Who Should You Follow During March Madness: Nate Silver, Sports Insights or the Oddsmakers?

In an attempt to provide the best, most in-depth March Madness coverage possible, the team at Sports Insights is always looking to apply new perspectives and philosophies to our analysis.

The goal is simple: to leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of making the most accurate March Madness predictions possible.

In years past, we’ve focused extensively on Nate Silver’s NCAA Tournament projections, which are posted on his critically acclaimed website, fivethirtyeight.com.

Initially, we wanted to spark a debate over whether or not new-age data analytics have a place in the uniquely unpredictable world that is March Madness.

Going a step further, we’ve also tried to compare Silver’s projections to the oddsmakers projections, with the goal being to identify any similarities or contradictions that sports bettors can use to their advantage, not only to make the smartest bet possible but also to fill out the best bracket possible.

This year, we are going back to the well, but we’ve added one big addition to our analysis: our bracket simulator.

Here’s what we found…

KENTUCKY

All March Madness discussions begin and end with Kentucky. Not only are they a star-studded squad filled with future NBA stars, led by one of the premier coaches in the land, but they are also closing in on immortality: Kentucky is looking to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go undefeated and win the National Championship.

Despite being a massive public favorite to cut down the nets (more than 50% of ESPN brackets are taking the Wildcats), Kentucky has differing odds in the eyes of Silver, the oddsmakers and our Bracket Simulator.

5Dimes lists the Wildcats’ odds to win the National Championship at +127, which converts to a 44.1% probability. Silver puts UK’s probability at 41%; while our Bracket Simulator gives UK a 34.6% chance to cut down the nets.

If Kentucky hoists the championship, the oddsmakers will have won the prediction war. However, if Kentucky fails to hoist the title, bragging rights go to our Bracket Simulator. No matter what happens, Silver comes in second. He can’t win and he can’t lose, which is a great spot to be in if he’s hedging his bets.

IF KENTUCKY LOSES, WHO WINS?

The biggest March Madness question, aside from will Kentucky go undefeated and win it all, is who cuts down the nets if Kentucky doesn’t?

Silver believes that team is Villanova (11%), while the oddsmakers like Arizona (10.3%) and our Bracket Simulator likes Wisconsin (10.6%).

Team Nate Silver Oddsmakers (5Dimes) Bracket Simulator
Kentucky 41% 44.1% 34.6%
Wisconsin 10% 9.8% 10.6%
Villanova 11% 9.3% 9.7%
Arizona 9% 10.3% 9.5%
Virginia 8% 6.4% 8.6%
Duke 6% 9.3% 7.5%
Gonzaga 3% 4.9% 7.3%

Another point of contention is Duke. Silver has the Blue Devils at 6% while our Bracket Simulator has Duke at 7.5%. Meanwhile, 5Dimes has Duke at 9.3%, which puts them just slightly behind Zona (10.3%) and, interestingly, exactly on par with Nova (9.3%).

This line screams of inflation. It looks like the Duke line is so high in the oddsmakers’ eyes not because they are supremely confident in Duke, but rather they know Duke is a huge public favorite and they can take advantage of public bias.

Virginia and Gonzaga are the only other schools in the National Title conversation.

5Dimes gives Virginia a 6.4% chance to win it all, which may be a bit undervalued because Silver and our Bracket Simulator have the Cavs at 8% and 8.6%, respectively.

Gonzaga appears to be the biggest wildcard. 5Dimes gives the Zags a 4.9% chance to cut down the nets, while Silver has Gonzaga at just 3%.

We are more confident in the Zags than both Silver and the oddsmakers. Our Bracket Simulator gives Gonzaga a 7.3% chance to win it all, which is virtually the same probability we give Duke (7.5%).

FINAL FOUR DISCREPANCIES

As expected, Kentucky is a massive favorite to win the Midwest Region.

5Dimes lists the Wildcats at -258, which converts to a 72.1% probability. Silver gives UK a 72% chance to win the Midwest, while our Bracket Simulator has UK at 69.7%.

However, there are big discrepancies when it comes to the top two contenders in the Midwest not named Kentucky.

Team Nate Silver Oddsmakers (5Dimes) Bracket Simulator
Kentucky 72% 72.1% 69.7%
Notre Dame 7% 11.1% 7.5%
Kansas 7% 9.1% 8.1%

Silver views Notre Dame and Kansas as having equal odds (7%), while 5Dimes favors Notre Dame (11.1%) over Kansas (9.1%) and our Bracket Simulator favors Kansas (8.1%) over Notre Dame (7.5%).

In the West region, it’s a virtual dead-heat between Arizona and Wisconsin, with the closest contenders being North Carolina and Baylor.

Team Nate Silver Oddsmakers (5Dimes) Bracket Simulator
Arizona 46% 41.7% 36.1%
Wisconsin 33% 40.0% 39.2%
North Carolina 8% 9.5% 8.5%
Baylor 5% 6.3% 6.9%

As you can see, Silver is much higher on Arizona (46%) than both the oddsmakers (41.7%) and our Bracket Simulator (36.1%). Meanwhile, our Bracket Simulator is the only one who rates Wisconsin (39.2%) higher than Arizona (36.1%).

In the East region, it appears to be a two-team race between Villanova and Virginia, with Oklahoma, Louisville, Michigan State and Northern Iowa the closest contenders.

Team Nate Silver Oddsmakers (5Dimes) Bracket Simulator
Villanova 45% 40.0% 36.6%
Virginia 29% 28.6% 31.6%
Oklahoma 8% 13.3% 10.9%
Louisville 4% 8.7% 6.2%
Michigan State 4% 8.3% 3.6%
Northern Iowa 3% 5.9% 6.5%

One interesting thing to note: 5Dimes has Michigan State at a much higher probability (8.3%) than both Silver (4%) and our Bracket Simulator (3.6%). This is likely another example of the oddsmakers inflating the line to take advantage of public bias toward the Spartans, similar to what they are doing with Duke.

Like the East Region, the South Region is shaping up to be a two team race as well, this time between Duke and Gonzaga, with Iowa State and Utah the closest contenders.

Team Nate Silver Oddsmakers (5Dimes) Bracket Simulator
Duke 32% 37.7% 32.5%
Gonzaga 24% 27.8% 31.6%
Iowa State 15% 18.2% 12.6%
Utah 14% 12.1% 10.0%

While our Bracket Simulator has Duke and Gonzaga in a dead-heat (32.5% vs 31.6%), both Silver (32% vs 24%) and the oddsmakers (37.7% and 27.8%) have Duke over Gonzaga by a wide margin, relatively speaking.

Similarly, while the gap between Iowa State and Utah is very small in the eyes of Silver (15% vs 14%) and our Bracket Simulator (12.6% vs. 10.0%), the oddsmakers view Iowa State as having a clear advantage over Utah (18.2% vs 12.1%).

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

When filling out your Bracket, which source will you base your picks on most: Silver, the oddsmakers or our Bracket Simulator? Or will you go against the grain and create a contrarian bracket?

More importantly, will you, like the majority of the country, be taking Kentucky to win it all?

Also, do you like Arizona over Wisconsin, despite the fact that Wisconsin is a 1-seed and Zona is a 2-seed? Are you on the Villanova bandwagon? Will you be taking a chance with Gonzaga or Virginia? Are you sticking with Duke, despite the fact they appear to be overvalued by the oddsmakers?

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below. And be sure to visit our bracket simulator and free odds page throughout the tournament for all the latest projections, lines and betting trends.

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Josh Appelbaum

Josh Appelbaum is the Customer Service Manager, Affiliate Manager and Political Expert for Sports Insights. He can be reached at joshua@sportsinsights.com.

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