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March Madness Tournament Simulation

Last Updated: Feb 14, 2024

March is here, which means that we are getting closer to March Madness. Many blue-chip programs are struggling this season, and as such, the national championship is wide open.

To figure out the best NCAAB futures, I simulate the NCAA Tournament 25,000 times each week.

Below, read about how the simulation works and my 2023 Final Four best bets.

All NCAAB odds and lines are current as of Wednesday, March 1, at 10 a.m. ET.

How The March Madness Simulation Works

Up until Selection Sunday, we will not know every team that will make the tournament. The field is made up of 32 automatic bids for each conference champion and 36 at-large bids picked by a committee.

Rather than try to predict all 68 teams and their seeding, I use the ESPN Bracketology projections made by Joe Lunardi. For future simulations for The Game Day, I will be doing my own bracketology projections, so stay tuned.

Once I have assembled my NCAA Tournament bracket using ESPN’s projections, I assign a power rating for each team from which I make my CBB picks of the day.


Find the top CBB futures to bet during March Madness


How does this work?

  1. You take one team’s rating and subtract the other team’s rating, which gives you the number of points a team should be favored by.
  2. If a team has a power rating of 22 and their opponent has a power rating of 25, for example, they should be a three-point underdog in a neutral court matchup.

How do I make these power ratings?

Any experienced college basketball bettor is familiar with Ken Pomeroy, a former meteorologist who comes up with advanced college basketball statistics. His numbers are so good that most bookmakers copy his numbers to set NCAAB spreads.

In that spirit, I incorporate his power ratings to simulate March Madness brackets. After doing so 25,000 times in Microsoft Excel, I then tabulate the number of times each team won the national championship.

If the odds of a team winning the championship are greater than my breakeven odds, I bet it.

  • Breakeven odds are the percentage of time a bet needs to win for you to break even. If the payoff is better than the breakeven odds, that’s the type of bet you should be making to be a long-term profitable bettor.
  • Example: Let’s say my model gives a team a 12.5% chance of winning the tournament for a breakeven price of (+700). If a sportsbook offers (+800) on that bet, I take it. If they are offering, say, (+500), I would not take it.

The point of breakeven odds and projections is to figure out when to make a bet.

March Madness 2024 Simulation

ESPN has had Alabama, Kansas, Purdue, and Houston as No. 1 seeds in the tournament for multiple weeks. These four teams are consistently viewed as among the strongest in the country.

Currently, Caesars Sportsbook has installed Houston, Arizona, Alabama, UCLA, Purdue, and Kansas as the top-six betting favorites to win the tournament. This is a rare occurrence where the consensus top tournament seeds line up with the betting markets.

Edit
CollegeNCAA Championship %Breakeven Odds
Houston22.20%351
UCLA11.00%806
Alabama8.70%1052
Purdue8.30%1107
Tennessee7.60%1209
Connecticut5.10%1859
Saint Mary's4.80%1962
Kansas4.30%2249
Texas2.70%3593
Baylor2.60%3677
Arizona2.60%3728
Gonzaga1.80%5555
Marquette1.70%5726
Virginia1.20%8201
Indiana1.20%7986
TCU1.10%8997
Xavier1.00%10052
Kansas St.0.90%11502
San Diego St.0.80%11707
Kentucky0.80%12688
Auburn0.60%138883

In Alabama’s region, the Crimson Tide qualify for the Final Four most often (40% of the time). Despite Alabama’s strength over the rest of their region, seeds 2-6 win the region in 54.1% of my simulations.

San Diego State, notably as a 5-seed, makes the Final Four 8.8% of the time.

In Houston’s region, the likely tournament favorite made the Final Four in 64.8% of my simulations. By the time they set the brackets on Selection Sunday, I don’t think they will get a strong enough draw to be more likely to qualify for the Final Four than not.

For Purdue’s region, the Boilermakers only win the region 27.5% of the time.

Tennessee as a 3-seed has the best chance of winning as they made the Final Four in 31.7% of my simulations. Connecticut notably wins the region in 23.9% of simulations as well.

In Kansas’ region, the Jayhawks, like Purdue, do not win the region the most often. In fact, KU made the Final Four 17.6% of the time.

UCLA has the best chance of winning the region (39.9%), followed by Saint Mary’s (23.8%).

When assessing all the hypothetical regions, Houston wins most often (22.1%), but the tournament field is wide open. When combining teams with less than a 10% chance of winning, they won the NCAA Tournament in 66.8% of my simulations.

Best NCAA Tournament Teams to Bet

1. Houston

Since the beginning of the season, I have been all over the Cougars as my best NCAAB futures bet, and nothing has changed.

The most recent AP Top 25 poll has Houston as the No. 1 team in the country with 49 out of 62 first-place place votes. This marks a significant change from most of the season when UH was battling Alabama for the No. 1 spot in the AP poll.

None of this is surprising since Houston has a 27-2 record, and the fifth-best adjusted offensive and defense efficiencies. Their only weakness is that they play in a weak conference, but that is not in their control.

Houston is underrated for several reasons this year. As a mid-major, they will always be overlooked when compared to blue-chip programs like UCLA, UConn, or Kentucky.

The American Athletic Conference (AAC) is only the eighth-best conference in the country. The only weaker conference with an NCAA championship contender is the West Coast Conference (WCC), which has Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga.

For Houston’s non-conference slate, they went 3-1 against Alabama, Virginia, Oregon, and Saint Mary’s.

At (+700), Houston is the rare futures favorite that still pays out a hefty price per the NCAA Tournament winner odds, and I would bet them up to (+400).

2. UCLA

The only team besides Houston to have a greater than 10% chance of cutting down the nets in April is the UCLA Bruins.

UCLA is the one blue-chip program I like as a betting option to win it all. Qualitatively, I like them because in recent history they have always been in the NCAA Tournament mix. Quantitatively, they have a lot going for them.

They have the second-best defensive efficiency in the country, and they run a consistent offense with 60% of their points coming from two-pointers, the 10th-highest mark in the nation.

The key for UCLA will be how they do against Arizona on Mar. 4. The Wildcats are the Bruins’ toughest opponent, and they lost to them on Jan. 21 at home. I’m not too worried about that matchup as they are projected to be seven-point favorites.

If UCLA beats Arizona and goes on to win the Pac-12 tourney, they could possibly be one of the tournament favorites in March.

3. Saint Mary’s

At a juicy 45-1 payout, the Saint Mary’s Gaels are my second favorite national championship bet.

What makes me a little hesitant to bet them is that their only top-25 opponents have been Houston, San Diego State, and Gonzaga. Additionally, their toughest Power Five opponent this season has been Vanderbilt.

Despite a weak schedule on paper, the strength of their schedule has only been slightly worse than Houston’s. They split the season series against Gonzaga 1-1, but if they beat them out in the WCC Tournament, then their stock is likely to rise.

Longshot futures require taking a risk, and betting on Saint Mary’s is certainly risky. But at 45-1, they have a plausible path to victory as I have them winning the championship in 4.8% of my simulations.

5. Tennessee

I am a fan of the 90’s rap group Arrested Development. They had great songs like People Everyday and Tennessee.

Speaking of Tennessee, the Volunteers are 35-1 underdogs to win the NCAAB championship and won the tournament in 7.6% of my simulations. The only SEC team with a better chance in March is Alabama.

In a neutral court matchup, Alabama should be favored by only half a point, which will make the SEC Tournament interesting and consequential for March Madness.

At home, UT beat Alabama 68-59, but we could see a different result in the rematch. Additionally, several SEC teams, including Texas A&M, Kentucky, Auburn, and Arkansas, could give Tennessee a tough run.

At 35-1, there is obviously risk with betting on the Volunteers before the SEC Tournament, but they have a potential to make a deep postseason run this year.

Worst NCAA Tournament Teams to Bet

1. Kansas

Kansas won the national championship last year, and this season they are the top-rated team in the top-rated conference (Big 12). Despite this, I believe that the Jayhawks are weaker than the other teams that have short odds to win the title (Houston, Alabama, and Purdue).

The Big 12 Conference tournament is going to be tough for KU as any combination of Texas, Baylor, Kansas State, or TCU could topple them. That is the biggest reason why bettors should look past Kansas for now.

2. Arizona

Arizona wins the NCAA Tournament in just 2.6% of my simulations, yet they are priced at (+1700), indicating a probability of 5.6%. The Wildcats are a strong team, but their biggest obstacle is UCLA.

They beat the Bruins 58-52 at home, but they’ll face a tough test against them to end the season as UCLA is projected to be favored by seven points. Additionally, both teams are likely to meet in the PAC-12 Conference championship.

I won’t be a ‘Zona skeptic if they manage to beat the Bruins again, but until then, I remain suspicious of them.

3. Baylor

As a perennial contender, Baylor shouldn’t be ignored. The problem is that at+1800, they should be +3700.

The Bears have eight losses this season, although most of them were againsttop-25 teams. Baylor could go on a run in March, but based on their regular season performance, they should be a 3-seed with a tough path to winning.

Author

Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis is a Betting Analyst at The Game Day residing in Hoboken, NJ. Previously a Bronx resident, Kevin got his start betting on sports at his local Bronx barbershop. When sports betting was legalized across the river in Jersey, Kevin was there on the ground floor making regular trips to the Hoboken PATH station or for soup dumplings in Fort Lee. Previously, Kevin has written for The Action Network, and Vegas Insider.

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