Creating a Contrarian Bracket

Creating a Contrarian Bracket

When filling out your bracket, there is the obvious goal of winning your office pool and taking home the cash. But there is also the added incentive of picking the upset that no one else saw coming. You want to be able to brag about how you picked the right Cinderella to get to the Sweet 16 to all of the people that don’t actually give a crap about your bracket.

I wanted to come up with a way that you could build a contrarian bracket. But how? If you were absolutely contrarian, then you would take all four 16-seeds in the first round and you would be out of the running early. With the combination of our Bracket Simulator and the player picks from ESPN and Yahoo, I was able to find teams that were getting picked more often than our projections said they should be.

For example, roughly 88% of brackets are taking Maryland over Valparaiso. Our Bracket Simulator has Maryland advancing 66.1% of the time. This is a spot where the upset provides some contrarian value in your bracket pool. While it may seem counterproductive to go against the percentages, you are going to have to make some upset picks at some point, so you might as well do it in games where most people are going chalk.

Let’s dive in by region.


Midwest Bracket


The trickiest part of this exercise was determining what to do with Kentucky. While it may seem ‘chalky’ to have Kentucky advancing, there just wasn’t a game that provided enough value to pick against them in this region. Maryland was explained in the example above and West Virginia falls into a similar scenario of advancing in more brackets than they should. Also, there is less risk in picking upsets with Kentucky awaiting in the upcoming rounds because it’s highly unlikely that Maryland or West Virginia would go on a big run to bust your bracket.

In the bottom half of the region, 7-seeded Wichita State goes on a run as they were vastly under-seeded by the selection committee by our metrics. Nearly 70% of brackets have Kansas advancing to the Sweet 16 but Wichita State has a 46.9% chance to beat the Jayhawks in a second round matchup.

Texas vs. Butler is a complete tossup so we’ll take the Longhorns who are only getting 42% of bracket selections. They then face Notre Dame, a favorite of brackets thus far and a good team to fade coming off of their ACC tournament title run.


East Bracket

At first glance, this bracket doesn’t have the craziness that the Midwest bracket had. UC Irvine is the biggest upset as a 13-seed against a Louisville team being picked in 93.2% of ESPN brackets.Our Bracket Simulator gives the Anteaters a 15.6% chance to advance past the Cardinals.

Georgia is the pick as 80% of brackets are taking Sparty in the first round. Both of these seem to be participants picking familiar names and coaches that they have seen in previous years. The regional final pits a 1-seed against a 2-seed which is less chaotic than I was expecting going into this.


West Bracket

Baylor was a really tough call in this region. Over 90% of brackets are taking the Bears at both ESPN and Yahoo while our simulation has them advancing 81.6% of the time. So although Baylor is being “overpicked”, I didn’t see the value in picking against them at that level of confidence.

I was expecting to see Harvard advancing because of the national support for the Tar Heels, but the metrics really like North Carolina despite having Roy Williams at the helm. However, the UNC love does go a little too far in the second round which is why Arkansas is the pick to advance to the Sweet 16.


South BracketThere isn’t much in terms of upsets early on with the minor exception of Davidson over Iowa. Stephen F. Austin is a trendy upset pick (30%) which will cause this bracket to go against them with Utah.

But anytime you talk about going against the majority, you are going to have to knock out Duke earlier than expected. Duke is the second most popular pick in every round behind Kentucky. Neither San Diego State nor Saint John’s provide enough of a threat but that changes when they face Utah in the Sweet 16:

Utah Duke matchup

With a majority of brackets taking the Blue Devils, we’ll buck the trend and take a very competent Utah team in what will be labeled a huge upset.

Iowa State is a very popular pick to make the Sweet 16 as 74.3% of brackets like the Cyclones to win at least two games. Again, we’ll counter and take Larry Brown’s SMU team to make it to the second weekend of the tournament.


Final Four Bracket

We have finally arrived at a place where we can pick against Kentucky. In a 1997 title rematch, we’ll take the Wildcats from out West to go against the half of brackets that have Kentucky winning it all.

In the other semifinal, Utah’s magical run comes to an end against Villanova (more Wildcats!) who is the pick to go on and win the title. Villanova has the third highest odds to win the title in our simulations at 9.7%, but only 2.8% of ESPN brackets and 2.7% of Yahoo brackets are choosing them to cut down the nets in Indianapolis.


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