In what is becoming an annual tradition, here is this year’s contrarian bracket that can still win.  (Here is last year’s)  The point of this bracket is to stay away from the popular picks but still give your entry a chance to win.  If you wanted to REALLY go contrarian, you could pick all of the 16-seeds to win but that would be… what’s the word for it…stupid.

So the idea here is to take teams that have a better chance of winning than the public is picking them to.  To find out who the general public is picking, we used the ESPN Who Picked Whom feature.  This is a solid barometer for how big pools should end up.  Note that your pools may vary slightly based on a number of factors including size, scoring, and what fan base most of the entries are a part of.

While not only are we looking to find a contrarian bracket that can win, I also build the bracket in a contrarian manner.  Most people pick the winners of each game subsequently until they have their bracket filled out.  We actually will start with the champion and work our way out.


If you have been reading the blog at all, this is not going to be a surprise.  Gonzaga is our simulation’s favorite to win the title but currently ESPN users are picking them 7.0% overall, which is behind six other teams (Villanova, North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Kentucky).  This is the easiest selection as we’re gaining a big edge on the rest of the entries according to our model.

If you are dead set on not taking the Bulldogs, then I would recommend Louisville as our second best option.  In fact, they make a great pairing with Gonzaga for our national title game for our bracket.  Notice how this seems like an off-the-wall pick but we’re actually using a 1-seed and a 2-seed in our title game.  You can be contrarian without picking a bunch of double-digit seeds getting to the Final Four.

Final Four

So we now need two other teams to complete our Final Four (duh).  In the East region, our simulation likes Villanova the most at 26.6% and Duke second at 16.4%.  The problem is the public really likes Villanova and Duke.  ESPN users have ‘Nova in their bracket 43.9% of the time and Duke 38.1% of the time.  This means we are going with our third most likely choice of Virginia.  Despite being the 5-seed, we have them as 13.8% likely to win their region while only 2.6% of brackets are currently taking them.  UVA is our East winner.

In the South region, we have a tricky situation between three teams.  North Carolina, Kentucky and Wichita State are the three most likely winners of the region. This is especially tricky considering Kentucky and Wichita State would play in the second round because the selection committee basically told them to eff off and stuck them with a 10-seed.  Quick chart to show the three teams and how they compare:

TeamOur ProjectionESPN Picks
North Carolina36.3%43.2%
Wichita State12.5%1.6%

I think you could honestly make a case for all three.  North Carolina is the most likely, Kentucky is very likely and you aren’t giving up anything to the field, Wichita State is really against the grain and gains you a ton of field position if they pull it off.  Because we already have gone pretty contrarian with the first few picks, I think the Tar Heels are the play here.  When it’s pretty close, I would go with the most likely option and in this case it’s UNC.

Now I still went through this same process for the remaining rounds but to go through every pick would not be much fun to write and wouldn’t be much fun for you to read I expect either.  So now I’ll show you the completed region following this same method.


With Virginia slotted into the Final Four, 1-seed Villanova sees their title defense end in the Sweet 16.  On the other side of this region, Duke is a very popular play which means we’ll take SMU to upset the Blue Devils and meet Virginia in the Elite Eight.  Even though Marquette is the 10-seed, they are the more popular choice against South Carolina, so in this instance, the 7-seed is actually the contrarian play.  It’s weird to see no first round upsets in a contrarian bracket but that’s the way this region played out and we’ll see more upsets in a second.


On the bottom side of the region, Arizona is the most popular pick.  Behind them is actually Saint Mary’s meaning that Florida State is not getting enough credit as a normal 3-seed.  Northwestern vs Vanderbilt is a 50/50 proposition and the majority of brackets are taking the better story in Northwestern, so Vandy is the play.  We also see two upsets as the 11-seed Xavier takes down Maryland and the 12-seed Princeton Tigers takes out Notre Dame.  The Irish are a popular pick to get to at least the Sweet 16 and knocking them out early is a good way to differentiate your bracket.


The top of the bracket features the 1-seed Kansas which is a very popular pick given their pedigree and having the best backcourt in the country.  This makes for a good time to knock them out of the tournament early, in this case to the Boilermakers of Purdue.  Oregon is an unpopular pick to make ti to the Sweet 16 after dealing with a major injury.  Nevada and Rhode Island are both upset picks that have contrarian value.  Oklahoma State is under-seeded and Michigan is getting too much love coming off of their Big Ten tournament championship.


Again, this was the toughest region to decide because of the mis-seeding of Wichita State.  That 2nd round game has Kentucky as a slight favorite over the shockers so if you can have multiple entries you may want to switch up that game in every other bracket.  Middle Tennessee is one of the most popular upset picks in the first round, which makes Minnesota a great contrarian play to get to the Sweet 16.  UCLA is also a popular pick in this bracket and having them not get past the first weekend is another solid percentage play as well.

There you have it.  There is a contrarian bracket that can actually win your pool.  If you don’t agree with every pick, that’s fine.  Change it up a little bit and make a few picks of your own.  The bigger your pool, the more upsets you should probably go with, the smaller your pool you should go with a little more chalk.

2017 NCAA Tournament

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