2019 NCAA Tournament Sleepers: Simulations Reveal 4 Dark Horse Cinderellas

2019 NCAA Tournament Sleepers: Simulations Reveal 4 Dark Horse Cinderellas article feature image

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Virginia Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome

  • We've simulated the 2019 NCAA Tournament 10,000 times to determine the top Cinderellas, sleepers, busts and value bets.
  • Before filling out your bracket for March Madness, be sure to factor in the results of our simulations.

Let’s go dancing. The 2019 NCAA Tournament bracket is set and we’ve simulated the 68-team field 10,000 times to determine the most likely champion, as well as the teams that can make or break your bracket.

Here are five Cinderellas, sleepers and busts you need to know before filling out your bracket, plus two teams offering bettors value to cut down the nets.

NCAA Tournament Cinderellas

When you think of a Cinderella run, last year’s Loyola-Chicago team comes to mind. With a little help from Sister Jean, Loyola-Chicago kept surviving and advancing.

Which team will wear the glass slipper this year? These are Cinderella teams (double-digit seeds) with the best chances to reach the Sweet 16.

  1. Ohio State, 11-seed (13.9% chance to reach Sweet 16)
  2. Oregon, 12-seed (11.9%)
  3. Florida, 10-seed (9.3%)
  4. Saint Mary’s, 11-seed (9.1%)
  5. Iowa, 10-seed (9.0%)

Each program is elite in at least one thing. Florida ranks 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency, Oregon (18th) and Ohio State (27th) are among the best defensive teams in the country as well. Iowa is 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency while Saint Mary’s ranks 21st. If these teams play to their strengths, we could see them during the second weekend of the tournament.

NCAA Tournament Sleepers

If you are going to win your bracket pool, you need to pick teams others are avoiding. Here are teams seeded fifth or worse with the best chance to reach the Final Four.

  1. Auburn, 5-seed (6.3% chance to reach Final Four)
  2. Wisconsin, 5-seed (4.5%)
  3. Iowa State, 6-seed (4.0%)
  4. Maryland, 6-seed (2.0%)
  5. Mississippi State, 5-seed (1.9%)

One of the biggest mistakes casual fans make when filling out a bracket is buying into the March Madness hype. Upsets occur but after the opening weekend, the chalk (best teams) usually advances.

Only five teams seeded 10th or worse have reached the final weekend of the tournament. If you want to build a contrarian bracket don’t get crazy. Instead consider these sleeper teams that rank in the top 25 of Sean Koerner’s power rankings.

NCAA Tournament Busts

Which teams will bust your bracket? These squads, seeded fourth or better, have the worst odds to reach the Final Four.

  1. Virginia Tech, 4-seed (2.8% chance to reach Final Four)
  2. LSU, 3-seed (2.9%)
  3. Kansas State, 4-seed (3.8%)
  4. Houston, 3-seed (4.4%)
  5. Kansas, 4-seed (6.4%)

Since 2001-02, no national champion has ranked worse than 39th offensively or 18th defensively from an efficiency standpoint. Balanced teams win titles. Virginia Tech, LSU and Kansas State rank outside the top 40 on offense or top 20 on defense — cross them off.

Kansas and Houston meet the requirements to be a title contender on paper, but each has question marks. The Jayhawks finished the season sixth in the Big 12 in adjusted offensive efficiency and are a 4-seed or worse for the first time since 2006 (they lost in the first round that season).

Houston started the season unranked. History is against the Cougars cutting down the nets. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only four champions were unranked to start the season.

NCAA Tournament Value Bets

To identify bets with positive expected value, we converted each team’s odds to win the tournament from the Westgate in Las Vegas into an implied probability and compared it to our model. Based on our projections, these are the teams offering bettors value to win the NCAA Tournament.

Kentucky Wildcats

  • Current odds: +1200, Implied Probability: 7.7%
  • Cats win the tournament 9.9% of the time

As I said earlier, balanced teams win championships. Kentucky ranks in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Cats are 20th in shooting percentage (47.8%) and hold opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 47.0% (27th).

John Calipari’s team has two great on-ball defenders in Tyler Herro and Ashton Hagans, and an experienced frontcourt in Reid Travis and PJ Washington.

As a blue blood of college basketball Kentucky is often overpriced, but at +1200 odds the Wildcats aren’t getting enough credit as a potential championship team.

Virginia Cavaliers

  • Current odds: +750, Implied Probability: 11.8%
  • UVA wins the tournament 13.4% of the time

Virginia lost to Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals on the same court where they became the first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to lose to a 16-seed. Bad memories. But as gamblers we can’t let early exits from previous tournaments cloud our judgment.

UVA is first in defensive efficiency and allows opponents to score 55.1 points per game — the fewest in the country. The Cavaliers are 30th in offensive efficiency and 18th in effective field goal percentage (55.7%). Tony Bennett’s squad is one of the most balanced in the country and a great buy-low opportunity.

One week ago UVA was +600. After losing to FSU its odds have dropped to +750. Recreational gamblers will avoid Virginia after last year’s debacle, but savvy bettors will snap up the Hoos at a great price.

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