10,000 NCAA Tournament Simulations Reveal Most Likely Champions

10,000 NCAA Tournament Simulations Reveal Most Likely Champions article feature image

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

March Madness is finally here. The field is set for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Virginia is the top overall seed and will play in the South. Villanova is No. 1 in the East region, Xavier has the top line in the West, and Kansas is tops in the Midwest. We know who is in and where they will be playing. The question now is, which team will cut down the nets in San Antonio?

To find out, we simulated the NCAA Tournament 10,000 times using our Bracket Simulator. The model combines our historical database along with data from Ken Pomeroy, ESPN and Jeff Sagarin to run the simulations.


After 10,000 simulations, Virginia is the most likely champion. Tony Bennett’s team has a 44.1% chance to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1984 and wins the national championship 18.9% of the time.

The other contenders with legitimate chances of winning are Villanova (17.1%), Duke (11.6%), Cincinnati (8.5%), Purdue (6.2%), Michigan State (6.1%) and North Carolina (5.4%).

The most likely Final Four consists of No. 1 Virginia, No. 1 Villanova, No. 2 Duke and No. 2 North Carolina. The Wildcats, Blue Devils and Tar Heels have all reached the final weekend at least once in the last three tournaments, with UNC trying for a third consecutive Final Four.


The tournament is projected to be chalky. The 13 most likely Final Four participants are seeded 1-4, with those seeded 1-2 wining it all 73.8% of the time.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be upsets. In the play-in games and first round, there are 10 games in which the higher-seeded team wins 60% of the time or less, making for potential upsets.

South Region

Virginia, led by Kyle Guy and Devon Hall (pictured above), is a No. 1 seed for the third time in five years. The Cavaliers earned the top overall seed by playing the best defense in the country (53.4 ppg allowed). However, UVA isn’t the only team in this region that brings it on that end of the court. Cincinnati, Tennessee and Texas also rank in the top 10 in the nation in defensive efficiency.

  • Most Likely Final Four team: Virginia (44.1%)
  • Final Four Sleeper: Kentucky (6.0%)
  • Cinderella (double-digit seeds going deep): Loyola Chicago (18.4% to make Sweet 16)
  • Closest First-Round Game: No. 7 Nevada over No. 10 Texas (50.0%)

West Region

Xavier is the weakest No. 1 seed in the bracket, ranking 14th overall according to KenPom. The Musketeers got a tough draw with North Carolina, Gonzaga and Michigan ranking in the top 10 in adjusted efficiency. The West is wide open, with these four teams each having double-digit percentage chances to win the region.


  • Most Likely Final Four team: North Carolina (25.3%)
  • Final Four Sleeper: Ohio State (8.7%)
  • Cinderella (double-digit seeds going deep): San Diego State (12.2% to make Sweet 16)
  • Closest First-Round Game:  No. 8 Missouri over No. 9 Florida State (50.0%)

East Region

The simulation likes Virginia, but the oddsmakers favor Villanova. The Wildcats are 7-2 favorites at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. What do the bookmakers like about Jay Wright’s team? Few teams in the tournament can match the potential NBA talent that Nova boasts in Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo.


  • Most Likely Final Four team: Villanova (44.9%)
  • Final Four Sleeper: West Virginia (8.0%)
  • Cinderella (double-digit seeds going deep): Butler (16.8% to make Sweet 16)
  • Closes First-Round Game: No. 10 Butler over No. 7 Arkansas (53.1%)

Midwest Region

The blue bloods of college basketball (Kansas, Duke and Michigan State) will battle it out in the Midwest. The Jayhawks (Devonte’ Graham), Blue Devils (Marvin Bagley) and Spartans (Miles Bridges) are led by Wooden Award candidates, meaning each team has enough talent to not only win the region, but to cut down the nets in San Antonio.

  • Most Likely Final Four team: Duke (36.0%)
  • Final Four Sleeper: Clemson (5.8%)
  • Cinderella (double-digit seeds going deep): New Mexico State (13.3% to make Sweet 16)
  • Closest First-Round Game: No. 7 Rhode Island over No. 10 Oklahoma (50.0%)

Here are each team’s chance to advance to the Sweet 16, Final Four and win the national championship.

Picture via Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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