Filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket is more of an art than a science. Scratch that. It’s more luck than art or science. However, that doesn’t stop us from making educated guesses. This article places an emphasis on the word educated while outlining seven NCAA bracket picks to differentiate your selections from the rest of the crowd.
7 NCAA Bracket Picks: Selection Process
Here’s a little-known tip: ESPN keeps a running list of who the public is picking to advance to each round. You can view it here.
In this article, we are taking those percentages and comparing them to the real-life odds for each team to advance. That is, we are assuming the sportsbooks setting those odds (and spending millions of dollars on predictive models) are sharper than Johnny Public. Seems like a fair assumption, right?
For example, the sportsbooks give Drake a 47.55% chance to beat Miami in the first round. The public only takes Drake 25.2% of the time. This creates an opportunity for you to get a leg-up on your average NCAA bracket pick participant.
We’ll run through seven of those golden opportunities below.
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First-Round NCAA Bracket Picks: Potential Upsets
There are plenty of places to differentiate from the crowd in the first round. Here are the best opportunities when comparing the odds with the public pick percentages.
No. 11 Arizona State/Nevada over No. 6 TCU
Odds to advance: 42.12%
Public pick rate: 8.2%
This has been a theme for several years, and I’m not expecting things to change anytime soon: your average picker doesn’t like taking teams from the play-in game. Some people fill in brackets early. Instead of deciding who will advance from the First Four matchup and then assessing their upset chances, it’s just easier to choose the favorite.
That’s happening in this case. Regardless of who wins between Arizona State and Nevada, the sportsbooks are giving the No. 11 seed roughly a 42% chance of beating TCU in the first round. Despite that, the public is going with the upset only 8% of the time.
No. 11 Mississippi State/Pittsburgh over No. 6 Iowa State
Odds to advance: 45.6%
Public pick rate: 11.4%
Take the previous write-up and directly apply it to this matchup. On top of that, Iowa State has been up and down all season. The Cyclones are hardly a sinch to make it into the second round. Why are almost 89% of people taking them to advance? It doesn’t make sense! Iowa State will probably be favored by a basket against whoever wins this First Four contest, meaning the first-round battle will pretty much be a toss-up.
Looking for a pick in the First Four game? Check out our Mississippi State vs. Pittsburgh predictions.
No. 12 Drake over No. 5 Miami FL
Odds to advance: 47.55%
Public pick rate: 25.2%
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Miami is favored by 2 points against Drake. Translation: the oddsmakers think this will be a close game that could go either way. Your average bracket picker doesn’t know that. They see a higher seed and name-brand team in Miami against little ol’ Drake. The Bulldogs have enough talent to make a run in the NCAA Tournament (more on that later), and this is an upset that some people could overlook.
No. 9 Florida Atlantic over No. 8 Memphis
Odds to advance: 46.0%
Public pick rate: 30.4%
Okay, so a No. 9 beating a No. 8 seed isn’t much of an upset. However, people are falling over themselves to pick Memphis in this matchup. The Tigers beat No. 1 Houston to win the AAC Tournament, and they are a basketball school with success in the past. However, Florida Atlantic is a No. 9 seed for a reason, and the oddsmakers give them a 46% chance of taking the win here. If you are looking to differentiate from the crowd, the Owls make plenty of sense.
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Later Round NCAA Bracket Picks
Those first-round upsets were the appetizer. Ready for the main course? Let’s take a look at some teams with a sneaky-good chance to advance to the Sweet 16 and later.
Drake To The Sweet 16
Odds to advance: 28%
Public pick rate: 7.2%
We already touched on Drake. Even though the Bulldogs come from a small conference, they won’t be phased by the moment. Drake has four fifth-year starters and MVC Player of the Year Tucker DeVries. Both of their potential opponents, Miami and (maybe) Indiana, were mediocre down the stretch this season. On top of that, Miami big man Norchad Omier is dealing with an injury, which could be a huge blow for the Hurricanes.
Arkansas To The Sweet 16
Odds to advance: 26%
Public pick rate: 7.8%
Now we are getting into the deep cuts of this article. This pick is not for the faint of heart, but the numbers make sense. Kansas is over-picked to win their region. People are flocking to the Jayhawks as reigning national champs, but KU has an insanely difficult region this year. That could start with a tricky second-round matchup against Arkansas.
Of course, the Razorbacks need to get past Illinois first, which isn’t exactly a cakewalk. However, Arkansas has the ability to turn it on and advance to the second weekend. Remember, this is a talented squad that was ranked No. 10 in the preseason. Although inconsistent, the Razorbacks flashed upside with big wins against tournament teams Texas A&M, Kentucky, and Missouri this season. They even took No. 1 overall seed Alabama down to the wire on the road.
UConn To Make The Final Four
Odds to advance: 14%
Public pick rate: 7.9%
UConn hit a rough patch in the middle of the season, but the Huskies are heating up at the right time. When you look at all the numbers for this team, they profile closer to a No. 1 seed than a No. 4. In fact, KenPom.com has UConn ranked fourth overall. The Huskies rank sixth in offense, 18th in defense, and second in rebound rate. A tough Big East schedule has this squad battle-tested, and it’s not out of the question to see UConn in the Final Four.
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