NCAA Tournament Predictions, Best Matchups and Biggest Upsets
NCAA

NCAA Tournament Predictions, Best Matchups and Biggest Upsets

By now, millions of NCAA Tournament brackets have been filled out – and you’ve likely submitted (or will soon) several to various websites, friends and family members.

The eye test is the go-to analysis for most fans (that team looked great in the five minutes I saw them in that one game so they must be good), but some prefer to pick teams by color, mascot, campus beauty or because they knew someone who went there one time.

Of course, we’re here to let the data have its say. We’ll do this using TRACR (Team Rating Adjusted for Conference and Roster), our net efficiency metric that evaluates how well teams perform based on who they play.

TRACR, which is trained on over 15 years of college basketball data, rewards big wins over good teams and punishes losses to bad ones or even wins that were closer than expected. The probability of advancement in our projection is based on 1,000 simulations of our model.

We’ll also use TRACR to select what should be the best first-round game to watch in each region, based on the closest win probabilities between the two teams, and the biggest upsets, based on which double-digit seeds the model favors.

So feel free to brag about besting TRACR or use it as the deciding factor on an even matchup you’ve struggled with since Selection Sunday.

NOTE: This projection was done early Tuesday. For the most recent projection, check out our interactive bracket here.

Probabilities of Advancing: West Region

TeamSweet 16Elite EightFinal FourTitle Win
Gonzaga78.5%65.8%49.1%23.9%
Duke63.9%34.3%13.3%3.3%
Texas Tech58.4%36.7%16.2%4.3%
UConn38.9%8.1%2.4%0.2%
Vermont29.7%9.3%4.4%0.5%
Alabama24.4%11.1%3.8%0.6%
Arkansas22.6%5.2%2.2%0.2%
Davidson17.0%5.9%1.4%0.0%
Michigan State17.0%5.6%1.3%0.0%
Memphis13.8%6.7%3.2%0.8%
Notre Dame9.8%4.1%0.6%0.1%
New Mexico State8.8%1.1%0.2%0.0%
Boise State7.4%3.8%1.6%0.3%
Rutgers4.8%1.8%0.2%0.0%
Montana State2.6%0.5%0.1%0.0%
Cal State Fullerton2.1%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Georgia State0.3%0.0%0.0%0.0%

Best Matchup of the First Round (Win Probability): No. 10 Davidson (50.8%) vs. No. 7 Michigan State (49.2%)

Biggest Upset: No. 13 Vermont (54.8%) over No. 4 Arkansas (45.2%)

“Vermont is a highly efficient team that gets unrecognized, kind of like Loyola Chicago and Houston,” Stats Perform data scientist and TRACR analyst Evan Boyd explained. “The Catamounts have won 22 of their last 23 with the one loss coming by one point on the road in overtime. They also won each of their conference tournament games by at least 30 points, though they had a home court advantage.

“They have size, they shoot well – their two best players shoot over 40% from 3 – and they have experience. TRACR even has Vermont as a favorite over Arkansas, which has semi-struggled recently, shooting poorly from 3 and was crushed by Texas A&M.”

Probabilities of Advancing: East Region

TeamSweet 16Elite EightFinal FourTitle Win
Baylor62.0%39.5%19.3%3.5%
Purdue53.9%28.9%15.5%3.0%
UCLA53.0%26.7%13.9%2.3%
Kentucky60.2%37.4%22.6%5.2%
Saint Mary's29.6%13.7%6.1%0.7%
San Francisco20.4%9.0%3.9%0.3%
North Carolina22.0%11.2%5.2%0.7%
Virginia Tech24.3%9.5%5.1%0.3%
Texas20.7%8.8%4.0%0.8%
Marquette15.0%4.4%1.3%0.0%
Murray State14.3%4.8%1.9%0.1%
Indiana9.2%2.5%0.7%0.0%
Saint Peter's5.1%1.5%0.4%0.0%
Akron4.6%1.3%0.0%0.0%
Wyoming3.3%0.6%0.1%0.0%
Yale1.1%0.1%0.0%0.0%
Norfolk State1.0%0.1%0.0%0.0%

Best Matchup and Biggest Upset of the First Round: No. 11 Virginia Tech (53.0%) vs. No. 6 Texas (47.0%)

“TRACR has always liked Virginia Tech,” Boyd said. “The Hokies have hovered between 20-40 in the rankings for most of the year and I don’t think people talked about them being a legit threat for the NCAA Tournament then. They are a good shooting team and proved it against North Carolina and Duke in the ACC tournament. Their performance over those two teams shot them up in the rankings (18th). Texas, on the other hand, has struggled recently, losing its last three.”

Probabilities of Advancing: South Region

TeamSweet 16Elite EightFinal FourTitle Win
Arizona69.3%41.6%22.3%6.2%
Tennessee65.5%39.9%22.4%6.9%
Villanova58.0%30.8%16.9%4.4%
Illinois38.4%17.5%9.3%1.9%
Houston48.1%26.8%14.4%3.7%
Loyola Chicago27.3%10.5%4.6%0.9%
Michigan23.1%10.2%3.4%0.7%
TCU16.1%5.7%1.4%0.2%
Seton Hall13.7%5.2%2.5%0.5%
Colorado State9.4%3.7%0.7%0.0%
Ohio State13.5%4.8%1.4%0.0%
UAB9.3%2.5%0.6%0.0%
Chattanooga4.2%0.7%0.1%0.0%
Delaware1.2%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Longwood2.0%0.1%0.0%0.0%
Wright State0.6%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Bryant0.3%0.0%0.0%0.0%

“TRACR likes Tennessee more than Arizona, but not by much,” Boyd explained. “If those two teams play each other in the Elite Eight, it will be 50-50. The Volunteers are underrated as a No. 3 seed and TRACR ranks them third overall. The Wildcats might also have to face Houston or Illinois in the Sweet 16, two teams TRACR is high on. Illinois might be even higher if it was not banged up earlier in the season. Tennessee may have to go through a Villanova team that it lost to earlier this season, or even Loyola Chicago. The Volunteers’ route to the Elite Eight, however, is slightly easier than the Wildcats’.”

Best Matchup of the First Round: No. 9 TCU (51.8%) vs. No. 8 Seton Hall (48.2%)

Biggest Upsets: No. 11 Michigan (62.2%) over No. 6 Colorado State (37.8%)/No. 10 Loyola Chicago (62.4%) over No. 7 Ohio State (37.6%)

“I think the South Region is the toughest, so I would not be surprised if it’s mostly chalk up until the Sweet 16,” Boyd added. “There are four teams in that region in TRACR’s top 10 – Houston, Tennessee, Arizona and Villanova. Illinois is not far behind. Those Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups might be the best games of the tournament.”

Probabilities of Advancing: Midwest Region

TeamSweet 16Elite EightFinal FourTitle Win
Auburn77.6%57.6%33.4%9.5%
Kansas73.1%47.7%28.6%7.1%
Iowa58.5%31.8%18.0%4.6%
LSU32.0%11.7%4.6%0.4%
Wisconsin36.4%11.4%4.0%0.6%
Iowa State23.3%9.3%3.6%0.6%
San Diego State17.0%6.3%2.0%0.5%
Providence18.7%6.2%1.7%0.1%
USC10.1%4.1%0.6%0.0%
Miami (FL)10.2%4.0%1.1%0.0%
Richmond12.0%3.2%1.7%0.0%
Creighton9.9%3.1%0.4%0.0%
South Dakota State10.8%1.7%0.2%0.1%
Colgate8.3%1.3%0.0%0.0%
Jacksonville State2.1%0.6%0.1%0.0%
Texas Southern0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi0.0%0.0%0.0%0.0%

“The Midwest Region could be decided by factors other than TRACR,” Boyd said. “Wisconsin playing in Milwaukee gives it a home-court advantage for the first weekend and that might carry over to the second weekend in Chicago. Iowa is a dangerous No. 5 seed, but Richmond has experience. But most importantly – Providence has not been ranked highly throughout the season and currently sit at 54th by the model. The Friars must go up against a South Dakota State team that ranks 80th in TRACR and is riding a 21-game winning streak.”  

Best Matchup of the First Round: No. 7 USC (50.4%) vs. No. 10 Miami, FL (49.6%)


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