NCAAB

2024 NCAA Men's Tournament Bracket Strategy: Teams to Target, Avoid Based on Public Picks

Brandon Gdula
Brandon Gdula@gdula13
2024 NCAA Men's Tournament Bracket Strategy: Teams to Target, Avoid Based on Public Picks

It's time to fill out your NCAA tournament bracket.

One of the most freeing aspects of this time of year is that there is a big level of uncertainty regarding the bracket. That's what helps underdogs win. That's how brackets get busted.

Put simply, sometimes, volatility is a good thing.

But you need to navigate that volatility when filling out your brackets -- or else yours could be in shambles by Saturday.

Of course, when it comes to your specific brackets, you need to account for things like:

  • Do you get extra points for wins in later rounds -- or is everything one point?
  • How many people are you playing against?
  • How risky are you willing to get?

One of the best parts of this time of year, too, is that if your bracket does get blown up, there are always more ways to get in on the action with the college basketball betting odds at FanDuel Sportsbook.

We can also use those odds to help identify the most likely champions.

Here are each team's odds to win the NCAA men's basketball championship, per FanDuel Sportsbook.

NCAA Mens Basketball Championship 2024
FanDuel Sportsbook Odds
Connecticut+370
Houston+600
Purdue+700
Arizona+1300
North Carolina+1700
Tennessee+1700
Iowa State+2000
View Full Table

The name at the top there -- the Connecticut Huskies -- are the heavy favorites (+370), and that is leading to a lot of brackets picking them to win it all come April 8th.

Based on the pick distributions at Yahoo, UConn is being crowned as the champion in 34.6% of all public brackets. Betting odds of +370 indicate only a 21.3% probability.

It could be beneficial to divest from UConn in your bracket and try to reap the benefits if they do not complete their quest for back-to-back titles.

In addition to using the betting odds to find some value, we can also look directly at some analytical models.

numberFire, BartTorvik, and EvanMiya all have bracket stage projections for each team in the bracket.

Let's take a look at a few of the standouts in each stage where the models differ the most from the public.

Public pick data, model pick data, and betting odds are all subject to change.

To Reach the Round of 32

Here are the teams with substantially greater odds to win in the first round and reach the Round of 32 compared to how the public is picking them.

Team (Seed)
Model Average
Yahoo Public
Differential
New Mexico (11)56.5%45.1%11.4%
Texas Tech (6)65.4%54.5%10.9%
Washington St. (7)54.5%43.9%10.6%
Mississippi St. (8)44.4%34.9%9.5%
UVA/CSU (10)25.2%16.5%8.7%
Nebraska (8)57.1%48.9%8.1%
BSU/COLO (10)28.8%22.2%6.6%
View Full Table

The New Mexico Lobos are a model favorite when compared to the Clemson Tigers. The college basketball betting odds at FanDuel Sportsbook view the Lobos as 2.5-point favorites in that first-round matchup. The public is still siding with Clemson, however.

While the public is on board with Texas Tech (54.5%) over NC State in a 6-versus-11 matchup, the models are much higher (65.4%), for nearly 11.0 points of leverage. Texas Tech is favored by 5.5 points as well as -230 on the moneyline at FanDuel Sportsbook.

Washington State (43.9%) is a public underdog, but the models give them an average win probability of 54.5%. All three models give them between a 53.8% and 54.9% chance to win, too, so they're a steady favorite across the board. With that said, the Drake Bulldogs (-1.5) are favored in that matchup based on the FanDuel Sportsbook odds.

To Reach the Sweet 16

Here are the teams with substantially greater odds to reach the Sweet 16 compared to how the public is picking them.

Team (Seed)
Model Average
Yahoo Public
Differential
Texas Tech (6)32.0%12.9%19.2%
BYU (6)37.3%21.6%15.6%
Michigan St. (9)21.5%8.1%13.4%
New Mexico (11)27.4%15.0%12.5%
Mississippi St. (8)15.3%3.7%11.5%
BSU/COLO (10)12.8%3.3%9.5%
Auburn (4)71.2%64.1%7.1%
View Full Table

The Texas Tech Red Raiders lead the way here with a substantial gap in probability over the public (32.0% versus 12.9%). They likely will face Kentucky in the Round of 32, and Kentucky is getting a lot of public attention. Thus, the leverage.

But BYU also offers a lot of leverage. They're favored by 9.5 points over the Duquesne Dukes, a surprise tournament team, in the first round. They then -- most likely -- face Illinois, who ranks 10th in the nation at KenPom. But BYU is 16th, and the gap here is pretty close. Simply put, the data suggests that BYU isn't getting enough love from the public.

Michigan State and Mississippi State both making this list is a relatively strange case, as they are in a coin flip type of game in the first round. Michigan State is favored by just 1.5 points in that matchup, so they could get bounced right away (as could Mississippi State). However, a (likely) game against North Carolina, an overrated 1 seed, looms for the winner. The data shows that a lot of leverage could be gained if UNC is eliminated early and you nail the 8/9 matchup in the West Region.

To Reach the Elite Eight

Here are the teams with substantially greater odds to reach the Elite Eight compared to how the public is picking them.

Team (Seed)
Model Average
Yahoo Public
Differential
Auburn (4)33.7%12.0%21.7%
Alabama (4)27.6%13.3%14.3%
Texas Tech (6)13.8%5.3%8.5%
BYU (6)16.1%7.8%8.3%
Florida (7)13.8%6.2%7.6%
St. Mary's (5)14.0%6.8%7.2%
Michigan St. (9)10.7%4.0%6.7%
View Full Table

Okay, so, Auburn was bound to pop eventually. They're the most underrated team in the NCAA Tournament. Auburn ranks second at EvanMiya, fourth at KenPom, and fifth at numberFire and BartTorvik. However, they're a 4 seed. While that does give them a tougher-than-deserved path to the Elite Eight, the public brackets are still lower on them than all the models.

Their rival, Alabama, is in a similar situation. Picked by just 13.3% of public brackets on Yahoo to reach the Elite Eight, Alabama is 27.6% likely (on average) to get that far based on the three models. Even the lowest model on Alabama (BartTorvik has them 21.6% likely to reach the Elite Eight) shows a lot of leverage here.

The Florida Gators are another interesting team. Their first-round matchup could be difficult, as they play the winner of a play-in between Boise State and Colorado. They're being penciled into the Round of 32 by 75.3% of public brackets despite a 55.4% model average. But beyond that, they likely face a poor-rebounding Marquette team (and Florida is seventh in offensive rebounding rate).

To Reach the Final Four

Here are the teams with substantially greater odds to reach the Final Four compared to how the public is picking them.

Team (Seed)
Model Average
Yahoo Public
Differential
Auburn (4)21.2%7.1%14.2%
Arizona (2)37.7%29.3%8.4%
Iowa St. (2)20.1%12.4%7.7%
Alabama (4)11.9%5.2%6.7%
Duke (4)13.6%8.3%5.3%
St. Mary's (5)5.7%2.4%3.3%
New Mexico (11)4.0%0.8%3.3%
View Full Table

We just discussed Auburn and Alabama, so let's look at Arizona and Iowa State here.

Arizona is under-seeded as a 2 seed. They're favored by 20.5 points over Long Beach State in the first round and then, assuming they win as big favorites, face either Dayton or Nevada in a section of the bracket that could feature some upsets. The Wildcats are a top-six overall team by numberFire, BartTorvik, KenPom, and EvanMiya ratings. They also have +1300 odds to win the national championship, fourth-best odds of any team.

Iowa State has a pretty solid path to the Final Four in the bottom of the East bracket, though UConn might loom. But Iowa State ranks first in adjusted defense, via KenPom. Their offense isn't elite (just outside the top 50 after opponent adjustments). However, they can cause enough havoc to be a real contender. They're seventh among all teams in average odds to make the Final Four (20.1%).

To Win the National Championship

Here are the teams with substantially greater odds to win the national championship compared to how the public is picking them.

Team (Seed)
Model Average
Yahoo Public
Differential
Houston (1)18.6%11.9%6.7%
Auburn (4)7.1%1.7%5.5%
Arizona (2)9.8%4.6%5.2%
Purdue (1)13.5%10.0%3.5%
Iowa St. (2)5.3%3.1%2.2%
Tennessee (2)5.6%3.5%2.1%
Alabama (4)1.7%0.6%1.1%
View Full Table

Many brackets are into UConn (34.6% to win it all). Actually, there are four teams with noticeably higher public title odds than what the models say. Those are UConn (-17.7%), North Carolina (-5.9%), Kentucky (-3.2%), and Kansas (-1.4%).

And those situations leave a lot of leverage chances for Houston, Auburn, Arizona, and others.

Houston (+600 to win it all) is the second-biggest favorite in terms of the betting odds. They rank first in win probability at numberFire (18.0%) and BartTorvik (27.9%) as well as fourth at EvanMiya (9.8%). That is a big deviation across the projections, though. In fact, it's -- mathematically -- the largest for any individual team across the three models in terms of championship odds.

Auburn has the traits of an eventual NCAA Tournament champion. Among this leverage list above, so do Houston, Arizona, Purdue, and Creighton.

Iowa State and Tennessee's offenses are not on par with historical champions, and Alabama's defense is suspect (outside the top 100 in adjusted defensive efficiency).

While there is more leverage (+5.5%) on Auburn's average win probability (7.1%), a team like Purdue has a higher win probability on average (13.5%) with lower leverage (+3.5%).

Now, if you think that it's UConn's year (again) or that the public is right to be on UNC, Kentucky, and Kansas, there are still ways to differentiate your bracket with upsets and avoiding overrated NCAA Tournament teams (and targeting underrated teams).

These are the types of decisions to factor in when building out your bracket.


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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.