Bracket Voodoo: Top picks to win your 2018 NCAA Tournament Bracket contest

On Sunday we broke down the favorites to win the 2018 NCAA Tournament, and according to our models Villanova and Virginia, the top two teams in the country, came out as roughly co-favorites to win the tournament. But knowing the favorites is only the first step in filling out a winning March Madness bracket. You also need to look for undervalued teams—teams that have a real chance of advancing in the NCAA tournament but are being overlooked by the general public.

Our optimization engine looks at this public pick data alongside all of the historical game and player data to evaluate millions of bracket combinations and determine optimal brackets for NCAA Tournament pools of various size and scoring parameters. Here are five teams that our analysis has uncovered as teams that could give you an edge in your bracket this year.

1. Villanova - No. 1 seed / East Regional
As I mentioned above, we see Villanova nd Virginia as co-favorites (as does Vegas), but the public has been swayed by the Cavaliers' dominance of the traditionally powerful ACC, and thus almost twice as many people are picking Virginia than are picking Villanova. As a result, the Wildcats are a solid champion pick to build your bracket around, especially in smaller pools.

2. Duke - No. 2 seed / Midwest Regional 
Even though they are only ranked No. 7 in the latest AP polls, we have the Blue Devils as the 3rd best team in our Power Rankings, and also the 3rd most likely team to win the championship. (By the way, Vegas agrees with us, giving them 6-1 odds to win it all.) The public is almost evenly split between Duke, Kansas, and Michigan State to win the Midwest region. It is a tough region for sure, but the numbers say that Duke is the best team here, and going with the Blue Devils to come out of this region and potentially advance further could give you edge in your pool (if you aren't going with Villanova).

3. Cincinnati - No. 2 seed / South Regional
We actually see Cincinnati as the weakest of the No. 2 seeds, but they are still the 7th best team in the country. And as such, they pose a serious threat. On top of this, our models see Cincinnati matching up reasonably well with Virginia. We see them with a 22 percent chance of making the Final Four, but only about 10 percent of people are picking them (as opposed to about 60 percent of people taking Virginia out of the South). Taking a chance on the Bearcats to upset the Cavaliers and win the South (or more) could be a great play in medium-sized or even larger pools.

4. West Virginia - No. 5 seed / East Regional
The Mountaineers have piled up 10 losses this season, but they've got some impressive wins in there (including handing Virginia one of its two losses back in December). We have them as the 9th best team in the country in our Power Rankings, making them the best 5-seed by far. They have a team that could give Villanova and Purdue trouble in the East. They could be a good contrarian play to get to the Elite Eight, Final Four, or further, especially if you think your pool will over-pick the Wildcats or your scoring rules favor lower seeds.

5. Seton Hall - No. 8 seed / Midwest Regional
Looking for a higher seeded pick to make some noise in the first couple of rounds? Seton Hall may be your team. The Pirates could be a formidable challenge in a second round matchup with Kansas. The numbers say the Hall has about a 1 in 5 chance of making the Sweet 16, but only about 1 in 30 people are picking them. This could be just your chance to rack up early round points in a pool with an upset bonus.  

While everyone should consider these teams, how far you should project them in your bracket is a function of your pool specifics, most notably your pool's size and scoring system. Duke may not be a great pick in your mega-pool in Durham. On the other hand, you might seriously consider West Virginia to win it all in that 3000 person mega-pool, but the Mountaineers would be a foolish pick in your 10-person office pool.

Check out the March Madness optimization engine now to find more top picks and identify which picks work best for your particular bracket. You can also enter your top picks in our Bracket Analyzer and learn your chances of winning and some additional advice on how to make your bracket better.

Brad Null (@bradnull) is the founder of, the world's most advanced NCAA Tournament bracket analysis and optimization engine. Try it out now at

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