The last three years I have looked at the concept of finding value in your NCAA bracket. The idea is to not only pick the teams with the best chance of winning, but also the teams being undervalued in your pool. You can find the 2013 version here, the 2014 version here, and the 2015 version here.
The more people in your bracket pool, the more important finding value becomes. Taking Kansas or Michigan State this year leaves little margin for error in your other Final Four picks. Value picks won’t necessarily give you the best chance to get as many picks right as possible, but instead they will position you best to actually win the pool. Taking a little calculated risk on in order to distance yourself from the majority is the right move in a large bracket pool.
We already have ESPN’s Tournament Challenge data as a baseline for what teams most people in your bracket pool will pick to make the Final Four. Compare those numbers to Ken Pomeroy’s log5 projections (using his adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies) and we have a reasonable look at the reality versus perception of Final Four odds.
Remember, you don’t have to worry too much about value (the Diff column) in a small pool. Simply picking the teams most likely to advance is the optimal strategy in that case. However, the larger the pool the more important it is to take some calculated risks. Finding the right mix between risks and favorites is the key, but here are some potential ideas below:
50% of the public is picking UNC to make the Final Four despite a potential Sweet 16 matchup with under-seeded Kentucky. However, there is no extremely obvious value pick in the region. West Virginia is somewhat quietly ranked number six in KenPom, but the committee did them no favors with an opening round matchup against Stephen F. Austin. Still, the Mountaineers are being picked to make the Final 4 in the smallest percentage of brackets for any top 10 team besides Purdue.
The public tends to overvalue conference tournament results in their selections. That (along with being paired with Michigan State yet again) is what makes Virginia the best value pick this season despite being a 1-seed. Virginia is great on both sides of the ball this season. With the percentage of people taking Michigan State, it’s hard to justify not “gambling” on Malcolm Brogdon and company (even with Izzo’s track record) if you are in a deep bracket pool.
This is the third year in a row where Villanova is the best value pick in their region. You can argue that there is good reason for this public skepticism: the Wildcats have struggled in March in recent years. That is certainly why Villanova is undervalued yet again, but the question is who is right (the advanced statistics or the public). Daniel Ochefu’s health is a bit of a concern for Jay Wright. He was limited to less than 20 minutes in all three conference tournament games due to an ankle injury. But this team did finish first in the Big East in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The public’s skepticism due to last season’s loss to NC State makes them a solid pick if you are looking for an alternative to Kansas.
The West is probably the weakest region of the four. Oklahoma and Buddy Hield have been the most entertaining team to watch in the country all season long. Of course that is why the public is so high on the Sooners. Still, the Sooners are also the highest ranked team (by KenPom) in the region. With no team really sticking out as being undervalued, it’s generally a hard region to really mess up one way or the other.