2016 March Madness: Nate Silver vs. Sports Insights vs. The Oddsmakers

Everyone has their own strategy for filling out their bracket. Some spend all day crunching the numbers. Others make picks based upon who has the better mascot. In the end, there is no tried-and-true strategy for winning your office pool, which is one of the main reasons why the NCAA tournament is so much fun.

Because it’s so unpredictable, a novice sports fan who makes selections based on flipping a coin has just as much of a chance to win it all as a college hoops die-hard who has watched every single game all season.

[ Our NCAAB Best Bets have gone 169-133 (55.96%) with +22.5 units won this season. Get these picks and more by signing up for a trial of Sportsbook Insider Pro ]

At Sports Insights, we always try to tweak our models and incorporate new strategies in order to make the smartest bet possible.  When it comes to March Madness, this means comparing our Bracket Simulator to that of the oddsmakers (in this case we’ll use the market-setting Bookmaker.eu) and Nate Silver, the most famous statistician in the country.

To begin, let’s take a look at each team’s odds to reach the Final Four, starting with the South Region.

School Silver Oddsmakers Sports Insights
Kansas 45% 44.44% 34.6%
Villanova 22% 21.98% 23.3%
Miami FL 5% 10.81% 9.7%
Maryland 6% 10% 6.7%
Arizona 6% 7.7% 5.7%
California 4% 7.4% 5.5%
Iowa 3% 5.4% 6.1%
Connecticut 2% 3.8% 3.7%

Note: Teams with less than a 1% chance of making the Final Four are not listed.

According to the oddsmakers, Kansas is the favorite to win the South Region (+125 at Bookmaker), which equates to a 44.44% implied probability. This lines up pretty well with Silver’s analysis (45%).

Our Bracket Simulator gives the Jayhawks a 34.6% probability to reach the Final Four, the highest of any team but well below percentages listed by Silver and the oddsmakers. Simply put, we aren’t as high on Kansas as Silver and the Oddsmakers.

A couple interesting things to note: Silver is much lower on Miami FL than our Bracket Simulator and the oddsmakers. Also, despite being a 6-seed, Arizona is rated more favorably across than board than California, a 4-seed. This leads you to believe that Cal is being overvalued while Zona is being undervalued.

The table below displays the odds for each team to win the West Region.

School Silver Oddsmakers Sports Insights
Oklahoma 32% 30.7% 24.3%
Oregon 23% 28.5% 19.6%
Texas A&M 12% 17.3% 17.4%
Duke 12% 11.1% 13.8%
Baylor 6% 9.3% 6.2%
Texas 6% 4.8% 5.4%
Cincinnati 3% 4.8% 4.1%
VCU 2% 5.1% 3.8%
St Joe’s 1% 4.26% 2.3%

Despite being the 2-seed, Oklahoma has betters odds to reach than Final Four than Oregon, the top seed. This means that the Ducks are likely being overrated due to their top seed status.

It’s also interesting that 10-seed VCU has better odds to win the West than 7-seed Oregon State, who is not listed because they have a less than 1% chance of reaching the Final Four. Also, 9-seed Cincinnati has better odds than St. Joe’s, the 8-seed, which is good to know if you are in pool that awards extra points for upsets.

The table below displays the odds for each team to win the Midwest Region.

School Silver Oddsmakers Sports Insights
Michigan State 34% 40.8% 34.0%
Virginia 30% 32.2% 30.8%
Purdue 13% 14.29% 9.5%
Iowa State 6% 7.1% 8.1%
Utah 5% 7.4% 4.7%
Gonzaga 3% 6.45% 4.1%
Seton Hall 2% 4.76% 3.5%
Butler 2% 2.78% 1.7%
Dayton 2% 2.44% 0.9%
Syracuse 1% 2.44% 1.3%

Similar to the West Region, 2-seed Michigan State has a better chance of reaching the Final Four than 1-seed Virginia. Also, despite being a 5-seed, Purdue has the third-best odds of any team in the region, higher than 3-seed Utah and 4-seed Iowa State. As a result, it looks like Purdue could bust some brackets and give Virginia a run for their money in the Sweet 16.

The table below displays the odds for each team to win the East Region.

School Silver Oddsmakers Sports Insights
North Carolina 44% 43.4% 33.5%
West Virginia 16% 23.5% 19.2%
Kentucky 16% 23.5% 13.7%
Xavier 10% 11.7% 14.0%
Indiana 6% 9.09% 10.1%
Wisconsin 3% 3.23% 2.2%
Notre Dame 3% 2.78% 2.3%
Pittsburgh 1% 2.17% 1.8%

As you can see, North Carolina is a major favorite to win the East (Similar to Kansas in the South), although our Bracket Simulator isn’t as high on the Tar Heels as Silver and the oddsmakers. Also, while much attention is paid to Kentucky, the real sleeper in the East might be West Virginia.

On the flip side, Xavier looks to be overrated. Even though they are the 2-seed, they have worse odds than 3-seed West Virginia and 4-seed Kentucky.


School Silver Oddsmakers Sports Insights
Kansas 19% 17.39% 12.6%
North Carolina 15% 15.38% 11.3%
Michigan State 10% 14.6% 12.2%
Virginia 9% 9.76% 10.4%
Oklahoma 7% 7.41% 6.0%
Villanova 6% 6.89% 7.6%
Kentucky 4% 7.69% 3.2%
West Virginia 3% 5.54% 5.2%
Oregon 3% 5.90% 3.8%
Texas A&M 2% 3.22% 3.3%
Purdue 2% 2.97% 2.1%
Xavier 2% 3.20% 3.0%
Duke 2% 2.44% 2.3%

To no one’s surprise, Kansas is the favorite to cut down the nets, followed by North Carolina, Michigan State and Virginia. It’s interesting to note that Oregon, a 1-seed, has worse odds than 2-seeds Oklahoma and Villanova, as well as 4-seed Kentucky. Simply put, despite being a trendy top seed, Oregon is not considered a serious title contender; neither is 2-seed Xavier.

Also, the oddsmakers are much higher on the Kentucky than both Silver and our Bracket Simulator. This likely means that the Kentucky line is inflated. The books know that the Wildcats are a popular public team so they can list them as a top contender, which elicits lots of action, despite the fact that they are unlikely to win it all.

If you’re looking for a Cinderella, it might be West Virginia. The Mountaineers have largely flown under the radar but they boast the 8th best title odds overall. Other sleepers include Texas A&M and Purdue.


Does this analysis change your opinion at all? Will you be relying more on Silver than the oddsmakers or our Bracket Simulator? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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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 directly at joshua@sportsinsights.com or on Twitter @Josh_Insights

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