You want to know which team might win March Madness. This kind of information helps when it comes to winning your pool.
Analytics are useful in assigning a win probability for each team. These calculations start with my college basketball team rankings, which take margin of victory and adjust for opponent.
Each team gets a rating, and the difference in the ratings of two teams gives a predicted point spread at a neutral site like those of the tournament. This spread also implies a win probability for each game.
From these game win probabilities, I work out the likelihood that each team makes it to each round. This interactive visual shows these results.
Note that the predictions right now come a field set by ESPN’s bracketology predictions. I’ll post updated win probabilities when the actual field of 68 gets announced on Sunday night.
But even before we see the field, I’m going to argue that this will be a difficult March Madness to predict.
More Madness in 2018
To understand the difficulty of this year, let’s look at the top 3 teams in win probability.
Villanova has the top win probability at 22.6%, and Jay Wright’s team excels on offense. They top my offensive efficiency rankings by points per possession adjusted for schedule.
However, Villanova doesn’t have the size, as their tallest player stands at 6’8″ and likes to shoot three pointers. They have serious match up problems against teams like Duke and Michigan State that have size.
Virginia has the second highest win probability at 21.0%, and Tony Bennett’s team brings the defense as usual. They have the best defense by my adjusted points per possession by quite a margin over second ranked Cincinnati.
However, Virginia doesn’t scare you with any NBA level talent. They didn’t even crack the top 25 in the preseason AP poll, a surprisingly good predictor of tournament success.
Duke has the third highest win probability at 14.6%, and Coach K’s team is stacked with NBA talent again. But this team has struggled on defense. For the first time in recent memory, Coach K employs a zone defense on most possessions.
Switching defenses in late February? Not exactly what you want to see in the team you’re picking to win the tournament.
Michigan won the Big Ten tournament and has played well recently. So why do they have a small, 1.2% win probability?
Michigan gets an incredibly tough region from ESPN’s bracket, as they are the 3 seed in region with Villanova and Duke.
While this may happen in the actual field, Michigan could also get a much easier draw. Their win probability would increase in a region that had a 1 seed like Xavier, a team ranked 12th by my college basketball team rankings.
Get my free March Madness cheat sheet
The top or second top teams by my win probabilities have won 9 of the past 16 tournaments. You can get the results of these calculations to fill out your bracket.
Before the tournament starts, I offer a cheat sheet that lets you fill out your bracket in minutes. It’s ideal for the busy person who still wants to rock his/her pool.
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T Morris says
Have you considered applying the same methods to the Women’s NCAA Tournament?
Dr. Ed Feng says
I know, I should. One of these years.
My high school class and I are happy to see your predictions. FYI at that site https://thepowerrank.com/2018/03/05/finally-win-probabilities-2018-ncaa-tournament when we click on the great circle, we end up with 2017 not 2018.
Lew Davidson (fellow Stanford PhD in EE)
Mallard Creek HS, Charlotte NC
ps, fyi I am looking forward to spending a couple of days in April at Stanford joining others honoring our Research Prof, now retired Provost James Gibbons.