2017 March Madness is upon us. And with the announcement of the bracket, we have pumped all of the relevant data into the bracketvoodoo.com prediction engine to calculate the probability every team will win the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Here are BracketVoodoo’s favorites:
Parity at the top is the name of this year’s game. Our top three teams all have about a 1-in-7 or 1-in-8 chance of winning the tournament.
North Carolina is our pick as the team most likely to take home the hardware (albeit with only a slight edge over Gonzaga and Villanova). This is despite the fact that our Power Rankings have both of those teams above UNC. This is all about path to the championship. UNC has by far the easiest road to the Elite Eight. Our algorithms give UNC a 65 percent chance of getting to the Regional Final (versus 53 percent for Gonzaga and 48 percent for Villanova).
According to our numbers, the best team UNC might have to face to get to the Elite Eight is Butler (a team they would be favored to beat by 6-7 points if they played today). On the other hand, Villanova has three potentially dangerous opponents in the first three rounds (Virginia, Florida and Wisconsin) all of whom we see as stronger teams than Butler. And Gonzaga has a potential regional semifinal against West Virginia (our 5th ranked overall team). Thus, despite the fact that we see Kentucky as a dangerous No. 2 seed, UNC has a much easier path to that regional final and ultimately the best chance at winning it all.
Gonzaga is our second most likely team to win it all and second in our Power Rankings. They are the top seed in the West and No. 4 seed overall. Our algorithms give them a 39 percent chance of making the Final Four and nearly a 14 percent chance at the title. Gonzaga is led by junior transfer Nigel Williams-Goss (from Washington) and a balanced seven-to-eight man rotation.
The Bulldogs flirted with a perfect season until a shocking late season upset at the hands of BYU, but given their relatively weak schedule in the WCC there is sure to be much debate over whether they can contend with the big dogs from the major conferences, but make no mistake, this team is for real.
Close on their heels is Villanova, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and top team in our Power Rankings. The defending champs won this season’s Big East regular season and conference tourney. While senior leaders Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu have moved on, the Wildcats’ two leading scorers from last year, Josh Hart and finals hero Kris Jenkins, are again shouldering a big load.
Sophomore Jalen Brunson is averaging seven more minutes and five more points per game from a season ago to take over the No. 2 scorer role. No reason to think this team can’t win it all again, but it won’t be easy in a tough East region that features Duke, Virginia, and a total of seven of our top-15 ranked teams.
Next up, at 7.3 percent, is Kentucky. The No. 2 seed and SEC champions have a fairly smooth path out of the bottom half of the South, even with potential matchups against Wichita State and UCLA/Cincinnati, teams in the 10-20 power rankings range that could give them some trouble. Even so, we project the Wildcats with a 43 percent chance to reach the Regional Final, with a potential North Carolina matchup looming. In that hypothetical matchup, we give the slight edge to UNC, despite the trio of likely lottery picks for Kentucky in Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Edrice Adebayo.
Of the six Big 12 teams, we have Kansas as the most likely championship contender, but their likelihood of winning it all (6.7 percent) is only slightly better than that of West Virginia (5.8 percent), and is far below that of the other three No. 1 seeds. In fact, according to our Power Rankings, we see West Virginia as a slightly stronger team than Kansas (No. 5 versus No. 7), even though they have twice as many losses. So why no love for Kansas? At first glance it is hard to tell.
They went 16-2 in the Big 12, four games better than West Virginia or anyone else, and have only lost four games all season, and only one of those by more than four points. But the problem is that their wins haven’t been that impressive. This gets down to the age-old debate: does margin of victory, or “ease of victory” matter? Our algorithms think that it does. Kansas has had too many close calls. On the season their average margin of victory is only 10 points. They only have one victory by more than 10 points in the last seven weeks, and in that span they also have a 16-point loss (to the Mountaineers).
All in all this adds up to a concern that Kansas isn’t quite as strong as a 16-2 conference record would seem to indicate. West Virginia on the other hand, despite their eight losses, has been competitive throughout the season, and dominant at times, and should be seen as a real threat to make a run as a strong No. 4 seed.
Three teams from the ACC (Louisville, Duke and Virginia) round out our favorites to win the championship, evidence of the strength of this conference. The most notable here is Duke. There have been some arguments that Duke’s recent run to the ACC championship should have earned them a No. 1 seed. Ultimately though, our analysis agrees with the committee, although they are a strong team, the Blue Devils aren’t quite as dangerous as their cross-state rivals.
Together these nine teams have a 76 percent chance at the title.
This parity is right in line with what we’ve seen three out of the last four years, with a top-heavy 2015 as an aberration. Not only was that Kentucky team the most dominant team coming into the tourney that we had seen in 20 years, but the rest of the top 7 were strong as well. This year’s cumulative probability is much more in line with what we’ve generally seen of late. In the graph below, we plot the cumulative probability of the favorites winning the tourney over the last four years. This year, the top 11 favorites have a cumulative probability of winning the Championship of just over 80 percent, which is right in line with 2016 and 2014. Interestingly, 2017 matches 2016 and 2014 almost identically for the top three teams, and splits the difference from teams No. 4 through No. 11. Are we getting primed for another evenly-matched finals nail-biter?
Cumulative Championship Probability of Tourney Favorites
In the next couple days we’ll dig a little deeper into which of these teams are the best picks for different types of pools. In the meantime, check out the advice on our website, www.bracketvoodoo.com, for more general tips on winning your pool.