The 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket is set and our bracketvoodoo.com prediction engine has analyzed every play of the 2018-2019 season. Here are the Bracket Voodoo favorites to win this year’s tournament. While this list typically varies from our Power Ranking (since it also incorporates the difficulty of each team’s championship path), this year’s list mirrored our Bracket Voodoo Power Rankings exactly.
Duke is the top overall seed, the top ranked team in our Power Rankings, and our pick as the most likely team to take home the title in 2019. With Zion Williamson back and looking healthy for the start of the tourney, Coach K and Duke seem an obvious favorite. However the selection committee threw the No. 1 East seed a curveball, putting Big Ten champ and our No. 5 ranked Michigan State in the East as the No. 2 seed. Duke will also have to go through Virginia Tech, a team they lost to in a short-handed matchup earlier in the season. The Blue Devils’ talent still makes them the favorite, but a tough East Regional will be a harder path than they’d like.
Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed in the West, the Bracket Voodoo No. 2 ranked team, and a close second as the favorite to cut down the nets in Minneapolis. In fact they are the most likely team to reach the Final Four because of their projected easier path, edging out Virginia, Duke, and UNC by slim margins at 47 percent. They suffered a surprise upset to the Saint Mary’s Gaels in the WCC championship, but we don’t project that to slow them down. Michigan, Texas Tech, and Florida State are all dangerous teams in the West that could present a challenge, but the Bulldogs have to be happy with their placement.
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Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the South is in a virtual tie with Gonzaga at just under a 16 percent chance to win. Their path to the Final Four is harder with a potential matchup against No. 6 Tennessee, but if they do reach Minneapolis, at least they won’t be on the same side of the bracket as Duke. After a disappointing loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament and an unprecedented upset loss to No. 16 seed UMBC in last year’s tourney, you can bet junior Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers will come out fired up and looking to make a statement.
UNC, the final No. 1 seed (and third from the ACC), is our 4th most-likely-to-win out of the Midwest region at just under 15 percent. Roy Williams has his squad back in a top slot again and facing the second easiest path to the Final Four, although No. 2 seed Kentucky would like to have something to say about that, and if things stay chalky through the first few rounds they would face Kansas in Kansas City.
After that top tier, we see a drop off to the next few schools clocking in at about a 5 percent or lower chance of winning it all, but make no mistake, Tennessee, Michigan, and Kentucky are still formidable teams. Purdue, and Texas Tech round out our top ten.
There are a few geographical subplots this year, none more prominent than a potential Duke vs Michigan State matchup in Washington DC. Many were left scratching their heads as to why the committee paired the top No. 1-seed and top No. 2-seed in the same region, but committee head Bernard Muir chalked it up to getting MSU closest to their “natural region”. MSU is still our fifth most likely team to win it all at 10 percent, but it will be a tall order getting out of the East.
All in all, this tournament is one of the most top-heavy we’ve seen in the last few years, which is why so many early predictions are chalk-heavy. The top four teams – Duke, Gonzaga, Virginia, and UNC – have a combined 63 percent chance of winning. That’s 5 percent higher than the top four from last year, and 15 percent higher than in 2017. Add in the No. 2 seeds, and there is an 83 percent chance the champ will come from either a one or two seed. Despite some oddities with geographic matchups and some bubble teams, we generally agree with the committee’s seeding at the top this year.
The top 10 teams have a 92 percent chance at the title. In the graph below, we’ve plotted the cumulative probability of the top favorites winning the tourney over the last five years. Depending on where you start counting the top tier, this is arguably the most top-heavy field in the last five years. The 2015 Kentucky team had a less than 30 percent chance at taking the title before the tourney started (we all know how that went), but they were perceived to be in a tier by themselves. This year, with the potential Duke-MSU collision, an otherwise clear favorite seems a bit less of a sure thing. Of course anything can happen in this tournament.
In the next few days we’ll dig deeper into which of these teams are the best picks for value plays and different types of pools. In the meantime, check out the advice on our website, www.bracketvoodoo.com, for more general tips on winning your pool.
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