NCAA Basketball Picks: NCAA Bracket Math Strategies

LT Profits Sports Group

Friday, February 1, 2013 5:00 AM UTC

Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 5:00 AM UTC

The key to winning your NCAA bracket pool could come down to basic math know-how! Here is a more mathematical approach to winning your NCAA pool.

The 2013 NCAA Basketball Tournament is now just six weeks away, as the First Four will be played in Dayton, OH on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 19-20, leading to the main round of 64, which is now referred to as the second round and begins on Thursday, Marc 21. That latter date is important as that is when most NCAA bracket pools begin, and those have become as popular as making NCAA Basketball picks on the games themselves.

For the handful of you that have never participated in bracket pools, teams that played during the First Four are entered as an entry. For example, if Saint Louis faces Texas Southern in the First Four, they will be considered an entry labeled “Saint Louis / Texas Southern Winner” for bracket purposes and if you pick the entry to win going forward, you get credit for the points regardless of which of the two teams actually advances.

That is a standard rule, but other rules regarding bracket contests vary. We have always preferred contests that give bonus points for picking lower seeded teams to win, and that is how the bracket contest will be run SBR Forum, so stay tuned!

If you recall, we recommended in last’s week article that when playing in brackets that give bonus points for picking higher seeds to win, to first pick your Sweet 16 before doing anything else and then going back and picking upsets in all the other games in the first round of the bracket not involving your Sweet 16 teams.

Now this week we are giving you a mathematical alternative to use to select your Sweet 16, or if you are adventurous, you can use the following approach to pick your Final Four first and work backwards from there picking more upsets in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. And if you want to walk the borderline between the genius and the insane, you can make your choice to win the National Championship only and pick even more upsets leading up to that game!

Some suggestions we made last week to determine your Sweet 16 were looking at the NCAA Tournament future odds for each region before the tournament begins, which are usually up fairly early at 5 Dimes, as well as using popular sets of ratings such as Pomeroy or Sagarin. Now this week, we suggest looking for a site that has reliable odds on teams winning the championship and odds on advancing to the various rounds.

Such a page is updated daily at, and Pomeroy may have an article including the same features once the seedings are announced. Also there may be something similar on ESPN’s Bracketology page as the tournament nears.
Whatever your source, you can use that information to either rank teams that have the same seed number to get an indication of which of those teams you should have going farther, or in a best case secondary to find lowered seeded teams given better probabilities of winning the championship or advancing to certain rounds than higher seeded teams.

Now this is obviously a liquid situation, making it way too early to predict who the darkhorses will be come tournament time, but let us give you some examples of what we mean. Up until a couple of weeks ago, teamrankings gave the Florida Gators the highest probability of winning the national championship while simultaneously projecting them to be a two-seed. If that had come to pass, Florida would have been a great value pick to win the national title.

As of this writing, TR still has Florida as the favorite to win the championship at 26.2 percent, but the Gators are now a projected one seed. That is not to say that they still do not have value, as Florida may not be the top ranked team in the entire country when the tournament begins.
To further illustrate what we are talking about, Louisville currently projects to be a three seed and Duke a two seed, and yet each of those teams is given a 24 percent probability of reaching the Final Four, which is on par with some current one seeds. That means that if the projected seedings hold, those first two teams are live “upset” picks to win their regions.

To give you one Sweet 16 example, Marquette projects to be a five seed and is given a 25 percent probability of advancing to that round, while the projected four seeds from Butler are given an 18 percent chance, which is an indication that Marquette is live while Butler is overrated.

Aside from sorting out the seeds as described, is there another use for these projections? Well, if you play in a bracket where you have the capability of viewing what the consensus is, then certainly! If not, then you can use the consensuses available for popular brackets at major sites, and hope that those are an accurate representation of what your bracket consensus would look like, although that is obviously riskier.

Let us assume for the balance of this discussion that you have access to the actual consensus to your own bracket. Knowing what percentage of players have teams winning the championship is great, but if you can also see the percentages for teams advancing round-by-round, that would by just fabulous!

If you can only see percentages to win it all, then that will do. What you want to then do is compare those percentages to the probabilities of those teams winning at the site you are using. For example, sticking with the teamrankings example of Florida being 26.2 percent to win it all, if you see that only 20 percent of your pool picks Florida, then taking the Gators is +EV for you! If you see that 30 percent pick Florida, then pass and move on.

In our opinion we feel that the best way to approach this if to go down the list of your recourse in descending order and take the first team you come across that is +EV as described above. The one exception to this is if you see some mad +EV on a team assigned a lower probability.

For example, taking one-seeded Florida with a 26.2 probability in a pool where they are selected by 20 percent of the entrants might be trumped by taking some lower seed with a 10 percent probability taken by two percent of the entrants!

Finally, if you have access to round-by-round consensuses, use the exact same approach for every round.

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