2018 NCAA Tournament: FanDuel Bracket Pick'em Primer
This year, FanDuel is changing the game for the NCAA Tournament by offering Bracket Pick'em, a new way to experience the madness.
If you need a head start, consider these teams, who are are some of the best picks possible for Bracket Pick'em, according to our projections and potential matchups.
Villanova Wildcats (1 Seed, East Region)
The Villanova Wildcats, even as a 1 seed, have value in the Bracket Pick'em format, provided that they make the championship game. Doing so would net them a total of 435 points, and a win would get them 935. The past 10 perfect combinations for the Bracket Pick'em have included the eventual champion, and just two of them lacked a 1 seed. If you're going with a 1 seed, it should be the Wildcats.
Villanova boasts the best offense in the nation and owns the top nERD rating, which indicates expected point differential over an average opponent on a neutral court. Speaking of nERD, the potential 8-versus-9 matchup for Villanova consists of the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Alabama Crimson Tide, the weakest 8-versus-9 matchup by nERD.
Virginia Cavaliers (1 Seed, South Region)
Virginia will bring the nation's best defense (79.9 adjusted defensive rating) to the NCAA Tournament. That's paired with the 22nd-ranked adjusted offensive rating (117.4) as well as the second-best nERD rating in the country. After a meeting with the Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers, the Wahoos would face either the Kansas State Wildcats (the second-weakest 9 seed by nERD) or the Creighton Bluejays (the best 8 seed).
Virginia's high championship probability puts them on the radar for the Bracket Pick'em format. There's merit to avoiding the Cavs, though, as they've been selected to win the championship on nearly 30% of ESPN's brackets. No other team is really even close to 15%.
Duke Blue Devils (2 Seed, Midwest Region)
Our nERD metric pits Duke (with a 26-7 record) as just 0.07 points worse than the Virginia Cavaliers (31-2), and the seed multiplier could go a long way for the Blue Devils in the Bracket Pick'em format. Duke's adjusted net rating of 36.0 ranks third in the nation despite those seven losses, so don't overlook them this year.
Marvin Bagley and company offer up one of the best offenses in the nation. Per nERD, the Rhode Island Rams and Oklahoma Sooners matchup is the second-easiest 7-versus-10 game on the board, so Duke should come through for a few wins, and we give them a 44.6% chance to reach the Final Four.
North Carolina Tar Heels (2 Seed, West Region)
Out in the West region, the North Carolina Tar Heels actually get the easiest 7-versus-10 draw between Texas A&M Aggies and Providence Friars, one of the worst at-large teams in the tournament. Last year's champion brings a top-22 offense (7th in adjusted offensive rating) and defense (22nd) into the Big Dance, good for the 8th-best adjusted net rating in the nation.
They've also faced the toughest schedule in the country, so the Tar Heels shouldn't be caught off guard on their attempt for a third straight title game appearance.
Cincinnati Bearcats (2 Seed, South Region)
The Cincinnati Bearcats rank second in adjusted defensive rating on the season, and they're really the only team in Virginia's realm on that end of the court. They're just 47th on offense, but combined, they rank 6th in adjusted net rating. The schedule (91st in difficulty) is a bit lackluster for such a low seed, but they can really cause problems for any offense.
Really, though, Cincy is a game theory selection, as less than 2% of brackets on ESPN have them slotted in as champions, and less than 5% have them reaching the championship game.
Michigan State Spartans (3 Seed, Midwest Region)
Michigan State offers fairly large upside with the 3 seed multiplier. They're actually fifth in nERD, so our algorithms view them as an underseeded squad. The unfortunate part is that they'd face Duke in the potential 2-versus-3 matchup in the Sweet 16. History tells us that you don't want to overexpose yourself to any particular region in the Bracket Pick'em, so you'll have to pick and choose between Michigan State and Duke.
Sparty has a good case, though. Michigan State boasts the fifth-best offense in the country, as well as the sixth-ranked defense. Sure doesn't sound like a typical 3 seed.
And between point guard Cassius Winston and Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, and Jaren Jackson Jr. in the frontcourt, the Spartans have a strong case to make your Bracket Pick'em squad.
Tennessee Volunteers (3 Seed, South Region)
Don't sleep on the Tennessee Volunteers. They have the fourth-best defense in the country after adjusting for opponent, and they played the seventh-toughest schedule in the country, too. Part of that includes neutral-court wins over Purdue and North Carolina State back in November.
The Vols aren't perfect, though -- even on defense. They allow a 31.2% offensive rebounding rate to opponents (295th in the country) as well as 0.383 free throw attempts per field goal attempt (278th). However, their 6-versus-11 matchup features the weakest 6 seed by nERD (Miami (FL)) and the third-weakest of the six 11 seeds (Loyola (IL)).
Gonzaga Bulldogs (4 Seed, West Region)
Now we're getting into big upside territory. A championship appearance from a 4 seed would net 1740 points (but only Michigan has done that as a 4 seed since 2000, so remember not to get too cute with your longshots). But a Final Four appearance (meaning an Elite Eight victory) would yield 740 points in the Bracket Pick'em for the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Gonzaga is a balanced squad, ranking 11th in adjusted offense and 23rd in adjusted defense. Their 13.8% turnover rate ties them for 30th in the country, as well. The hangups are an iffy schedule (113th) and generating turnovers (240th in turnover rate forced). Still, with junior point guard Josh Perkins, senior center Johnathan Williams, freshman wing Zach Norvell, and sophomore power forward Killian Tillie, the Zags have multiple ways to win.
Plus, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits grade out as the weakest 12 seed by nERD, and even with a 12-over-5 upset, Mike Daum would have his hands full with the Gonzaga interior. Also, Gonzaga beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, the 5 seed in the West, 86-59 on a neutral court in November.
Kentucky Wildcats (5 Seed, South Region)
These aren't necessarily the Kentucky Wildcats you used to know, the team boasting a plethora of one-and-dones and future NBA lottery picks. Well, they are dead last in experience via KenPom.com, so it's not a total change of pace in that regard.
Youth aside, Kentucky is a battle-tested bunch (3rd in schedule difficulty) with a top-30 offense (30th in adjusted offensive rating) and defense (21st). Further, the Wildcats put pressure on opponents with their offensive rebounding (sixth nationally) and their ability to draw fouls (ninth in free throw attempts per field goal attempt). Sure, they struggle from the charity stripe (69.7%, 252nd nationally), but they've ripped off a 7-1 record over their final eight games, including an SEC Championship win over Tennessee.
Davidson, the best 12 seed in the field by nERD, won't be an easy out in the 5-versus-12 matchup between the Wildcats, but Kentucky's worth the gamble in case they make a run, given that sweet multiplier.
Ohio State Buckeyes (5 Seed, West Region)
So, yes, the Buckeyes have a tough task if they want to advance, and that task comes in the way of Gonzaga in the Round of 32, provided they both advance. However, less than 10% of ESPN brackets have OSU advancing to the Sweet 16, meaning you can make up a lot of ground if they surge past Gonzaga.
The Buckeyes rank 17th in nERD and 15th via Sports-Reference's adjusted net rating. That suggests they're underseeded and could hang with Gonzaga (though, again, the Bulldogs beat them by 27 back in November). Problematically, three of Ohio State's eight losses came from Penn State Nittany Lions, a team that bubbled out of the tournament, and they're just 2-3 in their past five.
Overall, the numbers suggest Ohio State is an underseeded and balanced team, one that played a tough schedule (36th in difficulty). Bigs Keita Bates-Diop and Kaleb Wesson can hang with Gonzaga's frontcourt, so don't count out OSU from busting brackets.
West Virginia (5 Seed, East Region)
Speaking of underseeded 5 seeds, the West Virginia Mountaineers rank 14th in nERD and 9th in adjusted net rating, while playing the 26th-toughest schedule in the country. That's not a bad combo for a team that could rack up Bracket Pick'em points with the 5 seed multiplier.
Any college basketball fan knows of Press Virginia's ability to cause problems for opposing offenses, and that bears out in the stats, as the Mountaineers are fifth in turnover rate generated (20.5%). West Virginia also owns the 12th-ranked offense by adjusted offensive rating, better than even their 20th-ranked adjusted defensive rating.
Their play style results in fouling a lot (338th in the country in free throw attempts per field goal attempt) and giving up offensive rebounds (238th), and they're 9-9 since January 13th. Still, senior point guard Jevon Carter and this stingy defense can control a game against nearly any opponent.
Houston Cougars (6 Seed, West Region)
You don't really need to -- and probably shouldn't -- stray lower than a 5 seed in the Bracket Pick'em format if you're shooting for a solid score, but if you're going for upside, then you'll be enticed by the multiplier bonus of the 6 seeds and lower.
The Houston Cougars fit the bill, with a 37th-ranked offense and 25th-ranked defense. Additionally, Houston ranks 22nd in nERD, 17th in offensive rebounding rate, and 34th in three-point percentage, a profile that could break open a game against a better squad.
The 26-6 record looks shiny, but their schedule ranked just 90th in the country. That includes a 81-63 road loss to Wichita State on January 4th. However, Houston bounced back to trounce the Shockers 73-59 at home 16 days later and beat them again (77-74) on March 10th in the AAC tournament. Houston also picked up a five-point home win over the Cincinnati Bearcats (7th in nERD and the 2 seed in the South region) in mid-February.
They can and have beaten good teams this season, and they'd face either the Michigan Wolverines (the weakest 3 seed by nERD) or the Montana Grizzlies (the best 14 seed) if they take care of business against the San Diego State Aztecs (the second-best 11 seed).
Florida Gators (6 Seed, East Region)
Speaking of beating Cincinnati, that's exactly what the Florida Gators did back in early December on a neutral court (66-60). They also took down Gonzaga 111-105 in double overtime in November and wound up with a 20-12 record against the 12th-toughest schedule in the nation.
A balanced squad (31st in adjusted offense and 30th in adjusted defense), Florida limits turnovers (with the 6th-best turnover rate in the country) and can shoot the three-ball (37.5% as a team). It helps that they face the winner of the play-in game between UCLA Bruins and St. Bonaventure Bonnies, two weak at-large teams.
A Round of 64 win nets the Gators 60 points in the Bracket Pick'em format, and the 6 seed status goes a long way toward totaling a minimum seed of 20 between your five picks. In the Round of 32, the Gators would face the winner between Texas Tech and Stephen F. Austin, the third-worst 3 and 14 seeds, respectively, in the tournament.
Texas A&M Aggies (7 Seed, West Region)
The problem with straying into 7 seed and higher territory is that you're generally requiring a pretty big upset in the Round of 32. That's what you'd need from the Texas A&M Aggies, who -- if they get past Providence -- would face UNC. Providence is easily the worst 10 seed in the tournament by nERD, and Texas A&M is the best 7 seed. Well, other than the Nevada Wolf Pack, who must recover from the recent loss of Lindsey Drew to a ruptured Achilles.
The Aggies have some nice recent wins (versus Arkansas, at Auburn, versus Kentucky, at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, and versus Alabama since January 30th), thanks to the 10th-best adjusted defense in basketball. But even a great 7 seed can fall short by faltering in the Round of 32, so don't go overboard with your upset picks.
Butler Bulldogs (10 Seed, East Region)
Butler ranks 28th in nERD, and their Round of 64 opponent -- Arkansas -- ranks 29th. That means on a neutral court, our algorithms would prefer Butler (by 0.09 points). Butler played the 14th-toughest schedule in the country this season, and they rank 33rd in adjusted offensive rating and 31st in adjusted defensive rating.
If they beat Arkansas, they'd likely face Purdue, who beat Butler 82-67 on December 16th on a neutral court. Butler doesn't do anything extraordinarily well, but if they knock off Purdue and reach the Sweet 16, they'd net your Bracket Pick'em roster 350 points and account for half of the needed seed mark of 20. It's risky, but you can load up on lower seeded teams if you roll the dice on Butler.
Loyola Ramblers (11 Seed, South Region)
The Loyola (IL) Ramblers are actually part of our optimal construction for the Bracket Pick'em format. And the case to be made for them is pretty clear. The Ramblers rank 43rd in nERD, just nine slots behind their first-round opponent, the Miami (FL) Hurricanes. Loyola's 141st-ranked schedule means they haven't played a lot of tough teams, but they did beat the Florida Gators by six on the road this season.
Offensively, Loyola ranks 13th in three-point percentage (40.0%) as a team, and they're 14th in two-point percentage (56.5%). They're an overall balanced squad (79th in offensive efficiency and 54th in defensive efficiency) with greater than a 40.0% chance to advance to the Round of 32, per our algorithms.