Your NCAA Tournament Bracket Picking Stat-Nerd Model


Mar 15, 2022

“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride! Tell me, my dear, can a heart still break once it’s stopped beating?” – Corpse Bride

The Gonzaga Bulldogs entered last year’s title game as the first undefeated team to make the finals in 42 years. They were the favorites in every model and looked poised to finally win the big one.

But then the game happened and they suffered their second loss in the title game in four years.

Why am I leading with Gonzaga? Because once again the Bulldogs are your betting favorites, +300 at the FanDuel Sportsbook. It very much looks like the Gonzaga Bulldogs will once again have a starring role in everyone’s March Madness brackets.

Welcome to my annual all-signing, all-dancing NCAA men’s basketball tournament preview. For those of you who are joining us for the first time welcome! The data is good and will win you prizes.

First things first, let’s start you off with the Game Sim Tool. (See below for how it will look:)

This will let you select any two active teams from Division 1 and quickly get a game projection including margins and win probabilities. This includes any and all tournaments. I am not going to cover these other tournaments here–sorry CBI fans–but feel free to use the tools there as well.

That will let you project each game in detail but that’s likely not what you’re here for. You’re here for the Tournament simulation and tools. Let’s start then with the math.
It’s fairly straightforward. I build Power Rankings for every single NCAA men’s basketball team based on actual team and player performance, player injuries, and overall game outcomes for the season.

They were built as follows:
• Take all the Major Ratings (Sagarin, Ken Pomeroy, Sonny Moore).
• I build my own Ratings by downloading all the games from the NCAA boxscores published online.
• Build a valuation model for every NCAA Player

With all that in hand, I then work out adjusted point margins (for injuries and schedule) for each team and each rating as well as a composite. Makes a really cool poster:

Pretty awesome no? It’s a lot of numbers. Let’s turn it into information, specifically odds.

The composite model is straight #1 seeds for the top 4, giving Gonzaga a 30% chance to win, Arizona a 10% chance to win, Baylor a 7.5% chance to win with Kansas at 7%. Fifth is Kentucky at 6% but #6 is our best darkhorse, the University of Houston, at 5.6% to win out. The #5 seed is 40-1 to win on FanDuel Sportsbooks and 6-1 to make the Final Four a decent play for futures.

The lines are much better than they used to be from the books. I miss the days when stat nerds like me won the day on selection Sunday.

And now for the main event:

That is the standard NCCA bracket with all the favorites per the composite model winning. Or the Chalk.

But what do you actually want? Is the tool to make your own brackets since there will be some upsets happening.

The sheet has 7 tabs:
• Instructions
• Play-in tab (where you can select the First Four winners)
• The Adjustable NCAA Bracket
• Expected Upsets (which shows the relative expected round 1 upsets and tallies the upsets in your bracket)
• All the Ratings for every Division 1 school
• The Ratings just for teams in the NCAA Tournament
• The Lookup Table

To build your bracket you need to:
• Go to the Bracket tab
• Select your Model (cell E3). The sheet will adjust to pick the favorite based on the model chosen.
• Disagree with a pick? For every matchup, you can select your winner (the cell that contains either Tm1 or Tm2- pick one)
• Once you’re done, print your bracket.
• Profit!

Because I’m nice, the Tm fields will change colors when you pick team2, and the odds will change to red when you pick an upset.

Of the default brackets? I like the Sonny Moore one that has eight first-round upsets (option 3) and it might end up being my low thought play in a few places.

Now you can go forth and make some informed brackets.

Thumbnail photo via Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

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