2018 Early Deadline Brackets Writeup

If you want to see what you get on Monday as a subscriber, check out our Early Deadline Bracket Write-up for 2018.

Editor’s Note: The following is the 2018 Early Deadline Bracket Writeup, which was released to our subscribers on Monday, March 12, 2018. If you want to see how the picks performed, check out our 2018 NCAA Tournament Picks in Review.


Welcome to the 2018 TeamRankings Early Bracket Writeup.

If you’re a returning customer, it’s great to see your beautiful face back with us this year.

If you’re new to these parts, welcome to the neighborhood! We’re going to do our best to make sure that you feel like using TeamRankings is well worth the price.

More than anything, we appreciate your business. We put immense pressure on ourselves (and the 18 servers at Amazon we have crunching March Madness numbers around the clock) to deliver the smartest NCAA bracket pick analysis, on an extremely tight timeframe.

Starting a week before Selection Sunday, we pretty much go AWOL from our families and friends, rent hotel rooms and AirBnbs, and transition fully into the mode of eat, sleep, bracket.

In short, we want to be the best at this, and the long term results our picks have achieved for customers is very strong evidence that we’re delivering value. Still, it’s pretty much a dream come true to do this kind of thing for a living, and we have your support to thank for it.

OK, now that we’ve all wiped the tears out of our eyes, let’s get on with some bracket analysis. I love you too, Dad!

What This Writeup Is, And What It Isn’t

A quick background before we get to the numbers and strategy. This writeup is published on Monday afternoon to accompany our Early Deadline Brackets, and explain some of the rationale behind picks you’ll see in those brackets.

Early Deadline Brackets are NOT our official bracket picks for 2018 (although in most years, they end up being pretty close). They are exactly what they say they are — brackets for customers who need to submit their picks early in the week.

Our official 2018 brackets will be released on Wednesday night according to our Release Schedule (see the Articles & Help section). We’ll publish a follow-on, “official” writeup along with those brackets.

So just keep in mind that this is not our final, official, “nothing more is going to change” bracket writeup. Things do sometimes change between Monday and Wednesday (players getting injured or suspended, betting lines moving, etc.) that impact our final bracket picks.

Finally, what you are going to get in these writeups is almost certainly going to be quite different than the bracket analysis you find elsewhere. We don’t spend the majority of our time watching games and forming subjective opinions about players and teams.

We do spend the majority of our time collecting as much objective and valuable data as we possibly can, and then feeding all that data into algorithms that are far more capable than any human at learning from it, and translating it into the best bracket picking strategies.

The goal of this writeup is to provide some plain-English explanation of the results, but bear in mind that the process that got us here is all about math and odds and expected values. The type of stuff that puts Charles Barkley to sleep.

We do our best to keep it simple, but yeah, there’s going to be a lot of numbers. In the process, we also touch on some of the foundational principles behind our bracket picking strategies, such as game theory.

If you’re looking for angles like “Grayson Allen has proven he has the heart to be a champion,” please just Google “how NOT to pick a bracket.”

This Year Is Different

If you’re a returning customer, you should already be familiar with one of the key tenets of our NCAA bracket analysis:

The dynamics of every NCAA tournament are different.

The teams, matchups, and public picking trends are all unique, compared to any past bracket.

That means that when it comes to picking brackets that give you the best chance to win, there are really no “golden rules” you can rely on year in and year out.

Classic examples of Not-So-Golden Rules are all the seed-based picking guidelines — that “always pick a 12-seed over a 5-seed” stuff. Those guidelines are almost always based on insufficient evidence (e.g. small sample sizes of historical data, cherry picked trends that are simply the result of randomness and not actually meaningful or predictive).

They also give no consideration to the current year’s bracket dynamics. For example, all 1-seeds are not created equal. Some years, the crop of 1-seeds is head and shoulders better than the other teams in the tournament. Other years, several 1-seeds may be barely indistinguishable from 2-seeds (or worse) in terms of performance level.

So if you’re just sitting down at Wendy’s to tuck into a Double Baconator Supreme when the guy next to you says to always pick three No. 1 seeds and one sleeper pick to make the Final Four, drop that cheeseburger and run. Even if that strategy ends up being a decent move in any one particular year, the reason WHY is going to depend on a lot more than just seed numbers.

Examining the Dynamics of This Year’s NCAA Champion Picks

In some years, there’s a team that’s head and shoulders better than the rest of the NCAA tournament field, and it’s worth picking them as your bracket champion — even if they’re a relatively popular pick.

In other years, the most popular pick to win it all is being highly overrated by the public, and you will improve your odds to win your pool if you avoid that team and pick a less popular alternative as your NCAA champion.

Interestingly, thanks in part to the current public pick distribution for NCAA champion picks, 2018 falls into a third box.

Most NCAA tournaments feature one or a few teams that the public really likes, meaning that you could expect 20%, 30%, or even 40% of the opponents in your pool to pick a specific team to win it all.

However, this year there’s a big cluster of teams that are all modestly popular champion picks. No fewer than six teams are the NCAA champion pick in at least 8% of the nation’s brackets right now, and no single team has more than 19% popularity as a champion pick.

Let’s take a look at the early public picking estimates for NCAA champions, and compare them with to our Monday odds for each of those teams to win it all.

Keep in mind that we estimate public picking trends using data from multiple national bracket games (ESPN, Yahoo!, etc.). In addition, our NCAA tournament survival odds incorporate a broad range of objective data including leading algorithmic ratings (TR, Pomeroy, LRMC, etc.), odds from the betting markets, and injury/player availability adjustments.

NCAA Champion Public Picking Rates vs. Odds To Happen

Team% of Public Picking Team As ChampionTR Odds To Be NCAA Champion
North Carolina8%7%
Michigan State8%6%

(No other team is being picked to be NCAA champion by more than 4% of the public.)

Looking at that table above, the first observation is that there’s no big tournament favorite in 2018.

If the odds are accurate, that means it’s going to be significantly harder to pick the NCAA tournament champion in 2018 than in some other years.

Second, Virginia is the most popular public pick as NCAA champion, but Virginia is actually slightly less likely to win the title than Villanova. Both teams are listed above at 16% due to rounding, but more precisely, our Monday odds give Villanova a 16.4% chance to win it all compared to 15.7% for Virginia.

Despite Villanova having a 16.4% champion odds, though, only 15% of the public is picking them. Having our most likely predicted champion not also be the most popular team is generally what we in the business like to call “a good thing.” That leads us to the first big takeaway:

1) Villanova is an undervalued champion pick as of Monday, and also has (barely) the best chance to win the tournament, even though it’s not a particularly great chance.

A roughly 1% difference between Villanova’s tournament win odds and NCAA champion pick popularity may not seem very big, but we’re grading on a bit of a curve here. Most years, the public picking rates for the majority of the most likely NCAA tournament winners are significantly higher than their actual championship odds.

Of course, we also need to sanity check our numbers and make sure our projections aren’t way off the market. So, here are estimates of Villanova’s odds to win the 2018 NCAA Tournament according to other respected sources, compared to ours:

  • 21% — ESPN BPI
  • 18% — Ken Pomeroy
  • 17% — FiveThirtyEight
  • 16% — TeamRankings
  • 16% — Betting Market

As it turns out, our projections for Villanova are actually at the the low end of the range. And overall, we’re happy with our position in that list. It’s often a red flag (or at least a yellow) if your system’s projections are far off the implied projections of the betting markets; our prediction for Villanova lines up very closely with the market.

2) As of Monday, Purdue is the most undervalued champion pick with a decent shot to win it all.

While Villanova is the most likely NCAA champion that has some value on its side, Purdue has more value (defined as tournament win odds minus public pick rate). The Boilermakers have a 6% chance to win the tournament, but are being picked by only 3% of the public. That’s a difference of 3%, compared to a difference closer to only 1% for Villanova.

Again, let’s check our Purdue champion odds against other sites:

  • 10% — ESPN BPI
  • 7% — Ken Pomeroy
  • 6% — TeamRankings
  • 5% — FiveThirtyEight
  • 5% — Betting Market

We’re slightly higher than the betting markets on Purdue, but still fairly close. And even if our projections were in line with the odds, Purdue would still have more value than Villanova.

Is Villanova the play for standard rules pools? Purdue? Or some other team?

So Villanova is a value pick and the team most likely to win the tournament, while Purdue is the highest value pick with a legitimate shot to win it. What should you do with that information?

Let’s take a brief step back here, and review the concept of “value picking” when it comes to brackets.

In comparison to 10 or 15 years ago, there is now a good amount of bracket advice floating around the web that purports to be advanced and/or smart.

Most of it is centered around a similar theme, that your best strategy to win a bracket pool is to look for undervalued teams that have flown under the radar of the general public, and pick them as your NCAA champion.

Follow that logic, and Purdue is probably the play. They’re more overlooked and more undervalued than any other potential NCAA champion pick this year.

However, it’s not quite that simple. Again, there are no golden rules, and other factors, such as your pool size, also play a role in determining your optimal picking strategy.

Picking The “Most Undervalued” Team Isn’t Always The Best Answer

We love value picks here at TeamRankings. There’s nothing better than finding a team that has a great shot to win a game, or better yet the entire tournament, that is also flying under the general public’s radar.

That’s because to win a bracket pool, you don’t need to get a certain number of picks (or a certain percentage of picks) correct. You certainly don’t have to be amazing, by absolute standards, at picking winners.

To win a pool, you simply need to score more points than the rest of your opponents. And the only way to do that is to make some correct picks that your opponents get wrong.

Put another way, if you correctly pick No. 2 North Carolina to beat No. 15 Lipscomb and survive the first round this year, pat yourself on the back for getting a pick right and all. But it really doesn’t mean squat in terms of your chance to win your pool.

Almost all your opponents will have made that same pick, and they will gain the same number of points as you do. Everyone’s score might as well still be 0.

The most important picks you make in a bracket are the ones that are different from a large chunk of your opponents. Those picks give you a chance to gain points that your opponents miss.

When a team’s chance to advance to a given round is significantly higher than the rate at which your opponents are selecting them to make that round, that’s potentially a great opportunity.

The limits of value-driven picking

However, there are two edges to the value-picking sword.

If you make an unpopular pick that doesn’t end up playing out, and a popular pick ends up surviving, then it’s bad news for your bracket. And because an NCAA bracket is a web of 67 interdependent decisions, you can’t consider each individual pick in a vacuum.

In other words, while value-based picking makes a lot of sense as a general strategy, that doesn’t mean you should pick every undervalued team in your 2018 NCAA bracket. In fact, far from it.

Here’s an extreme example that illustrates why. We project that No. 16 Penn has an 8% chance to knock off No. 1 Kansas. (That’s pretty scary stuff for Kansas, by the way…could this be the year?) Only 4% of the public is picking Penn to win, so Penn is an undervalued pick.

However, unless you’re in a giant pool (and/or a pool with huge upset bonuses), Kansas is clearly a better pick from an overall risk vs. reward standpoint.

If you take a big gamble on Penn and lose — the very likely outcome — you’ve just torpedoed your chances at collecting even more points from likely future-round Kansas wins. Worse yet, many of your opponents will be scoring those points, and distancing themselves from you in the pool standings.

Across the entire 2018 NCAA bracket, there are a lot of undervalued picks you could make. In fact, unless the pick popularity of two opposing teams exactly matches their respective win odds for a game, by definition, one of those two teams is undervalued.

But in most cases, if you pack your bracket full of value picks, you’ll end up taking way too much risk with your bracket picks as a whole, and reducing your odds to win your pool.

Just for kicks, imagine that you picked all the most undervalued teams to reach the Final Four this year. Your picks would be:

  • #2 Cincinnati (20% chance to make it, picked by 11% of the public)
  • #3 Texas Tech (9% chance, picked by 5%)
  • #5 Ohio State (9% chance, picked by 3%)
  • #6 TCU (5% chance, picked by 1%)

That’s certainly a fun bracket, but it’s not a smart one for most pools.

The most likely result, with a 63% chance of happening, would be that you get zero Final Four picks correct. And there would be less than a 0.01% chance (1 in 10,000) of getting all four of your Final Four picks correct.

Even in a huge bracket pool where you need to go out on a limb with your picks, that’s just too risky.

(In contrast, picking the most likely team in each region to make the Final Four, independent of public picking trends, would give you a much lower 17% chance of getting no Final Four picks right, and about a 1.4% (1 in 70) chance of a perfect Final Four.)

In most bracket pool scenarios, the ideal risk/value balance is somewhere in between these two extremes. It usually means having some value picks interspersed throughout the bracket, though the “value bets” might end up being more concentrated on a fewer number of key picks (e.g. a big value gamble on your NCAA champion), or spread across a greater number of less valuable picks.

Now that we’ve established the limitations of picking for value, let’s take a look at some of the value picks you are likely to see in customized Early Deadline Brackets for the most popular 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring system.

Then, we’ll circle back to the all-important (in that scoring system, at least) NCAA champion pick.

How Do You Decide Which Value Picks Are Worth Playing?

There are two competing goals when crafting a bracket: Maximize expected reward and minimize risk.

Small pools

In very small pools with standard 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring, it makes more sense to focus on minimizing risk. After all, you only need to beat a relatively small number of opponents. As a result, simply picking the most likely winners and relying on your opponents to make too many risky upset picks is often a great strategy, even though it looks completely boring.

Honestly, if we had a dollar for every time a new customer looked at our optimized brackets for very small pools, then emailed to complain that they looked way too “chalky” (i.e. they didn’t have enough upset picks), then ended up winning a prize…

Large pools

In very large pools, value comes more to the forefront, as you need to differentiate your bracket from many competing entries in order to have any realistic shot of winning — and even then, your odds to win are still very long. So if you’re in a very large pool, you’re usually going to see some riskier pick suggestions in our customized Early Deadline Brackets.

Mid-Sized Pools

For bracket pool sizes in between, figuring out the optimal balance of risk vs. reward is often more nuanced.

For example, using data from our Data Grid, No. 2 Cincinnati is a solidly undervalued pick to make the Final Four (20% chance to make it, only picked by 11%). If you pick Cincinnati, though, you’re adding a lot of risk to your bracket compared to picking the safest alternative, No. 1 Virginia (41% chance to make it).

In very small pools, picking Cincinnati probably isn’t worth the risk. In bigger pools, it might be. But where’s the cutoff?

Now repeat this same question/analysis for every undervalued pick in the entire tournament, compare the risks and expected rewards of picking vs. not picking each one, and try to figure out the 67 pick decisions that consequently make the most sense for your specific pool.

The complexity piles up rapidly, and the answers are all interdependent.

We Use Technology Do The Heavy Lifting

Finding the best set of bracket picks, for a particular type of pool, with a particular number of entries, simply can’t be done manually. The complexity involved in doing all the optimization is much too high.

To get over that hump, we spent years building and refining algorithms that do all the crazy math.

Those 18 Amazon servers are performing millions upon millions of simulations. They simulate the possible outcomes of the 2018 NCAA tournament; they simulate the brackets that your opponents are likely to play; and they keep testing combinations of bracket picks until they find the one that gives you the best chance to beat all those opponent brackets.

Computers for the win!

(Fun fact: those servers cost us about $10,000 to run each March, so yeah, we couldn’t do this without your help.)

P.S. Based on last night’s initial simulation run of bracket pools with standard 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring, if you’re only entering one bracket in a pool this year, picking Cincinnati to make the Final Four starts to make sense once you have around 150 entries in your pool — but only if paired with a more conservative Villanova-as-champion pick.

So What Are The Best Value Picks This Year?

In pools with standard 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring, here are some value picks that you may see in our customized Early Deadline Brackets.

Value picks to make the Final Four

  • #2 Cincinnati (20% odds, picked by 11%) — public overrating #1 Virginia (41% odds, picked by 53%)
  • #4 Gonzaga (17% odds, picked by 13%) — public overrating #2 North Carolina (27% odds, picked by 39%)
  • #2 Purdue (23% odds, picked by 20%) — public overrating #1 Villanova (42% odds, picked by 56%)

Most years there are teams with a better than 25% chance to make the Final Four that are also being underrated by the public. That’s not the case this year, so the value picks listed above are significantly riskier than in other years.

Another team you might see that isn’t technically undervalued, but is less overvalued than the favorite:

  • #3 Michigan (18% odds, picked by 20%) — public overrating #2 North Carolina (27% odds, picked by 39%)

Value picks to make the Elite 8

Gonzaga from the Final Four value picks group above, plus…

  • #3 Texas Tech (24% odds, picked by 21%) — public overrating #2 Purdue (48% odds, picked by 55%)
  • #5 Ohio State (20% odds, picked by 10%) — public overrating #1 Xavier (35% odds, picked by 49%)
  • #5 West Virginia (20% odds, picked by 12%) — public overrating #1 Villanova (61% odds, picked by 72%)
  • #5 Kentucky (20% odds, picked by 13%) — public overrating #1 Virginia (58% odds, picked by 63%)

The inclusion of Purdue as an overrated team in the list above highlights an interesting dynamic. When comparing round survival odds to public picking trends, it’s quite possible for a given team to be overrated to make a particular round, but underrated to make a following round (or vice versa).

That means you could see a situation where a bracket that is placing a big value bet on Purdue takes them to the Final Four or beyond, while another bracket focused on other value bets might have Purdue losing in the Sweet 16.

Brackets with differences like that can also make for great “portfolio” strategy for playing two or more brackets in the same pool. If you’ve playing multiple entries, you generally want to diversify your risk and have each of your entries focus its key risks and value-driven gambles on different teams.

Solid value picks to make the Sweet 16

Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Kentucky from the Elite Eight value picks above, plus…

  • #4 Wichita State (41% odds, picked by 39%) — public overrating #5 West Virginia (53% odds, picked by 54%)
  • #6 Houston (28% odds, picked by 18%) — public overrating #3 Michigan (57% odds, picked by 75%)
  • #6 TCU (28% odds, picked by 12%) — public overrating #3 Michigan State (64% odds, picked by 83%)
  • #8 Seton Hall (17% odds, picked by 5%) — public overrating #1 Kansas (71% odds, picked by 87%)

Solid first round upset value picks

  • #9 Kansas State (53% odds, picked by 47%) over #8 Creighton
  • #11 Loyola-Chicago (45% odds, picked by 30%) over #6 Miami FL
  • #11 San Diego State (38% odds, picked by 34%) over #6 Houston
  • #11 St. Bonaventure / UCLA Play-In Winner (33% odds, picked by 16%) over #6 Florida
  • #12 New Mexico State (32% odds, picked by 26%) over #5 Clemson
  • #12 Davidson (28% odds, picked by 18%) over #5 Kentucky

One note on first round upsets. During the past few seasons, we’ve seen more first round games with double digit seeds having 40% win odds or more than this year. There’s only one game like that in 2018, Loyola against Miami. So our brackets this year will tend to have fewer upset picks in the first round than in past years.

Put another way: It doesn’t seem like a great year to make a bunch of first round upset picks this year. Never mind the fact that the first round means very little anyway in the popular 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring system…

Keep in mind that most of the Early Deadline Brackets published on Monday will only feature some of the value picks above, since using all of them would almost certainly introduce too much overall risk into your bracket.

In addition, some of these picks may only be used in our Alternative Brackets for people making multiple entries into a pool, but not in our Best Bracket for a given type of pool.

IMPORTANT! We are not saying that we think each of the value picks above will win or make it to the rounds specified, and that’s certainly not what we expect. In fact, we expect teams like Loyola and San Diego State to lose in the first round, because we think their win odds are below 50%.

What we are saying is that the cases above look like the smartest value gambles in this year’s bracket. You’ll take on some extra risk picking them, but if they come through, it will be a very good outcome for your bracket.

And Now…Back to Villanova and Purdue

Notice we didn’t list any undervalued NCAA champion picks in the lists above. That doesn’t mean that none exist this year.

In fact, a handful of teams appear to be decent value picks for tournament champion when you look at their profile in a vacuum:

Undervalued picks that have a realistic chance to win the tournament

  • #1 Villanova (16% odds, picked by 15%)
  • #2 Purdue (6% odds, picked by 3%)
  • #2 Cincinnati (5% odds, picked by 2%)
  • #4 Gonzaga (3% odds, picked by 2%)
  • #5 Kentucky (3% odds, picked by 2%)
  • #5 West Virginia (2% odds, picked by 1%)
  • #3 Tennessee (2% odds, picked by 1%)
  • #3 Texas Tech (2% odds, picked by 1%)

Two of those teams stand out as having compelling cases for being the best NCAA champion pick to make in your bracket, at least in some pool scenarios:

  • #2 Purdue has the largest difference between win odds and pick percentage, and is tied with other less likely winners for the highest ratio of win odds to pick percentage
  • #1 Villanova is the most likely winner of the tournament according to our projections, and is also undervalued, which is a solid combination

Given those profiles, we initially figured that Villanova would be a good champion pick in small and medium sized pools, and Purdue a good pick in huge pools.

However, our simulations revealed something different.

Early Bracket Strategies & Recommendations

After running bracket pool and tournament simulations all last night, our Early Deadline Best Brackets for 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring ended up recommending:

#1 Virginia as a champion pick in very small pools

Yep, that’s correct. In very small pools (less than 15 people), our simulations showed that picking Virginia as your champion is currently the best play, despite Virginia also being the most popular champion pick.

Actually, let’s rephrase that. In very small pools, if you make the other value picks our simulations recommend, then you should pick Virginia because of their popularity, not despite it.

The rationale here is that your contrarian/value picks in very small pools can often come in the earlier rounds, when they have a better chance of actually being correct. In a tiny pool, you usually don’t need to make a gamble on a riskier but undervalued champion pick. A value Elite Eight pick that comes through, for example, can be enough to tip the scales in your favor.

Now, consider what happens next. If you nail that Elite Eight value pick (#4 Gonzaga over #1 Xavier is the main one here), then in a very small pool, there’s a good chance you’ll be leading in standings.

And IF you’re protecting a lead, and you’re choosing between NCAA champion picks with a similar chance of winning (i.e. Villanova or Virginia), your best option is to try to make the same pick as the opponent(s) trying to catch you. This is what we like to call a “defensive pick.”

In other words, if you are winning your pool coming into the title game, and all the people who can catch you in the standings have the exact same NCAA champion pick as you, then the pool is over, because it’s impossible for them to make up ground on you. To maximize the chance of that type of situation happening, you’d want to take the more popular NCAA champion pick.

To repeat the major caveat here, Virginia is the Early Brackets recommended title pick in small, standard-scoring pools only when paired with the earlier round value picks. In a vacuum, if all you were picking were the NCAA champion, Virginia wouldn’t be our top option.

#1 Villanova as champion in medium sized and large pools

Now let’s move on to larger pools. Our Early Deadline Brackets for 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring are recommending:

  • #1 Villanova as a champion pick in medium sized pools
  • #1 Villanova as a champion pick in large and very large pools

Villanova as the best champion pick in medium sized pools didn’t come as a surprise to us. When you can pick the tournament favorite in a pool of hundred people or so, and have it also be a value pick, our simulations across multiple tournaments have generally shown that you want to do that.

What is more surprising is that even in very large pools (over 1,000 entries) our simulations show that Villanova is a better champion pick than Purdue. (Although maybe not that surprising to customers who remember us suggesting UNC as the champion pick in very large pools last season, with a similar win%/pick% profile.)

Still, like UNC last year, the Villanova pick seems to fly in the face of the value picking principles we’ve historically tended to recommend for big pools (i.e. pick a highly unpopular, significantly undervalued team as your champion).

When we dug into the details, though, we realized avoiding Purdue as a champion pick was partly the result of the associated need to make a more conservative pick for their opponent in the title game.

Let’s explain. An agonizing outcome in a bracket pool would be to make an undervalued champion pick like Purdue, and have it be a winner, but you end up losing out on a prize because you incorrectly picked too many upsets elsewhere in the bracket.

If you’re picking Purdue to win it all, you’re taking a lot of risk with that pick, so you’re usually looking to pick a safer team (but still one with a decently attractive profile) to come out of the other side of the bracket.

That means the most logical title game opponent for a Purdue-as-champion pick is #1 Virginia. And therein lies the rub.

The big problem with picking Virginia to lose to Purdue in the title game is that Virginia is even more overvalued as a “title game loser” than they are as a champion:

  • Virginia To Win Tournament: 16% chance, 19% pick rate (-3% difference, 0.8 ratio)
  • Virginia To Lose In Title Game: 12% chance, 17% pick rate (-5% difference, 0.7 ratio)

According to our projections, the chance of Purdue beating Virginia is the title game is roughly 0.7%. But because Virginia is such a popular pick to lose in the title game, we estimate that roughly 0.5% of the public has chosen Purdue to beat Virginia in the championship game.

That 0.7% vs. 0.5% difference is simply not good enough for your final matchup in a large pool.

What our simulations suggest, instead, is to pick Villanova (a modest value bet) to beat Cincinnati (a bigger value bet) in the title game. This has roughly a 1.0% chance of happening, and we expect only 0.4% of the public to pick that combination.

Farewell Until Wednesday night…

Our initial round of millions of 2018 tournament and bracket pool simulations is now complete. We’ve factored in recent public picking trends, Vegas odds, team ratings and advancement odds from the world’s top predictive systems, and hands-on analysis of injuries and lineups using proprietary tools we’ve built.

We manually reviewed the Early Deadline Brackets for many different scoring systems and pool sizes before posting them, and did our own separate analyses and gut-checks to confirm that their algorithm-driven picks pass the smell test.

So we can now officially put the seal of approval on these Early Deadline Brackets, and say that based on the knowledge we have as of Monday morning, we’re confident these brackets will give you a significant edge in your pool.

What does that mean exactly?

Well, anyone who’s been a past customer knows that we don’t sugarcoat reality here at TR. Odds are odds, and even if you’re playing an exquisitely designed bracket, the chance that it doesn’t win your pool this year is much greater than the odds that it does win. (Well, unless you’re playing against like two other people.)

Keep applying this level of analysis and strategy over the long term, though (or over a large portfolio of entries), and the returns should be solid. Our track record over the last decade plus is strong evidence of that.

And finally, just remember:

If your pool doesn’t have an early submission deadline, we strongly recommend that you wait to use our Official 2018 Brackets, scheduled for release late Wednesday night.

The more time we have to do analysis and run simulations, the better. It’s not likely we’ll have a bunch of changes to key picks, but it’s not unheard of either, since public picking trends can shift and breaking news can happen. If Virginia’s or Villanova’s pick popularity changes, for example, that could have significant implications.

If you have any questions for us, feel free to ask away in the Q&A Forum. Otherwise, see ya Wednesday!

The TeamRankings Crew

Tom, David, Jon, Seth, Mike and Matt