prize each year.

Get Access Now