2024 NCAA Tournament Survivor Pool Advice: Elite Eight Picks

NCAA Tournament Survivor Pools are fun, fast-paced contests, and we have picks and advice on how to navigate through the 2024 bracket.

When Should You Consider UNC in a Survivor pool? (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire)

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Welcome to our 2024 NCAA tournament survivor pool column, where we will provide some advice on strategies to employ in a survivor pool.

Two years ago, we introduced a Survivor Pool Tool into our NCAA Bracket Picks product, and we added to it last year. This year, it is its own NCAA Survivor Picks product, available with our new Bracket Picks PLUS package or our annual subscriptions.

This article will support and frequently reference the data in that product. We’ll update this article throughout the tournament, all the way to the final, since the tool doesn’t yet track your past picks or provide specific future pick path recommendations.

Posting Schedule

We will post some initial First Round survivor pool pick analysis by Tuesday night, March 19th. We also have a separate article, where we have a schedule grid laying out which pods of teams play on which days.

In the current scheduling format, teams that play on one set of days in the first weekend may be playing on different days in the Regionals, and that creates strategic edges for those that plan around that.

You can also review our general strategy guide on things to consider when playing NCAA Tournament Survivor pools. You can see our First Round analysis, Second Round, and Sweet 16, as well as our thoughts on playing a portfolio of entries here.

2024 Elite Eight Survivor Pick Advice

After a wild Sweet 16 that saw five of the eight underdogs win outright, and the four most popular picks over Thursday and Friday lose, survivor pools are decimated. Your choices are largely dictated by what you have left.

We’ll go over the choices you might have, and how you should think about them based on pool size remaining, because some of you may be deciding between two options on one side of the bracket.

But first, the expected survival odds to have pick in the title game, from each side of the bracket, if you pick each team this round. This assumes that you have not used either of the two teams on the other side of your bracket, as that would impact the likelihood you end up being blocked without a pick from that side in the Final Four. (These numbers are based on needing the team you pick in the Elite Eight to lose in the Final Four, and may not be applicable if you only have to pick one Elite Eight teams and have multiple options at the Final Four.)

Elite Eight PickPath SurviveSide of Bracket
NC State21.9%Right

The way the upsets shook out have created some pretty different paths in terms of survival odds. The top two teams on each side of the bracket (Houston/Illinois on left side, Purdue/Tennessee on right side) are playing each other in the Elite Eight. So if you pick one of them, you will almost assuredly be needing the underdog to win at the Final Four. That might be a significant underdog depending on whether Connecticut and Purdue advance.

Should You Switch Regions in the Elite Eight?

We ordinarily would advise picking against the team you just picked, to maintain better flexibility and not get blocked. However, the extreme differences in path odds this year could dictate making a pick from the other region.

Let’s take an entry that has picked Illinois on the left side, but has not used Connecticut, Alabama, or Clemson. Following the typical advice would lead to picking Connecticut here. But their path odds are so poor, because you are automatically picking a huge underdog against Connecticut at the Final Four, regardless of who advances.

Thus, picking either Alabama or Clemson (Alabama is a slight favorite, and also a little more popular here) is probably the move. That’s because the path for either, even if you build in the risk that Illinois wins and you have no remaining pick, is still substantially better. (And if Illinois wins, you will not be alone in being without another pick from this side.)

The exception to that might be in a really small pool where you don’t expect both sides of Clemson-Alabama to be picked, where you could win the pool outright with Connecticut winning.

It’s a closer call on the other side, if you have used Tennessee only, but now are considering switching to Duke. Tennessee’s odds of advancing to the Final Four are higher than Illinois, and Tennessee would not be as big of a favorite over Duke outright if that was the matchup. So we think that one is completely debatable. The numbers would say switch to Duke, slightly, even accounting for the 41% chance Tennessee advances and you do not have a future pick, but it’s close enough that either decision can be justified.

What If I Have Used One Team from Each Region on a Side of the Bracket?

If you have used two different teams, and they are spaced across both regions on one side of the bracket, then you need both of the other two to advance to have a future pick. In pools with a double-digit number of entries left, we would pick the team now that you want to pick against at the Final Four, if the matchup happens.

In smaller pools that are down to just a few entries (in the single digits), you should look at what your remaining opponents have to pick. If all sides/outcomes are going to be covered by at least one entry, then you should again pick the team now you want to pick against next. If the numbers are so small that you might be able to win the pool outright if your results hit, then taking the bigger favorite now is a play to consider if it can win you the pool now.

On Pools that Require Two Picks, But Not Necessarily One from Each Day

For 2024, it doesn’t matter, you need to make a pick from each day if you can do so, and still have a path to having two live teams at the Final Four. That’s because the East and West play at the Final Four, and also play on the same Elite Eight day. Picking from both would guarantee no pick from that game that could advance.

If you are down to only three live teams, then you can pick two from the same day if you want, because you are going to only have one pick at the Final Four. In this case, you should really think about your specific pool and game theory. What outcome is most likely going to result in everyone else also not having a pick for the final (or being eliminated at the Final Four)? Based on that logic, saving the team you think will be least popular at the Final Four is probably the move, and pick the other two now, regardless of what day they play.

Three or Fewer Live Teams for the Final Four

As we noted above, if you definitely cannot have two live teams at the Final Four (because you have used both in one region), we would really think about the outcomes that still allow that entry to beat a pool. And the best path to that is probably being on the least popular and most contrarian team at the Final Four, where if that team wins, it could wipe out the pool and leave the other advancers without a pick too.

On Remaining Pool Size

Pool size can dictate your current risk level. Even the largest pools could be down to 100 or fewer entries. Smaller pools may just have a few entries remaining. If you have only a limited number of opponents, it’s probably worth looking at who they can choose to pick, and having an understanding of what outcomes might win you the pool, or get you a pot split.

The odds that any random entry gets to the Final Game with a live pick is around 5% now. So you would expect that there will be some if the pool has 100 or so entries, but none might make it if the pool is at 10 or fewer now. So you may not need to make a pick then, and sometimes could make a pick if you think it will win you the pool on that day, based on how others are likely to pick. That could be taking a team like Connecticut before the final game, if you think they are likely to advance and there’s a good chance the opponents will be on a single team that could lose.

If you are facing fewer than 10 entries, you do want to consider how your opponents are going to pick and whether there are paths to victory (or alternatively, to staying with them and forcing a guaranteed pot split) before the Final.

2024 Sweet 16 Survivor Pick Advice

The Sweet 16 is here. With how chalky the 2024 NCAA tournament was in the Second Round (with 15 of the 16 favorites winning), that makes for some interesting NCAA tournament survivor pool dynamics.

This article will discuss pick strategies in the more popular “Pick By Day” style pools, where you have to make a pick every day as opposed to every every round.

Many survivor pool entries probably picked four teams (in a pick by day pool) that they can no longer use, but can still advance to hurt their entries and leave them with no options later on.

(Note: We refer to these teams in this article as “dead” teams.)

To avoid this scenario, an entry would have needed to pick Baylor, Kansas, or one of the riskier first round picks that was extremely unpopular.

That makes considering your entire future pick path even more important this year. We’ll get into more details below, and offer charts on various scenarios.

However, your base assumption should probably be “I need to pick against one of my past picks now,” unless there is a compelling reason your specific combo of teams is an exception.

So even though we list generic grades on the Data Grid of our NFL Survivor Picks product, just know that those might not be the best picks for your specific entry.

Sweet 16 Survivor “Do’s and Don’ts”

Before we get to more specific advice for Sweet 16 survivor picks, let’s quickly touch on some clear do’s and don’ts when it comes to your picks.

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