2024 PoolGenius Brackets Round Recaps: Sweet 16 and Elite Eight

We review key 2024 tournament results, and compare the positioning of PoolGenius bracket performance to the general public.

In these tournament recaps, we will track the big results so far as well as the overall performance of PoolGenius customized brackets in comparison to the public’s performance (which is really all that matters).

We publish these updates after the First Round, after the Second Round, and after the second weekend (Sweet 16 / Elite Eight) concludes. After the tournament ends, we will also post a final “Bracket Picks in Review” writeup.

(You can also skip down to our First Round Recap and Second Round Recap if you’re interested.)

2024 Sweet 16 & Elite Eight Round Recap + Bracket Performance

Subscriber Survey Coming Soon!

Note: We will email NCAA Bracket Picks subscribers a link to our 2024 subscriber survey next Tuesday, April 9, the day after the NCAA tournament title game.

Please take a few minutes to fill it out. It’s the only way we can measure how our brackets did in real-world pools, and we’d greatly appreciate your feedback.

The 2024 Final Four is set, and it’s quite the contrast of styles. It features two of the most popular picks (and favorites) to win it all, along with two longer shots that were very unpopular picks to make the Final Four.

Public Performance: Final Four Picks Correct in 2024

In terms of pick popularity in bracket pools, here’s what an average of public picking trends data from multiple bracket contest sites looks like:

  • 62.0% of brackets nationwide had No. 1 Connecticut in the Final Four
  • 40.8% had No. 1 Purdue in the Final Four
  • 6.1% had No. 4 Alabama in The Final Four
  • 1.5% had No. 11 NC State in the Final Four

Add those percentages up, and the “average” bracket is expected to have gotten 1.10 Final Four picks correct in 2024. So compared to the nation at large:

  • If you got one Final Four pick right this year, you were just about average.
  • If you got two Final Four picks right (Connecticut and Purdue, most likely), you are well ahead of the average bracket pool participant.

Assuming that Final Four picks from all four regions are independent, here is the percentage of brackets you’d expect to have gotten each possible number of Final Four picks right this year:

  • 0.02% (two out of every 10,000 brackets) picked all Final Four teams correctly
  • 1.9% (less than two out of every 100 brackets) picked three teams correctly
  • 27.3% picked two teams correctly
  • 50.0% picked one team correctly
  • 20.8% got no Final Four teams right

So any review of bracket performance in 2024 needs to be done in context of those overall results. As we say often, every year and every tournament is different.

With two popular picks and two reasonably unpopular ones making the Final Four, most leading bracket contenders probably have two teams in the Final Four, and what happens now to Connecticut and Purdue will probably decide a lot of pools.

Your Pool(s) May Not Reflect National Averages

Of course, from pool to pool, pick popularity for each team can vary substantially, especially in smaller pools.

For example, if you’re in a 10-entry pool that includes several residents of Tuscaloosa, and two or three of them picked Alabama to make the Final Four, that’s probably very bad luck for you.

On the other hand, if you’re in a 100-person pool packed with fans of Big 12 teams, getting the two “chalky” Final Four picks right might put you in fantastic position this year.

PoolGenius Brackets vs The Public after the Elite Eight

The 2024 NCAA Tournament had a fairly chalky Second Round, and most of the top contenders advanced.

That outcome, though, set up a wild second week, as underdogs won half of the games played in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

The Sweet 16 started with every No. 1 and No. 2 seed alive, yet only two of them advanced to the Final Four, and two teams that were underdogs in the Sweet 16 got through both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Five underdogs won in the Sweet 16 (out of eight games), turning a lot of brackets into a sea of red.

Bracket Impact

The majority of our brackets, along with a massive chunk of public brackets, took major hits over the course of the four days of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Relatively speaking, though, our Best Brackets are much better off than the average entry entering the Final Four:

Bracket TypeCorrect Round 1 PicksCorrect Round 2 PicksCorrect Sweet 16 PicksCorrect Elite 8 PicksFinalist Teams AliveChamp Teams Alive
PG "Best Brackets"
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
PG "Best Brackets"
For All Scoring Rules
All PG Brackets
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
All PG Brackets21.411.72.921.290.950.52
The General Public21.210.32.711.100.710.42

The primary reason why is because No. 1 Connecticut was our most common champion in Best Brackets, and No. 1 Purdue was our most common Final Four team (and finalist) from the right side of the bracket. For example:

  • Subscribers in smaller pools have Connecticut over Purdue in some Best Brackets, like this one.
  • In some brackets for mid-sized pools, there are alternate brackets with Purdue over Connecticut in the title game, like this one.

Other than the No. 3 Illinois over No. 2 Iowa State result, the upsets that did happen in the past two rounds largely involved teams that the public did not have advancing at a noticeably high rate.

We noted above that about 27% of public brackets have exactly two Final Four teams right. For comparison, 80% of our Best Brackets have two Final Four picks right (almost always Connecticut and Purdue).

That’s a 2.7x advantage on getting teams this deep, setting aside the rate of having both of them advance from here and/or winning it all.

Again, results will vary widely from individual subscriber to subscriber, and plenty of our customized brackets are not doing well (e.g. our long shot gambits for very large pool sizes didn’t work out this year, and they do not feature the more popular Connecticut and Purdue runs).

But on average, our Best Brackets are solidly ahead of the public right now.

Future Positioning

With our Best Brackets more likely to have two Final Four teams alive, and being heavier than the public on Connecticut to win the title, our brackets also have an advantage on the public in potential and expected points from here on out, as well.

Here is a summary of the average points so far and the average max available points left (using traditional 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring) for PoolGenius brackets versus the public:

Bracket TypeCurrent Score AverageAverage Max Available Score
PG "Best Brackets" For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring47.6112.8
PG "Best Brackets" For All Scoring Rules45.2109.6
All PG Brackets For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring46.6101.5
All PG Brackets44.798.5
The General Public41.886.3

Those remaining points, for most pools, are tied up in Connecticut or Purdue winning.

Impact of Regional Outcomes

Now let’s take a look at how each region played out over the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds. We’ll explain what would have been best for PoolGenius brackets as a whole, along with what actually happened, and the associated impact.

(Note: Percentages for “All PG Brackets” below represent both Best Brackets and alternate brackets combined, for all scoring systems.)

East Region

% of Brackets Picking Team to Reach Final Four
Team Public Picks All PG Brackets Difference
No. 1 Connecticut 62.0% 69.4% +7.4%
No. 2 Iowa St. 14.6% 10.1% -4.5%
No. 3 Illinois 7.7% 1.2% -6.5%
No. 5 San Diego St. 1.8% 0.0% -1.8%

We were above the betting market’s expectations for Connecticut entering the tournament (and significantly higher on Connecticut than several popular computer ratings systems were), judging that they were even more dominant than their full season stats implied when at full strength.

That conviction has proven correct so far. On average, our brackets had a lot riding on Connecticut winning this region, and they did. The Illinois over Iowa State result was a minor setback in getting some additional potential points to the Elite Eight.

West Region

% of Brackets Picking Team to Reach Final Four
Team Public Picks All PG Brackets Difference
No. 1 North Carolina 40.2% 14.3% -25.9%
No. 2 Arizona 31.2% 70.4% +39.2%
No. 4 Alabama 6.1% 0.7% -5.4%
No. 6 Clemson 1.6% 0.0% -1.6%

We were heavy on Arizona relative to the public, so when Arizona lost to Clemson in the Sweet 16, that was bad news for lots of our customized brackets.

However, that news turned a little better when our biggest liability, a deep North Carolina run, was erased by their loss to Alabama a few hours later.

About 6% of the public had Alabama in the Final Four, far more than our less than 1% of brackets. So those opponent entries may limit the upside of some of our brackets, if the Alabama pickers also matched our brackets with how far they took Connecticut and/or Purdue.

South Region

% of Brackets Picking Team to Reach Final Four
Team Public Picks All PG Brackets Difference
No. 1 Houston 44.9% 55.8% +10.9%
No. 2 Marquette 15.0% 22.4% +7.4%
No. 4 Duke 9.0% 15.5% +6.5%
No. 11 N.C. State 1.5% 0.0% -1.5%

This was a region where early results had already decimated the public, particularly an early loss by No. 3 Kentucky. We had a higher percentage of brackets featuring Houston, Marquette, and/or Duke making runs, with the latter two featuring on some deeper runs in larger pool sizes.

So the NC State run largely prevented our brackets from gaining further ground on the public, as they were the one team out of these four that we did not have featured as a common pick.

Midwest Region

% of Brackets Picking Team to Reach Final Four
Team Public Picks All PG Brackets Difference
No. 1 Purdue 40.8% 59.2% +18.4%
No. 2 Tennessee 23.8% 26.1% +2.3%
No. 3 Creighton 14.9% 11.9% -3.0%
No. 5 Gonzaga 6.2% 2.1% -4.1%

Purdue was our most common pick from this region, and the most common runner-up pick in our Best Brackets for smaller pool sizes. So Purdue’s advancement could be a part of some positive results in certain pools, when paired with Connecticut.

Looking Forward to The Final Four

The table below provides data on the remaining possible NCAA champions, and what percentage of TR brackets and the public are picking each one:

% of Brackets Picking Team as Champion
(Actual percent chance to win)
Group Connecticut
NC State
TR “Best Brackets”
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
55% 0% 0% 0%
TR “Best Brackets”
For All Scoring Rules
58% 1% 0% 0%
All TR Brackets
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
38% 13% <1% 0%
All TR Brackets 39% 13% <1% 0%
The General Public 30% 11% <1% <1%

Some observations here:

  • A Connecticut win likely benefits the highest percentage of our subscribers, since our Best Brackets are nearly twice as likely to have them as champion as an average public bracket is.
  • Purdue is also a common runner-up pick in our customized brackets. While our Best Brackets did not feature them as a champion in standard scoring, our alternate brackets did have a higher percentage than the public on Purdue, so a segment of our subscribers may benefit most with a Purdue title.
  • Based in public picking trends from the Final Four on, you’d expect about 3.4% of public brackets to have Connecticut over Purdue in the final, and 1.6% to have Purdue over Connecticut. But individual pools will differ, as some pools might have multiple entries with those combinations, and other pools may have none.
  • That type of random luck will likely play a factor in individual subscriber results this year, but based on the numbers above, we hope that a fair number of subscribers still have a shot to cash in a pool.

Enjoy the Final Four, and please don’t forget to respond to our subscriber survey that we will email to you on Tuesday, April 9.

2024 Second Round Recap + Bracket Performance

We’ll dive into detailed analysis of the Second Round below, but first, here’s how PoolGenius (“PG”) subscriber brackets stack up to the public averages for picks correct or still alive after the Second Round.

Bracket TypeCorrect R1 PicksCorrect R2 PicksElite 8 Teams AliveFinal 4 Teams AliveFinalist Teams AliveChamp Teams Alive
PG "Best Brackets"
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
PG "Best Brackets"
For All Scoring Rules
All PG Brackets
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
All PG Brackets
For All Scoring Rules
The General Public21.
  • On balance, the Second Round was very good for our Best Brackets, and also provided solid results for our alternate brackets relative to the public.
  • The highlight of the Second Round was our Best Brackets for traditional 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring, which got about 2.6 games more correct that the public average (out of 16).
  • Those Best Brackets also lost no NCAA champion picks in the Second Round, and only a tiny percentage (1% or less) of their Elite Eight, Final Four and finalist picks.
  • 77% of PoolGenius Best Brackets have all of their Elite Eight picks still alive. On average, the public has 6 of 8 Elite Eight picks alive.
  • Our brackets across all types have more of their picks still alive than the public, on average, in every future round except the title game. You may say, “Well, that’s the most important round!” and it’s true. However, since many of the public’s NCAA champion picks conflict with each other (in terms of featuring different teams coming from the same side of the bracket), PoolGenius brackets still have a higher title game ceiling than the public. A maximum of 39% of champion picks in PoolGenius brackets can still be correct, compared to the public’s 30% maximum (if Connecticut wins).
  • Things can change in a hurry, of course, but right now customer brackets are well-positioned for future rounds, on average.

Best Brackets: Positioned Well on Average, Except for Auburn Champion Brackets

The relative outlook of our Best Brackets in a given pool right now is, as always, highly dependent on exactly how everyone else in that pool picked.

We can make some projections based on how our average number of correct picks compares to the public average.

However, you never know which small pool might have one entrant randomly pick, say, No. 5 San Diego State in the Final Four, and thus still have a solid shot to beat one of our otherwise well-positioned brackets.

Small Pools

Overall, our Best Brackets at smaller pool sizes had all No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Elite Eight, with varying picks on exactly which teams were selected to go further from there. So all of those are completely intact in a year where the top seeds all advanced.

At smaller sizes, we also had Connecticut universally advancing out of the East Region, which limited the Auburn exposure, which was the biggest impact upset early.

The “pick conservatively and let your opponents shoot themselves in the foot with too many upset picks” strategy in really small pools has worked so far, with 13 of the 16 teams who were the projected favorites to advance out of the first weekend pod actually doing so.

San Diego State (28% picked by the public to the Sweet 16), Clemson (16% picked) and NC State (12% picked) were not all that popular Sweet 16 picks, so the chances that a random entry picked just one of those three is a coin flip.

The chance that an entry picked all three of those teams in the Sweet 16 is about 1-in-200, making it unlikely that other entries got significantly more points out of the Second Round in small to mid-sized pools.

Meanwhile, plenty of other entries fell back by picking multiple upsets to advance that did not happen.

Midsize & Large Pools

As we go up in pool size, the Auburn loss hurt some of our Best Brackets. At varying pool sizes, the Best Brackets got either an Arizona, Auburn, or Marquette champion bracket.

The Arizona and Marquette ones are intact. The Auburn one is hurting, particularly with the way that this bracket has shaken out, with nearly every other favorite still alive.

That means in larger pools, someone and probably lots of someones will have picked the eventual champion, making a backdoor prize finish even if you lose your champion pick early more unlikely this year.

(We did see that happen with some of our brackets last year, where even some “Purdue as champion” brackets ended up cashing in a wild year where all the top seeds were out by the Elite Eight.)

Still, those Arizona and Marquette entries are alive, and although they still need to hit an unexpected and specific set of wins to pull it off, both have a path to placing well.

Alternate Brackets: Lots of Champions and Final Fours Intact

On average, our alternate brackets did not score quite as highly as the Best Brackets so far, and you can see in the first chart above that they have slightly fewer Elite Eight and Final Four teams still alive.

That said, they are still soundly are ahead of the public average, by over two wins in the Second Round, have nearly 1.5 more Elite Eight teams alive than the public, and more Final Four teams alive.

The alternates brackets also have more champion and finalist picks still alive than our Best Brackets, thanks to the Auburn factor.

A Best Bracket for traditional 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring and a larger pool size that had Auburn as champion helps to illustrate why. The alternate brackets for this pool hedge the Auburn run in the Best Bracket, and have the following champion and runner-up picks:

  • Arizona over Purdue
  • Marquette over Connecticut
  • Duke over Connecticut
  • Creighton over Connecticut

You can see how the alternative bracket logic balanced a riskier Auburn run with strategies that employ a different, less popular champion pick from that side (Arizona) as well as some deep Connecticut runs with different unpopular champion picks opposite them at this larger pool size.

So while the Auburn Best Bracket is likely toast, the four others designed to complement it are still very alive, all with the Final Fours intact, and two of the four alternate brackets having all their Elite Eight picks still alive.

The one exception here is at really large pool sizes, where you have to take big chances because your odds of winning are so small. Most of those alternate brackets are already out of contention in huge pools, as the riskier picks did not materialize in a year where chalk mostly prevailed through the first weekend.

Future Positioning of PoolGenius Brackets

Here’s a summary of the average points scored so far, and the average maximum score still possible, for various categories of PoolGenius brackets. This is really what matters most at this point.

Bracket TypeCurrent Score AverageAverage Max Available Score
PG "Best Brackets" For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring47.6161.0
PG "Best Brackets" For All Scoring Rules45.2156.0
All PG Brackets For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring46.6162.9
All PG Brackets44.7158.2
The General Public41.8146.2

First, we should point out that this scoring is based on the standard scoring rules, but a percentage of our “All PG Brackets” are optimized for other scoring formats.

So judging all our brackets by standard scoring rules can be a bit unfair, as they intentionally make lots of riskier picks that won’t do as well under those rules, but have huge rewards in seed-based scoring systems.

Even with that caveat, all of our brackets are on average better positioned than the public both in past scoring and future points available.


Our Best Brackets are now heavily leveraged on Connecticut, followed by Arizona and Marquette, as champion picks, so one of those three teams winning would likely result in the highest collective win rates across all subscribers.

However, as noted in the previous section, we do have a variety of champion picks still alive across alternate brackets as well.

In some cases, if subscribers played enough alternate brackets, we will at least match the public on some other teams like Purdue, Houston, or Tennessee, winning the title also.

General Second Round Commentary

Before we get to specific region/pod breakdowns from the Second Round, let’s review some high level observations about the tournament so far.

In our bracket pick analysis we often talk about how winning a bracket pool doesn’t depend on how many picks you get right, in a vacuum. You simply need to score more points than your opponents do. That means two things:

  • In years when many favorites make deep runs, you usually need to score a lot of points to win a pool.
  • In years when a lot of crazy upsets happen and/or several long shots make the Final Four, a score that isn’t usually considered very good can still end up winning a prize.

So far, the 2024 NCAA Tournament is trending toward the scenario in the first bullet point. Depending on how popular the actual Final Four teams end up being, and whether the champion ends up being one of the most popular picks, we may see higher scores needed to win.

How Each Remaining Team’s Odds To Win It All Have Changed

A lot of the tournament’s top contenders are still alive. In fact, Auburn is the only team already out that we had above 2% odds to win it all pre-tournament.

So we haven’t seen any massive shifts in teams’ odds to win the title based on getting vastly different draws from the Sweet 16 on. However, some teams have improved their odds more than others, based on what happened over the first two rounds.

Team3/20 Odds3/25 OddsDifference
No. Carolina4.1%5.7%1.6%
Iowa State4.8%4.9%0.1%
San Diego St0.3%0.6%0.3%
NC State0.1%0.3%0.2%

Connecticut was the biggest beneficiary, primarily because of the Auburn loss easing their path to the title a little more. Connecticut’s overall win odds are now roughly in line with their pre-tournament pick popularity.

The other teams that have improved their odds include:

  • North Carolina, after getting past a tough No. 9 seed in Michigan State
  • Marquette, drawing unexpected No. 11 NC State in the Sweet 16
  • Duke, looking impressive in two games so far, to improve their team rating/outlook
  • Arizona, drawing No. 6 Clemson in the Sweet 16

Meanwhile, we see that some teams like Iowa State and Tennessee have not seen their title odds go up much at all. Even though they advanced, their future paths now look more difficult, because the best possible opponents they could have faced in the next few rounds are still alive, and none of them were upset by worse teams.

Sweet 16 Teams By the Numbers 

Here’s what the 2024 bracket looks like coming out of the Second Round:

  • 12 out of 16 teams seeded No. 4 or better made the Sweet 16, with two more No. 5 seeds (one of whom, Gonzaga, was the favorite to advance) and a No. 6 seed.
  • No. 11 NC State is the only team outside the top six seed lines to advance to the Sweet 16 this year. Last year, four teams below a No. 6 seed advanced this far.
  • Two different regions (East and Midwest) feature the top three seeds plus a No. 5 seed.

The Big East and ACC Rack Up Wins

The Big East and ACC both came into the tournament feeling they got a little disrespected, with the committee rejecting several candidates from each conference near the bubble. Ultimately, only five ACC teams and three Big East teams were selected.

But after Virginia’s embarrassing performance in the play-in round, the ACC rolled through the rest of the first week, with the four remaining teams all advancing. Meanwhile, the three highly seeded Big East teams in the field went a perfect 6-0.

We’ve had some great Cinderella runs in the last three tournaments, but only eight conferences are represented in the Sweet 16 this year, and for the first time since 2019, no team from a single-bid league has advanced to the Sweet 16.

Here are the remaining teams, by conference:

  • ACC (4): No. 1 North Carolina, No. 4 Duke, No. 6 Clemson, No. 11 NC State
  • Big East (3): No. 1 Connecticut, No. 2 Marquette, No. 3 Creighton
  • Big 12 (2): No. 1 Houston, No. 2 Iowa State
  • Big Ten (2): No. 1 Purdue, No. 3 Illinois
  • SEC (2): No. 2 Tennessee, No. 4 Alabama
  • Pac-12 (1): No. 2 Arizona
  • West Coast (1): No. 5 Gonzaga
  • Mountain West (1): No. 5 San Diego State

Region-By-Region Analysis

To wrap up, let’s examine the outlook specific to each region in terms of picks to reach the Elite Eight.

East Region

No. 1 Connecticut Rolls, No. 5 San Diego State Also Advances

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 77% Connecticut
79% Connecticut
Second Most Popular Pick 15% Auburn 21% Auburn
Third Most Popular Pick 4% San Diego St.
Fourth Most Popular Pick 1% Florida Atlantic
Other Picks… 1% Northwestern
<1% UAB
<1% Yale
<1% Stetson

Connecticut is the most popular pick out of this region, both for our entries and the public. San Diego State was not represented in any of our Elite Eight picks, while 4% of public brackets had them getting there.

We get a national championship rematch in the Sweet 16 here, with Connecticut an even heavier favorite than a year ago.

No. 2 Iowa State and No. 3 Illinois Both Advance As Expected

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 52% Iowa St. 78% Iowa St.
Second Most Popular Pick 34% Illinois 16% Illinois
Third Most Popular Pick 7% Brigham Young
6% Brigham Young
Fourth Most Popular Pick 3% Washington St. <1% Drake
Other Picks… 2% Drake  
<1% Duquesne  
<1% Morehead St.
<1% South Dakota State

The expected No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup of bordering Midwest states has materialized, as the Quad Cities are no doubt buzzing with excitement and trash talk. We are heavier on Iowa State than Illinois, while the public is a little closer in pick rate between those two teams.

So for most PoolGenius customized brackets, Iowa State is the preferred winner. Meanwhile, the public was twice as likely than our brackets to pick a team that did end up making the Sweet 16.

West Region

No. 1 North Carolina and No. 4 Alabama Both Win

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 68% North Carolina
73% North Carolina
Second Most Popular Pick 15% Alabama 10% Michigan St
Third Most Popular Pick 9% St. Mary’s 9% Alabama
Fourth Most Popular Pick 5% Michigan St 7% St. Mary’s
Other Picks… 2% Mississippi St.
2% Mississippi St.
1% Grand Canyon
<1% Charleston
<1% Wagner

Our brackets have a higher percentage of North Carolina advancing to the Elite Eight compared to the public, but there are more public brackets that have North Carolina advancing to the Final Four and beyond.

Our brackets tend to have North Carolina reaching the Elite Eight then losing to Arizona. So while a win for North Carolina is preferred to maximize near-term points, a North Carolina loss probably impacts the expected pool win rates of PoolGenius vs. public brackets even more.

No. 2 Arizona Advances while No. 6 Clemson Upsets Baylor

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 58% Arizona 87% Arizona
Second Most Popular Pick 28% Baylor 7% Baylor
Third Most Popular Pick 5% Clemson 6% New Mexico
Fourth Most Popular Pick 4% New Mexico <1% Clemson
Other Picks… 3% Dayton <1% Dayton
2% Nevada <1% Nevada
<1% Colgate
<1% Long Beach St.

This is a pretty vital sub-region, as Arizona is by far the preferred pick for PoolGenius brackets here, and a fair amount of our customized brackets recommended to subscribers have Arizona going to the Final Four and beyond.

The public already lost a notable amount of opportunity here with the Baylor loss, but the PoolGenius advantage would go away if Arizona does not beat Clemson.

South Region

No. 1 Houston and No. 4 Duke Collide

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 66% Houston 77% Houston
Second Most Popular Pick 19% Duke 21% Duke
Third Most Popular Pick 8% Wisconsin 1% Nebraska
Fourth Most Popular Pick 3% Texas A&M 1% Texas A&M
Other Picks… 2% Nebraska <1% Wisconsin
1% James Madison
<1% Vermont  
<1% Longwood  

We are pretty even with the public on both of these teams, and slightly higher than the public on both (at the expense of about 15% of the public losing possible points here by picking others).

Most PoolGenius subscribers probably want Houston to advance, while a subset have deeper Duke runs, particularly at larger pool sizes.

No. 2 Marquette Survives to Face the Biggest Cinderella, No. 11 NC State

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 43% Kentucky 74% Marquette
Second Most Popular Pick 38% Marquette 17% Kentucky
Third Most Popular Pick 7% Florida 6% Texas Tech
Fourth Most Popular Pick 6% Texas Tech 3% Colorado
Other Picks… 5% N.C. State <1% N.C. State
1% Colorado <1% Florida
<1% Oakland  
<1% Western Kentucky

Kentucky was the most popular public pick to reach the Elite Eight from this side of the South Region, so their early upset is a factor in our brackets outperforming the public average so far.

PoolGenius brackets are nearly twice as likely to have Marquette advancing to the Elite Eight, and some have Marquette moving beyond that, including a few Marquette runner-up and champion picks in brackets in medium-to-large pool sizes.

Midwest Region

No. 1 Purdue Rolls, No. 5 Gonzaga Runs Away from Kansas

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 65% Purdue 92% Purdue
Second Most Popular Pick 14% Gonzaga 6% Gonzaga
Third Most Popular Pick 14% Kansas
2% Texas Christian
Fourth Most Popular Pick 2% Texas Christian <1% Kansas
Other Picks… 2% Utah St.
<1% McNeese St.
2% McNeese St.  
<1% Samford  
<1% Grambling State

Nearly all of our picks in our customized brackets (98%) were on the two teams playing in this matchup, while over 20% of the public picks were on other teams, led by blue blood Kansas. So on average, PoolGenius subscribers already have a significant edge gained in this quadrant.

Purdue is by far the most common pick here for PoolGenius brackets, so that’s the rooting interest for all but a few that have a Gonzaga run in larger pool sizes.

No. 2 Tennessee and No. 3 Creighton Survive Late to Advance

Popularity Rank
Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Elite 8 Pick 51% Tennessee 76% Tennessee
Second Most Popular Pick 33% Creighton 22% Creighton
Third Most Popular Pick 6% Texas 2% Oregon
Fourth Most Popular Pick 5% South Carolina <1% Texas
Other Picks… 4% Oregon  
<1% Colorado St.
<1% Akron  
<1% St. Peter’s  

Both of these teams faced close calls in the Second Round, but the two expected favorites advanced out of this side of the Midwest Region. In a similar theme to other quadrants, our brackets nearly universally featured one of these two teams (98%), while about 16% of the public picked a team that is already out.

The public is more evenly split here than PoolGenius brackets are, where Tennessee is the more common pick. So on balance, most subscribers are rooting for Tennessee here.

Will Tennessee’s Dalton “Knecht” on more threes this round, or will Creighton’s Baylor not be the “Scheierman” when it comes to letting it fly from deep? Those are the key questions. (Cue rimshot/cymbal.)

With that, we conclude our dad jokes, and the Second Round Recap. On to the Sweet 16!

2024 First Round Recap + Bracket Performance

Here’s how things are looking across PoolGenius recommended brackets overall after the First Round:

Bracket TypeCorrect R1 PicksSweet 16 Teams AliveElite 8 Teams AliveFinal 4 Teams AliveFinalist Teams AliveChamp Teams Alive
PG "Best Brackets"
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
PG "Best Brackets"
For All Scoring Rules
All PG Brackets
For 1-2-4-8-16-32 Scoring
All PG Brackets21.413.07.323.691.800.87
The General Public21.212.36.753.501.780.90
  • Our Best Brackets for traditional 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring, on average and across all pool sizes, outperformed the public by about 0.6 wins in the First Round: 21.8 correct picks on average vs. 21.2 for the public.
  • Overall, Best Brackets for all scoring systemswere even with the public in terms of First Round picks correct.

Note: The “For All Scoring Rules” bucket includes bracket pools with upset bonuses and seed-based scoring, where our recommended picks take much bigger risks and are expected to get more First Round picks wrong.

As a result, the number of correct picks for all scoring systems also likely understates our performance vs. the public in terms of actual points earned.

Summary & Key Outcomes

  • The biggest upsets in the First Round were No. 3 Kentucky losing to No. 14 Oakland in the South and No. 4 Auburn losing to No. 13 Yale in the East.
  • On average, our Best Brackets have more Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four teams still alive than the public does. Kentucky’s loss played a significant role in that, as our brackets generally faded Kentucky from the Elite Eight onward, compared to the public.
  • However, as a result of the Auburn loss (in a wild game, more on that below), a segment of our Best Brackets and alternate brackets lost their national champion pick. Mainly because of that outcome, our Best Brackets currently have fewer champion picks alive than the public.
  • The upset of No. 6 Texas Tech by No. 11 NC State also knocked out 7% of Best Bracket champion picks in the largest pool sizes, while some alternate brackets for very large pools lost Saint Mary’s (2%) or New Mexico (1%).
  • Pick strategies that generally followed betting odds to help select First Round picks and upset gambits in the No. 6 to No. 11 seed range this year did not have good luck, and most likely did not outperform the public.

More About The No. 6 to No. 11 Seeds

There will always be plenty of variation in First Round performance across different PoolGenius brackets, especially depending on the scoring format and pool size for which they are targeted.

One additional factor driving First Round performance variation this year are the picks that each of our customized brackets had in the No. 6 to No. 11 seed range.

Of the 12 games in that seed range, the better seed went 5-7 this year, while the betting market favorites also only went 5-7. As it turned out, the worse seed actually ended up as the betting market favorite in eight of those 12 games, but went 4-4 straight up.

So teams in the No. 6 to No. 11 seed range, that were both the better seed and favored to win in the betting market, went only 1-3. (No. 6 Texas Tech, favored to beat NC State by five points in the betting market, was one of them, which hurt us.)

A team like New Mexico (a low No. 11 seed, but with a strong power rating and favored in the betting market to beat No. 6 Clemson) makes for a great looking upset pick on paper, but their odds to win still were only slightly higher than 50/50. You can make a “smart” pick but you still need some luck to break your way.

Given that more betting market underdogs won, and that the betting market favorites only went .500 when they were the worse seed, the public ended up performing very similar to our brackets on games only from these seed lines for the First Round.

Fortunately, most of the teams in this seed range are not featured heavily in our brackets in later rounds, unless your pool size is really large.

That’s partly why our Best Brackets have more teams alive than the public to advance to the next two rounds; when the public lost teams in this range, it tended to be a little more costly to them on average.

A Note On Bracket Performance Tracking

We are always transparent in sharing data on how our brackets do in a particular year, and more importantly, how they are doing against the public.

However, we recognize there are some risks in reporting this type of data.

Individually, each of our subscribers is using one (or a small sampling) of thousands of different customized brackets our system generated this year. And our brackets will feature different key picks based on the scoring system, pool size and payout structure for which they were designed.

So if we tell you a certain pick was “good” overall for PoolGenius subscribers (for instance, because 80% of our Best Brackets this year featured it)—well, it still may not have been good for YOU, if a bracket you played was one of the 20% of our Best Brackets that didn’t feature that pick.

The converse is true as well. A pick might be bad for a certain group of subscribers, but the impact of the result good for another segment of subscribers.

Auburn’s First Round exit, for example, is one of these cases. That outcome is really bad for some of our customized brackets, while simultaneously improving the outlook for any brackets that have No. 1 Connecticut as their champion pick.

As much as that duality pains us, it’s the unavoidable nature of a product that adapts picks for different pool characteristics. A great pick for traditional scoring may not be the best pick for an upset bonus pool, and ditto for small vs. large pools.

At the end of the day, if the majority of our brackets compile a strong long term track record of beating the public (which they have), and you keep using our advice, it should eventually work out.

However, it’s impossible to predict when the big wins will come, and for which specific types of pools.

Teams To Root For Now

We’ll dig into the Auburn result in more detail below. First, to provide a bit of a rooting guide for the Second Round onward, here are some specific outcomes that would help close the current “champion picks alive” deficit for PoolGenius brackets this year as a whole.

Relative to the public, our brackets generally faded the teams in the table below, so we don’t want them to make deep runs:

TeamPublic Final Four Pick%PG Final Four Pick%Difference
No. 1 North Carolina40%14%-26%
No. 3 Baylor12%5%-7%
No. 3 Illinois8%1%-7%
No. 4 Kansas7%0%-7%
No. 2 Iowa St.15%10%-5%
No. 4 Alabama6%1%-5%

On the other hand, here are the remaining teams we picked at higher rates than the public overall, so most subscribers want them to keep winning:

TeamPublic Final Four Pick%PG Final Four Pick%Difference
No. 2 Arizona31%70%+39%
No. 1 Purdue41%59%+18%
No. 1 Houston45%56%+11%
No. 1 Connecticut62%69%+7%
No. 2 Marquette15%22%+7%
No. 4 Duke9%16%+7%

Again, the rooting advice above doesn’t apply to every subscriber bracket, just most of them.

The Value Of Alternate Brackets & Multiple Entries

Also remember that our alternate brackets (listed as “Option 2” through “Option 5” on the screen where you view brackets for your pool) are designed to hedge against our Best Brackets. So when a key outcome for the Best Bracket goes badly, the prospects for one or more of the alternate brackets can greatly improve.

Even if you just play two brackets instead of one, you diversify a lot of your risk in bracket pools.

If you don’t want to or can’t afford to play more than one entry, that’s understandable, of course. But in that case, you just need to realize that you’re in a spot where one freak event could derail your odds to win, especially in pools with more than 100 entries.

For example, some of our Best Brackets for larger-sized pools of around 750 entries had Auburn as national champion this year—a team that had one of its best players ejected in the first three minutes of the game vs. Yale. That’s a brutal break, and those brackets are in a tough spot right now.

However, the four other alternate brackets for that pool size all have Auburn losing by the Sweet 16, and either Connecticut or No. 2 Iowa State coming out of the East. Options 2, 3, and 4 all have their champion pick still alive and every Final Four team still alive.

So while the Best Bracket for that pool size is in rough shape, the alternates benefit and their odds to win have likely increased.

About The Auburn Loss

The Auburn loss was painful, but it would be 20/20 hindsight to say that Auburn did not have what it takes to make a deep run in the tournament, or that they were overvalued.

  • They were No. 4 in our tournament power ratings, even after we adjusted their rating down slightly, mainly because they had underperformed a bit against the elite offenses on their schedule, the types of teams they might face later in the tournament.
  • They were also ranked No. 4 by Ken Pomeroy, and No. 4 by ESPN’s BPI.
  • They had the 5th highest title odds by our numbers, in a virtual tie with No. 2 Tennessee, less than 1% higher than No. 2 Iowa State, and behind No. 2 Arizona despite Auburn’s power rating being slightly higher.
  • They had the 7th highest implied champion odds in the betting market, and close to our projection.

The reason our title odds for Auburn were lower than Arizona’s, despite Auburn having a better power rating, was partly because of having to play a little riskier matchup right away. Auburn was a 13.5-point favorite in the betting market against Yale, while Arizona had an easier opening game.

We often talk about the perils of a single-elimination tournament, where a few bad breaks is all it takes to derail a key bracket pick. This game certainly was one of them.

  • Just three minutes into the game, Auburn’s Chad Baker-Mazara, the team’s third-leading scorer and a 42% three-point shooter, was called for a flagrant-2 foul and ejected. You can see the play here, which was apparently a retaliation for getting hit in the throat on the previous play. There’s plenty of debate as to whether the call should have been a flagrant-1 instead, which would not have resulted in an ejection.
  • If we had known Baker-Mazara would be missing basically the entire game, it wouldn’t have led us to favor Yale, but the margin of error for Auburn would have gotten significantly smaller.
  • In another variance-prone stat category, Yale hit a high 45% of their three-pointers (9-for-20), including several big shots down the stretch, compared to Auburn’s 35% (7-of-20).
  • We generally hate to comment about officiating, so you can draw your own conclusions. But after going into halftime up by seven, Auburn got called for a rash of fouls to start the second half. Yale was in the bonus within seven minutes of second half play, and in the double bonus for a big chunk of the second half. Yale ended up shooting 31 free throws, a lot for a team that trailed most of the game, compared to Auburn’s 22.

Despite those breaks, Auburn still led most of the way, and was up by 10 with seven and a half minutes left. At that point, ESPN’s in-game win probability model gave Auburn a 93.7% chance to win the game, nearly 19-in-20.

Then things went very badly in the closing couple minutes of the game:

  • Two Auburn players that were 85%+ free throw shooters missed their first attempt.
  • The team missed what felt like 30 shots in the final minute alone.
  • On their final possession they missed two attempts at the rim, then a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Stuff like this (a freak event in the ejection, followed by some other bad breaks) is kind of the textbook story for what it takes for a significantly better team to just barely lose a game.

But in a single-elimination format like the NCAA tournament, it’s also why no team is ever expected to win the title, and everyone is a long shot, just to different degrees.

Impact Of Key First Round Results

Let’s review how some of the biggest First Round upsets and developments impacted our brackets going forward, and talk about rooting interests that would be best for the largest percentage of PoolGenius subscribers.

The most important thing to remember here is that bracket pools are not a competition to get a certain number of picks right. Even if you end up losing an “important” team in your bracket (e.g. a Final Four pick) early, all that matters is how your final score compares to your opponents’ final scores. There are still plenty of games left for popular picks to lose.

(The data shown below for the % of PoolGenius brackets making a certain pick represents the pick percentage across all our recommended brackets, including Best Brackets and alternate brackets.)

Below, we review some of the key pods/quadrants in brackets where an upset occurred.

No. 3 Kentucky Upset By No. 14 Oakland + No. 6 Texas Tech Upset By No. 11 NC State

Popularity Rank Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 72% Kentucky 85% Kentucky
Second Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 15% Texas Tech 12% Texas Tech
Third Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 12% NC State 3% NC State
Fourth Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 1% Oakland 0% Oakland

With both the top seeds from this group going out, most brackets are busted in this pod, both the public and PoolGenius subscribers. Almost no one has Oakland in the Sweet 16, but 12% of public brackets do have NC State. So a Wolfpack win would result in more public entries getting some points here.

In the bigger picture, while our brackets had a higher percentage of Kentucky picks in the Sweet 16, they had a much lower percentage of Kentucky after that, with most of them having Marquette in the Elite Eight out of this portion of the bracket.

The public, meanwhile, had Kentucky in the Elite Eight 43% of the time, and in the Final Four 20% of the time, with 4% losing their champion pick here. So Kentucky’s loss stung the public much more than it stung our brackets, on average.

No. 4 Auburn Upset By No. 13 Yale

Popularity Rank Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 67% Auburn 98% Auburn
Second Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 28% San Diego State 2% San Diego State
Third Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 3% UAB <1% UAB
Fourth Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 3% Yale <1% Yale

We already broke down the Auburn game above, but this was the one result that really hurt the overall prospects for the largest percentage of PoolGenius brackets.

About 13% of our customized Best Brackets had an Auburn champion pick at medium to larger pool sizes, as did some alternate brackets for pools of medium size. Even at smaller pool sizes, Auburn was likely a runner-up pick in one of the alternate brackets, as a counter to the Best Bracket having Connecticut as champion.

The public was far heavier on San Diego State than our brackets were, so now you should probably become a big Yale fan, to keep a decent minority of opponents from gaining points here in your pool.

No. 5 Wisconsin Upset By No. 12 James Madison

Popularity Rank Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 59% Duke 97% Duke
Second Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 29% Wisconsin 2% James Madison
Third Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 10% James Madison 1% Wisconsin
Fourth Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 2% Vermont 0% Vermont

In the short term, most of our brackets had Wisconsin winning, and missed out on a point with a James Madison upset. But very few of our brackets had Wisconsin advancing further than the Second Round.

That makes Duke winning the next matchup against James Madison pretty important for our brackets. The public is lighter on Duke advancing to the Sweet 16, and heavier on James Madison advancing.

Duke is the favorite, so it’s a better spot to be in, but this is definitely a pretty high leverage Second Round matchup.

In addition, a small minority of our brackets have Duke advancing further out than the Sweet 16, so this is a particularly important outcome for those brackets.

No. 5 St. Mary’s Upset By No. 12 Grand Canyon

Popularity Rank Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 54% Alabama 55% Alabama
Second Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 35% St. Mary’s 40% St. Mary’s
Third Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 8% Grand Canyon 4% Grand Canyon
Fourth Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 3% Charleston <1% Charleston

This was the quadrant of games where our picks most mirrored the public, so the St. Mary’s outcome had a roughly similar impact to both our brackets and the public’s brackets.

(The one exception was that some brackets in really large pool sizes lost a champion pick on St. Mary’s.)

On balance, more of our brackets need an Alabama win in the Second Round, but that is also true for the public.

No. 6 BYU Upset By No. 11 Duquesne

Popularity Rank Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 71% Illinois 81% Illinois
Second Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 23% BYU 19% BYU
Third Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 4% Duquesne <1% Duquesne
Fourth Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 2% Morehead State 0% Morehead State

This is another quadrant where our customized brackets were not significantly different from the public’s brackets, and a slightly lower percentage of our brackets had BYU advancing to the Sweet 16.

Most of our brackets have Illinois advancing here, but not many have Illinois going further than that. On balance, an Illinois win would be the better result, but it’s not the highest leverage section of the bracket.

No. 6 South Carolina Loses To No. 11 Oregon

Popularity Rank Public Picks All PG Brackets
Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 69% Creighton 92% Creighton
Second Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 16% South Carolina 8% Oregon
Third Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 13% Oregon 0% South Carolina
Fourth Most Popular Sweet 16 Pick 2% Akron 0% Akron

Despite the better seed in South Carolina losing, 100% of our brackets have their Sweet 16 pick alive here, as they either picked Creighton or Oregon to make it there.

That said, Creighton is now the choice in most of our brackets to advance here, while the public was more likely to have Oregon advancing if they had already picked them to win in the First Round.

As a result, this is another pretty high leverage game to the Sweet 16. Creighton is not picked to advance further than the Sweet 16 in most PoolGenius brackets, but 92% of our brackets have them winning here.


While your bracket may have exited the First Round with plenty of losses, that’s true of many brackets this year; the average public bracket went 21-11 (65.6% correct) in the First Round.

The Auburn loss was the costliest one, but in a big way for a minority of subscribers. That outcome could also end up being somewhat costly to many more PoolGenius brackets if San Diego State now goes on a run.

Overall, though, subscriber brackets:

  • Have nearly all of their champion picks alive in the smaller to mid-sized pools
  • Scored more points than the public average in the First Round
  • Only lost half as many Sweet 16 teams in Best Brackets as the public did (2.1, vs. 3.7 for the public)
  • Have about one more Elite Eight team still alive, compared to the public average
  • Have a higher percentage of Final Four teams alive

It wasn’t our best First Round, primarily on account of Auburn, but the majority of PoolGenius subscribers should still be positioned well. There’s a lot of tournament left to play, so even subscribers that lost an Auburn Final Four pick shouldn’t give up hope at this point.

As usual, the First Round brought unexpected surprises, and now things depend on how those regions play out. We’ll see what the Second Round brings, and we’ll be rooting for a few high-leverage outcomes to go our way.

Enjoy the games.