Tournament Index methodology
Here are each of the components, explained:
Power Rating: A rating based on a team’s basic statistical components, including metrics such as efficiency and preseason projections.
Path Rating: A rating that measures the difficulty of a team’s tournament path, including the quality of a team’s potential opponents and its strength relative to the average team of its seed.
Overall Rating: A combined rating of Power Rating (75%) and Path Rating (25%).
Win Probability By Round: A win probability for each team in every round of the tournament, based on the difference in Overall Rating and potential matchups.
ESPN Tournament Challenge Picks: Raw data taken from ESPN’s Tournament Challenge page, indicating how often each team was selected in each round by the millions of brackets submitted nationwide.
Team Bracket Value: An overall value for each team designed to find overhyped and undervalued teams based on Win Probability By Round vs. ESPN Tournament Challenge Picks.
Here’s a real-life example of how it works:
In March 2019, the Virginia Cavaliers were a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Tony Bennett’s team was second in the selection committee’s seed list only to Duke, led by superstars Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett.
A year earlier, Virginia became the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament, getting blown out 74-54 to UMBC. Given the electrifying nature of the Zion/Barrett Blue Devils and Virginia’s historic flop in the 2018 Big Dance, the nation steered clear of UVA in their 2019 brackets.
Get this: a whopping 36.1 percent of ESPN users picked Duke to win the national title while just 8.4 percent went with Virginia. To put that into context, Duke was the second-most popular national champion pick between 2013 and 2021, with the 2015 Kentucky Wildcats the only team in that span to be chosen at a higher clip.
According to our Tournament Index model, Virginia — not Duke — was actually the strongest team in the 2019 bracket. Virginia entered the tournament with an Overall Rating of 95.0, more than a full point better than Duke’s 93.9. That is because the Cavaliers had both a strong Power Rating and a good Path Rating thanks to their Selection Sunday draw. As a result, our model gave the Cavaliers an 18 percent chance of winning it all compared to 14 percent for the Blue Devils.
Thanks to a high Overall Rating and a low number of ESPN Tournament Challenge Picks, Virginia had the highest Team Bracket Value in 2019. Because so many people were picking Duke, and because the numbers were in fact in the Cavaliers’ favor, the smartest play for the bracket pool would have been to pick Virginia.
Alas, the Cavaliers were significantly undervalued by the nation and eventually went on to win the national championship — just as our Tournament Index predicted.
In short, our model outsmarts the competition. We begin by taking metrics that are closely tied to tournament success to determine each team’s likelihood of advancing. Then, we weigh those probabilities against the nation’s picks to find the teams with the best overall value.
Below are tables showing how to interpret the Tournament Index ratings, and more to the point, how to identify potential advantages in your bracket pool.
Average NCAA Tournament wins based on Tournament Index Power Rating
|Power Rating||Average NCAA Tournament Wins|
|88 or higher||3.84|
|80 to 87.9||2.21|
|70 to 79.9||1.15|
|60 to 69.9||0.61|
|59.9 or lower||0.13|
Average Tournament Index Power Rating by seed
|Seed||Average||Highest-Rated Team||Lowest-Rated Team|
|1||87.2||2015 Kentucky (95.1) — F4||2016 Oregon (75.9) — E8|
|2||84.1||2015 Arizona (91.1) — E8||2016 Xavier (75.0) — R32|
|3||79.4||2013 Florida (88.9) — E8||2013 Marquette (73.9) — E8|
|4||79.1||2014 Louisville (87.8) — S16||2015 Maryland (69.6) — R32|
|5||74.4||2017 Virginia (81.8) — R32||2017 Minnesota (66.6) — R64|
|6||72.5||2016 Arizona (80.4) — R64||2014 UMass (64.6) — R64|
|7||70.7||2015 Michigan State (80.9) — F4||2016 Oregon State (62.3) — R64|
|8||69.7||2014 Kentucky (79.6) — RU||2016 Texas Tech (62.7) — R64|
|9||66.3||2014 Oklahoma State (78.2) — R64||2013 Temple (60.3) — R64|
|10||65.5||2015 Ohio State (77.2) — R32||2016 Temple (57.1) — R64|
|11||66.1||2016 Gonzaga (79.1) — S16||2016 Northern Iowa (58.4) — R32|
|12||62.1||2019 Oregon (70.4) — S16||2015 Wofford (56.3) — R64|
|13||58.0||2014 New Mexico State (62.4) — R64||2018 Charleston (53.3) — R64|
|14||56.4||2016 Stephen F. Austin (64.2) — R32||2018 Wright State (51.7) — R64|
|15||52.6||2015 New Mexico State (58.5) — R64||2015 Texas Southern (48.3) — R64|
|16||48.6||2018 Penn (54.0) — R64||2016 Holy Cross (42.5) — R64|
Seeds can deceive. Though the 2014 Kentucky team underwhelmed during the regular season, John Calipari’s Wildcats still had one of the tournament’s most talented rosters that year. Remember, the Cats were the No. 1 team in the preseason AP poll going into the 2013-14 campaign.
As an 8-seed, Kentucky’s Power Rating of 79.6 would have even been considered above-average for a 3-seed, let alone an 8. It should come as somewhat less of a surprise, then, that the woefully under-seeded Wildcats advanced all the way to the national title game that year.
Meanwhile, a team like 2017 Minnesota — with a Power Rating of just 66.6 — entered the Big Dance as a 5-seed, but had a relative strength more resembling a 9-seed. The Tournament Index would have said to avoid this 5-seed like the plague. As it happened, the Gophers trailed 12-seed Middle Tennessee by as many as 17 points in an eventual 81-72 first-round loss.
The selection committee has an impossible job to “correctly” select and seed all 68 teams, which means there is always hidden value to be found. To that end, the Tournament Index shines a light into all the nooks and crannies of the bracket.