2023 Sweet 16 Brackets Writeup
We break down key strategy considerations and value picks in our 2023 brackets for Sweet 16 (aka Second Chance) bracket contests.
We’re excited to announce the release of our customized brackets for Sweet 16 (aka “Second Chance”) bracket pools for 2023 in our NCAA Bracket Picks product.
These pools, which start fresh with the Sweet 16 round, are run by several bracket contest sites such as ESPN, RunYourPool, and PoolHost.
How We Make Sweet 16 / Second Chance Bracket Picks
Step 1: Update Team Ratings
As with our full tournament brackets, our first step in making Sweet 16 bracket picks is to create adjusted tournament ratings for all remaining 2023 NCAA tournament teams.
Now that two tournament rounds have been played, we know a bit more about the surviving teams than we did at the start of the tournament. As a result, we can make some team ratings refinements based on factors like current injury status and recent quality of play. For instance, No. 15 Princeton has far outperformed expectations in its first two games, and deserves a higher rating now than it had before the First Round.
We also review the latest betting market information (both futures odds and Sweet 16 game lines), and give some extra scrutiny to teams where our adjusted ratings differ from the market. In those cases, we make a call on either moving our numbers more in line with the betting market, or sticking with our analysis.
Step 2: Collect Pick Popularity Data
Over the course of Monday and Tuesday during Sweet 16 week, we grab as much data on public picking trends in Sweet 16 bracket contests as we can find.
The availability of this data tends to vary year to year, since these contests are less popular than full-tournament bracket contests, and one or two sites seem to either start or stop running Second Chance contests each year.
However, we can usually find data from at least a couple large pool hosting sites (e.g. ESPN) or online sportsbooks that offer these contests.
Step 3: Run Simulations & Identify Optimal Brackets
Once we adjust our team ratings and collect pick popularity data, we generate customized brackets for Sweet 16 bracket pools by running thousands of computer simulations:
- First, we simulate the rest of the NCAA tournament games using round survival odds based on our updated tournament ratings.
- We then run thousands of Second Chance bracket pool simulations, by combining our tournament results simulations with public picking trends from Sweet 16 bracket contest sites.
This approach enables us to test thousands of potential combinations of Second Chance bracket picks, until we find the “optimal” bracket that wins a specific type of pool (i.e. a specific scoring system and pool size) the most often.
Bracket Strategy Principles for Sweet 16 / Second Chance Pools
Strategy for Sweet 16 pools is similar to strategy for full NCAA Tournament bracket pools in a couple ways:
- In smaller pools, it often makes sense to play fairly conservatively, and let your opponents shoot themselves in the foot with too many risky upset picks.
- In larger pools, it’s still important to make more targeted value picks, in an effort to differentiate your bracket from the masses.
However, there are also some differences with full tournament bracket strategy. For example:
- In full tournament pools, an extremely conservative strategy in small pools can make sense. As your opponents pick too many upsets in the early rounds, your conservative play and selective focus on a few lower-risk value picks can give you the edge overall.
- In Sweet 16 pools, on the other hand, there aren’t as many value opportunities earlier in the bracket, partly because there are far fewer games to choose from (only 14 non-champion picks, compared to 62 in a full tournament bracket), and because opponents tend to be a bit less reckless picking early upsets. So your value bets tend to be more concentrated on a smaller number of picks.
- As a result, taking at least one early-round risk to differentiate your Second Chance bracket, even in small pools, can boost your expected value.
In 2023, for example, our simulations reveal that early-round differentiation is best accomplished by picking No. 6 Creighton over popular South No. 1 seed Alabama in the Elite Eight, since such a high percentage of the public is on Alabama.