Notable Numbers From FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness Predictions

After all, when have Nate Silver and Co. ever gotten anything important wrong using one of their predictive models?

Drew Timme of the Gonzaga Bulldogs is fouled by Mitchell Saxen of the Saint Mary's Gaels
Drew Timme of the Gonzaga Bulldogs is fouled by Mitchell Saxen of the Saint Mary's Gaels.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After the NCAA completely canceled the 2020 basketball tournament and played the 2021 event in a makeshift bubble in front of limited crowds in and around Indianapolis, March Madness is set to return to normal in a matter of days.

And, with Selection Sunday in the books, there are some familiar school names at the top of the men’s bracket.

The runner-up in two of the last four championship games, Gonzaga is the tournament’s overall top seed. Kansas and Arizona are No. 1s too, as is Baylor, the defending champion. Per FiveThirtyEight’s predictive model, which has in-game win probabilities and chances of advancing for all the teams in both the men’s and women’s brackets, that’s about right as the Zags have a 41% chance of advancing to the championship round and a 27% chance of winning the tourney. (The Bulldogs had a 28% chance last year before losing in the title game to Baylor.) There’s a huge gap between Gonzaga’s chances of winning and the next team on the list, Kansas (10%), and then a small drop-off after to Arizona and No. 2 Kentucky (8%), followed by No. 2 Auburn (6%), No. 2 Villanova (5%) and No. 3 Purdue (4%).

That’s where things get interesting at FiveThirtyEight has the sharpshooting Iowa Hawkeyes, fresh off winning the Big Ten tournament and the No. 5 seed in the Midwest, as the team with the next-best odds of winning it all at 3%. Tied with Iowa at 3% of winning it all but given worse odds of advancing to the championship are No. 3 Tennesee, No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Houston, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Texas Tech and Baylor. We’re not sure exactly why Baylor comes in so low on FiveThirtyEight’s model, but we’re guessing it has something to do with the Bears being upset by Oklahoma 72-67 in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. (The Sooners did not make the cut for the NCAA tournament.)

Reversing from the championship round to the play-in games, FiveThirtyEight likes Indiana over Wyoming by a wide margin and gives the Hoosiers a 74% chance of winning the matchup of No. 12s. In the matchup of No. 11 Rutgers and No. 11 Notre Dame, the gap isn’t nearly as large though the Fighting Irish have a slight edge with a win probability of 56%. In the other two play-ins, the model likes Texas Southern (64%) over Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and gives Wright State a nice 69% chance of beating Bryant.

In the women’s bracket, which is the first to feature 68 teams and the first one to use the March Madness branding, South Carolina, Stanford, NC State and Louisville claimed the No. 1 seeds. Per FiveThirtyEight, South Carolina is the overwhelming favorite to win it all with a 46% chance of taking home the championship, followed by Stanford (16%), NC State (15%) and UConn and Louisville (6%).

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