It's almost March Madness time! The 2019 NCAA Tournament begins at 12:15 p.m. tomorrow. We have some tips for those of you still agonizing over how to fill out your bracket (with stats and win probabilities courtesy of KenPom):

The top seeds are better than usual this year

This year's crop of 1 and 2 seeds is particularly strong: the top 8 teams on KenPom are the top 8 seeds in the tournament. So while it isn't necessarily fun to pick a bunch of the top teams for your Final Four, this might be a year to go with some extra chalk in your bracket.

And there aren't any glaringly obvious Cinderella picks

Unlike in past years where a few teams were criminally under-seeded and stood out as easy upset choices, the selection committee appears to have done a solid job of seeding this time around. In fact, only one lower seeded team is favored in the first round of games: 9-seed Oklahoma, given a 51% chance of beating 8-seed Mississippi.

In the chart below we've highlighted some teams that arguably should be seeded one or two rungs higher or lower.

Still, expect some 10's, 11's, and 12's to win (and maybe even a 13)

In each of the past 8 years we've had at least one 10 and 11 seed win, usually more (and there have been more 11s than 10s, interestingly enough). 12 seeds have won in 6 of 8 years, and 13 seeds in 5 of 8. Count on some upsets!

Here are the odds of at least one of the following seeds winning:

  • 10 seed: 88%
  • 11 seed: 84%
  • 12 seed: 78%
  • 13 seed: 57%

Should Duke be the favorite?

Betting markets see Duke as the heavy favorite to win it all, after the recent return of their best player (and human highlight reel) Zion Williamson. Duke's efficiency rating dropped precipitously in Zion's absence, and didn't recover much despite Duke's victory in the ACC Tournament. Perhaps Virginia (currently the #1 in KenPom's ratings) is being underrated.

Oregon is the hottest team entering the tournament

The table below shows how teams' ratings have changed in the 3 weeks leading up to the tournament: 12-seeded Oregon has been the hottest team over this time range, while St. John's and Washington have seen the biggest drop in their rating.

There will probably be one major upset

In each of the past eight years, except for 2017, there has been exactly one significant upset in the first round, where a team with an 87% or greater chance of winning fell to a huge underdog. If that were to hold this year, one of the following teams will go down on Thursday or Friday:

  • Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Gonzaga (1 seeds)
  • Michigan State, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky (2)
  • Texas Tech, Purdue (3)

But good luck calling which one it'll be!

We looked back at the statistical profiles of the teams who pulled off monumental upsets in years past, in search of a common indicator of upset potential. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, though three of the big upsets came from teams with a high contingent of seniors on the roster (Morehead St., Norfolk St., and Mercer).

One team that could fit that bill this year is 15-seeded Montana (facing off against Michigan in round 1), whose roster ranks 6th in the nation in terms of experience.

Maybe just pick one of these twelve teams to win it all?

There is little reason (if any) to believe this is guaranteed to continue, but as John Gasaway points out, for the past 15 years the national champion was ranked in the top 12 of the Week 6 AP poll. Were this trend to hold, your title winner would be found amongst this group:

  • Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, Gonzaga (1 seeds)
  • Michigan State, Michigan, Tennessee (2)
  • Texas Tech (3)
  • Kansas, Florida State (4)
  • Auburn (5)
  • Nevada (7)

Kentucky (2) is the highest-seeded team that could break the pattern.

The bottom line: don't spend too much time on your bracket

Overwhelmed? You can take solace in the fact that even the most likely Final Four outcome (each of the 1 seeds advancing) has only about a 4% chance of happening (according to FiveThirtyEight). Your guesses are (almost) as good as any!

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