NCAA Tournament Teams You Should Favor and Avoid Given the Public's Picks

Staring at an empty bracket of 68 men's college basketball teams can feel very daunting whether you have watched every college basketball game this season or haven't seen a second since last season's final buzzer.

Don't worry. We have tools and content to help you get started on that endeavor.

But wait. There's more.

Let's try spinning gaining leverage -- that's a good trick. Going against the grain can be massively helpful in building lineups that beat your peers'.

By that, I don't mean taking 16 seeds over 1 seeds or taking too many upsets or anything like that.

I just mean looking at which games are projected to be close and going the other way from the public. Or looking for a popularity discount from the key teams in the tournament.

That's what we're going to go over here.

We're going to leverage our stage odds tool against ESPN's Who Picked Whom data and identify the biggest outliers.

With the Gonzaga Bulldogs' dominance, it's no surprise that 27.7% of public brackets are selecting the Zags to win it all.

Is that too high? We'll get there.

Keep in mind that avoiding consensus is more valuable the closer we get to the championship game, which should be worth more points in your bracket pool.

Be sure to check out the GMC Mountain Climber Pick 'Em contest for your chance at $20,000 in prizes, and don't forget to reserve your Sierra.

To Reach the Round of 32

These are the six biggest outliers to reach the round of 32 based on the leverage found.

To Reach
Round of 32
San Francisco 30.3% 63.0% 32.7%
San Diego St. 48.3% 65.9% 17.6%
Texas 46.9% 59.5% 12.6%
LSU 62.0% 74.4% 12.4%
South Dakota St. 28.5% 38.1% 9.6%
Marquette 32.6% 42.0% 9.4%

The public is writing off the San Francisco Dons in their first-round matchup against the Murray State Racers, a bracket-busting darling this year.

However, the Dons are 21st in our power rankings, and the Racers are 39th. BartTorvik has San Francisco 20th and Murray State 38th. KenPom has San Francisco 21st and Murray State 27th. Sports-Reference has them 25th and 57th, respectively.

Going with the Dons could lead to huge leverage in the Round of 64 if you want to fade the Racers. Again, you might not want to risk crossing off Murray State too soon, but the data says you should strongly consider it.

To Reach the Sweet 16

These are the six biggest outliers to reach the Sweet 16 based on the leverage found.

To Reach
Sweet 16
LSU 21.4% 53.0% 31.6%
Houston 41.9% 64.0% 22.1%
San Francisco 3.8% 16.9% 13.1%
Iowa 59.8% 72.6% 12.8%
Texas 14.6% 24.5% 9.9%
San Diego St. 5.2% 15.1% 9.9%

A big reason for the LSU Tigers showing leverage is because the Wisconsin Badgers are looking a bit overrated. numberFire's model likes Wisconsin to reach the Sweet 16 with a 32.5% probability but is reaching there in 65.0% of public brackets.

Therefore, going with either LSU or Iowa State is a big leverage opportunity.

Our model gives LSU a 74.3% chance to beat Iowa State and -- likely -- face Wisconsin. Take a long look at Wisconsin, the 12th-most likely team to reach the Sweet 16 based on public picks, and see if you think the public has it wrong.

To Reach the Elite 8

These are the six biggest outliers to reach the Elite 8 based on the leverage found.

To Reach
Elite 8
Houston 12.8% 30.8% 18.0%
LSU6.9% 21.3% 14.4%
Iowa 21.0% 32.8% 11.8%
UCLA 26.2% 36.9% 10.7%
San Francisco 1.2% 7.4% 6.2%
Auburn 52.8% 58.4% 5.6%

I'll get to the Houston Cougars later, and I already discussed LSU, so I'm going to focus on the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Iowa is an underrated team for being a 5 seed, and not only that -- but Iowa is so hot right now.

Regardless of whether they face Providence or South Dakota State in the Round of 32 (assuming they convert on a 90% chance to beat the Richmond Spiders), they'll be projected for at least an 80% chance to advance. They've got a great path to reach the Elite 8.

To Reach the Final Four

These are the six biggest outliers to reach the Final Four based on the leverage found.

To Reach
Final Four
Houston 6.4% 18.9% 12.5%
UCLA 11.0% 19.8% 8.8%
Auburn 22.9% 30.6% 7.7%
LSU2.2% 8.4% 6.2%
Iowa 12.1% 17.8% 5.7%
Texas Tech 10.3% 12.6% 2.3%

Still not time for the Houston chatter.

How about highlighting the Auburn Tigers then?

They rank seventh in our power rankings, and they check the boxes that past historical champions have checked.

Despite a 6-4 record in their final 10 games, they still rank 15th in my adjusted point differential ratings in that span. Don't write them off.

To Win the NCAA Tournament

These are the six biggest outliers to win it all based on the leverage found.

To Win
NCAA Championship
Houston 1.3% 5.4% 4.1%
UCLA 1.7% 4.2% 2.5%
Auburn 4.4% 6.4% 2.0%
Iowa 1.6% 3.1% 1.5%
Texas Tech 1.9% 2.7% 0.8%
LSU0.3% 1.1% 0.8%
Tennessee 4.3% 4.8% 0.5%
Baylor 5.4% 5.8% 0.4%

The Houston Cougars are the most underrated team in the NCAA Tournament based on the historical efficiency of their seed. Houston is playing more like a historical 2 seed than a 5 seed.

It stands to reason, then, that a 5 seed is slipping through the cracks from the public.

Houston also checks the boxes eventual champions offer. They're trending with a 9-1 record in their past 10, including the third-best adjusted point differential in that span.

And they come with substantial leverage over the public? Sign me up.

Teams to Consider Avoiding

These are the five biggest outliers to reach the Final Four based on the leverage found -- from the negative sense.

To Reach
Final Four
Kansas 43.6% 33.1% -10.5%
Wisconsin 9.8% 2.4% -7.4%
Arizona 44.1% 37.0% -7.1%
Baylor 30.4% 25.6% -4.8%
Duke 17.5% 13.0% -4.5%

Surprisingly (to me) Gonzaga doesn't make this list. They're actually more likely to make the Final Four (58.9%) than the public thinks (58.3%) but are still 1.2 points less likely to win it all (26.5%) than the public thinks (27.7%). They have been much chalkier in years past. If you think this is finally their year, it's not a bad time to join in.

It's looking like the Kansas Jayhawks are the best team to fade in terms of powerhouses. Likely due to an easy region, the public is often penciling in Kansas to the Final Four (43.6%). That's third-highest in the tournament behind only Gonzaga (58.3%) and Arizona (44.1%), who is third on this list.

Arizona has a potentially tough 1-versus-5 matchup with Houston lurking and then also have Villanova Wildcats to get through as the 2 seed, assuming the chalk all advances in the South Region.

We already touched on the issues with Wisconsin, and that leaves last year's champions, the Baylor Bears as a team to consider avoiding in the Final Four. The East Region is filled with underrated teams to get through: UCLA, Indiana, Virginia Tech, and San Francisco. They are, though, more likely to win it all (5.8%) than the public thinks (5.4%). If you believe in Baylor again, consider taking them past the Final Four.

The public is heavy on the Duke Blue Devils in head coach Mike Krzyzewski's final season. They make the list of Final Four teams to fade, and just as importantly, the bracket-fillers who are taking Duke to the Final Four aren't really stopping there.

Duke is the champion selection in 6.6% of public brackets, a full 4.0 percentage points greater than our model's odds for them (2.6%).