Max Thompson

The time has finally come. Each year, tens of millions of Americans fill out their own brackets for the NCAA Tournament. After over 700 days of waiting, we all have the chance to partake in the annual tradition of being “so close” to a perfect bracket.

While everyone has their own unique strategy, there is one that is time tested: going against the crowd. March Madness is one of the rare sporting events wherein people who haven’t seen a single second of college hoops are picking the same games that experts are picking. Each year, there are some teams that the general public fails to find out about, and other teams that the public had unrealistic expectations of. In short, there are tons of overrated and underrated teams in any given tournament.

By knowing these teams, you can differentiate your own bracket from the rest of your group without ever watching a single game, reading a single spreadsheet or flipping a magic coin.

Before I get into it, I want to note my methodology. When I cite statistics about the “general public” below, that is coming from the ESPN People’s Bracket, which is made up of millions of entries. When I refer to BPI, I am talking about ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. This statistic is one of the single best measures of team performance going forward, and has none of the “general public” bias that you can find in the People’s Bracket. Now, here are some of the most important teams to note for March Madness this year.

Biggest Sweet 16 Sleeper: Tennessee Volunteers

For what it’s worth, the Vols do not lead this list just because I write at the University of Tennessee. This team, while streaky, has the potential for a deep run into the second week of the tournament. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), the Vols have a 63% chance to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Despite this, only 32% of national brackets agree. Yes, you read that correctly, the Vols are almost twice as likely to advance to the Sweet Sixteen as people think. This time, supporting your team isn’t being a Homer, it’s being smart.

Most Overrated Underdog: Georgetown Hoyas

Everyone knows that when you fill out a bracket, you have to pick a 12 seed to upset a fifth seed. It is just bracket manners.

However, that doesn’t mean that the best 12 seed will always pull off the upset. In this case, Georgetown has a 27% chance to win, per BPI. This is a little better than a one-in-four chance. However, 45% of brackets have them topping Colorado in the first round. Almost half of all brackets expect Georgetown to advance to the second round, while the numbers expect them to lose three out of four times.

While it may seem risky, I would suggest looking elsewhere for a 12-5 upset pick. If half of your bracket group takes this risk and loses, you could get a huge advantage by taking another trendy twelve seed, like UCSB or Winthrop.

Most Overrated Favorite: Oklahoma State Cowboys

There has never been a team as polarizing as Oklahoma State. Led by potential first-round draft pick Cade Cunningham, the Cowboys earned a fourth seed in this tournament, and the national media adores them. Unfortunately, the numbers do not.

This team has the single largest difference between public opinion and statistical opinion in the entire tournament. 85% of brackets have them winning in the first round, while BPI only gives them a 65% chance to win. That’s the difference between a sure-thing victory and a slight favorite. However, it doesn’t stop there.

Over half of all brackets expect Oklahoma State to advance to the Sweet 16, but BPI only gives them a one in four chance to do so. In other words, the average fan is twice as confident in the Cowboys compared to that of ESPN. Now, the average fan may be onto something. Cunningham is a generational prospect with an elite, well coached team behind him that has a ton of momentum.

This may be an instance where the numbers fail to account for elite talent. Or, it might not be, and you could be the only one that said you totally saw the Liberty upset coming.

Giant Killers: Colgate Raiders, North Texas Mean Green, Abilene Christian Wildcats

Seven out of ten ESPN brackets have all three of these teams losing in the first round. Who would blame those brackets?

Colgate will square off against third seeded Arkansas, North Texas has to face fourth seeded Purdue, and Abilene Christian has to match up with another third seed in Texas. I do not usually make predictions in articles because they will almost always age like spoiled milk, but I will deviate from that here and say that one of these teams will win.

Each team has talent, three point shooting ability, leadership, momentum and every other trait needed for a massive upset. Which one will pull it off? Only time will tell. However, I will tell you that at least one of them will.

Biggest Tournament Surprise: Houston Cougars

For some reason, the Houston Cougars are the most forgotten second seed of this entire tournament. ESPN gives them the second best odds to make the Sweet 16, while national brackets have them outside of their top five. ESPN has them as the third most likely team to make the Final Four, while the general public only gives them the seventh best odds.

This could be the difference between winning and losing a bracket group. While less than three percent of brackets have the Cougars winning it all, ESPN thinks that a Houston championship is over four times as likely as that.

That is it! Thank you for checking this out and I sincerely hope that this analysis ages well. If we come back next week and all of this was horribly wrong, please, make sure to let me know. Until then, happy March Madness!

Max Thompson is a sophomore majoring in business management and journalism and electronic media. He can be reached atsthomp92@vols.utk.edu. Follow @The_Out_Route on Twitter for high-quality NFL analysis!

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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