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Daniel Wilco | | March 22, 2019

Duke is the team the world picked to win the NCAA tournament

Exploring the absurd odds of a perfect bracket

No surprise here, Duke is the top team picked to win the NCAA tournament among the millions of brackets in our Bracket Challenge Game.

The Blue Devils were picked as the champion in 39.2 percent of all brackets that picked a champion, miles ahead of the next most popular team, North Carolina (15.7 percent).

Duke finished the regular season 29-5 and won the ACC tournament, all of which helped it earn the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. 

Good news for Duke fans, history is in their favor. Last year, the most popular pick was Villanova, which ended up beating Michigan to win its second title in three years. The Wildcats were the second overall seed last year, and they were picked to win in 14.6 percent of brackets. Which means that Duke is more than twice as popular as the most popular team last year.

But that brings us to the bad history news for Duke: The top overall seed hasn’t even won an NCAA tournament game since March 16, 2017. That was 735 days ago. In fact, top overall seeds are 1-2 in the NCAA tournament in the past two years. Villanova won its first-round game in 2017, then lost to 8-seed Wisconsin, and Virginia lost to 16-seed UMBC last year. In case you forgot. This is obviously a very important and non-misleading stat.

Back to things that actually matter: The top four teams picked to win the championship this year are, unsurprisingly, the four 1 seeds in the tournament. As boring as it may seem, that’s a pretty smart pick. Since 1985, 1 seeds have won 79.8 percent of all games they’ve played. If we’re talking about the championship game in particular, it’s even smarter. There have been 68 teams that have played in the title game of the NCAA tournament since 1985; 32 of them (47 percent) were 1 seeds. Of the 34 national champions, 20 have been 1 seeds.

Here is every team in the tournament, ranked 1-68 in terms of how many BCG users picked them to win the championship:

Team Picked to win
Duke 39.19%
North Carolina 15.65%
Gonzaga 11.55%
Virginia 5.85%
Kentucky 4.93%
Mich. St. 4.66%
Tennessee 4.25%
Michigan 3.21%
Kansas 0.87%
Villanova 0.82%
Houston 0.78%
Texas Tech 0.67%
Purdue 0.66%
LSU 0.58%
Auburn 0.47%
Florida State 0.45%
Wisconsin 0.36%
Syracuse 0.32%
Virginia Tech 0.26%
Wofford 0.24%
Iowa State 0.22%
Oregon 0.22%
Murray State 0.21%
Kansas St. 0.20%
Buffalo 0.19%
Marquette 0.18%
Ohio St. 0.18%
Louisville 0.17%
Florida 0.16%
Gardner-Webb 0.15%
North Dakota St. 0.15%
Iona 0.15%
Maryland 0.12%
Nevada 0.12%
Cincinnati 0.12%
Mississippi 0.09%
Seton Hall 0.09%
Minnesota 0.09%
Washington 0.08%
Oklahoma 0.08%
Fairleigh D'son 0.08%
Abilene Christian 0.08%
Utah State 0.08%
Yale 0.08%
Iowa 0.07%
Baylor 0.07%
UCF 0.07%
Arizona St. 0.07%
Mississippi St. 0.06%
UC Irvine 0.06%
Liberty 0.05%
VCU 0.04%
St. Mary's (Cal.) 0.04%
Bradley 0.04%
Saint Louis 0.04%
Northeastern 0.04%
New Mexico St. 0.04%
Belmont 0.04%
Colgate 0.04%
Montana 0.03%
Vermont 0.03%
Old Dominion 0.03%
Georgia State 0.03%
Northern Kentucky 0.02%

College basketball rankings: Even unranked teams find success in the NCAA tournament

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 — its modern format — only four of 35 national champions were unranked to start the season. That’s about one in every nine years.

Only .025 percent predicted the 2021 Final Four teams in the Bracket Challenge Game

UCLA's upset of No. 1 Michigan in the Elite Eight turned what could have been a record-high number of perfect picks into a tiny number that went 4-for-4.

A huge majority of NCAA brackets have a No. 1 seed winning the 2021 championship

Here is how many brackets predicted each seed to win the national championship, from Gonzaga and the No. 1 seeds through Drexel and the rest of the No. 16 seeds.
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