March Madness 2023 – What NCAA Tournament Experts Were Right and Wrong

Maybe our March 2023 slices of madness never stood a chance.

Considering everything that happened in the early hours of the NCAA tournament, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the UConn Huskies, Miami Hurricanes, Florida Atlantic Owls and San Diego State Aztecs are heading to Houston for the Final Four.

Of the more than 20 million brackets submitted in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, 0.3% of them had FAU reaching the Final Four. Each 16 seed was selected to make the Sweet 16 twice as often as FAU was to make the Elite Eight.

Still, somehow, there were 37 perfect picks for the Final Four.

ESPN’s college basketball writers, commentators and analysts, who made their picks shortly after the tournament field was announced, were certainly not perfect. How bad was that? Of the 42 experts, 29 did not get a single correct Final Four pick. However, those who rode with UConn still have hope.

Here’s what the experts got right and what they missed:

Purdue, Arizona: JMJ?

The first two days of the NCAA Tournament are almost always the most fun. In 2023, they were also one of the most destructive for peaks and supports.

Six pundits lost their national championship picks in the first weekend. Three picked the Kansas Jayhawks, two picked the Duke Blue Devils and one picked the Purdue Boilermakers. Despite having the fewest title picks, Purdue suffered the tournament’s most shocking loss, losing as the No. 1 seed to the No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson Knights.

It was only the second time a No. 16 had beaten a No. 1 seed. For a brief moment, we loved FDU, the little school in Madison, New Jersey. But they weren’t the only Garden State team to cause a huge upset.

The No. 15 seed Princeton Tigers knocked out the No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats. Seven experts had Zona in the Final Four. They were the second most popular pick in the South Region, behind No. 1 seed Alabama Crimson Tide. In Tournament Challenge, those losses translated into 2.56 million slices, getting the title winner wrong.

It is time to leave

In the East Region, 37 of 42 pundits picked either Duke, a No. 5 seed, or No. 2 seed Marquette Golden Eagles to win that region. Neither made it past the Round of 16 — Marquette lost to the No. 7-seeded Michigan State Spartans and Duke lost to the No. 4-seeded Tennessee Volunteers.

And just like that, 18 pundits lost multiple Final Four picks in the first weekend, and there were no perfect parentheses left.

A chalk broom

A pair of No. 1 seeds, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Houston Cougars, looked like they could save the tournament for the pundits. These teams were the clear No. 1s at the start of the tournament and had been pretty dominant throughout the season. Alabama (11) and Houston (8) were the most popular national champion picks by pundits. Texas has also been picked eight times.

Ah, but there was even more chaos, with unlikely Final Four teams entering the scene. If the pundits can point to teams that absolutely destroy them, it’s the Miami Hurricanes and the San Diego State Aztecs. The Canes eliminated the Cougars and Longhorns, losing 16 different pundits to a Final Four title team/winner. The Aztecs eliminated the Tide and, for good measure, the Creighton Bluejays, who were selected for the Final Four by a pundit.

The Tournament Challenge slices didn’t fare any better. Alabama was chosen to win it all in 19% of ESPN’s brackets and was in the Final Four in 10,550,182 brackets.

Save us, UConn

Play-by-play commentator Doug Sherman picked Miami and UConn to reach the Final Four. He is the only expert to get two correct teams. For 11 other pundits, the Huskies were the only team they picked well. Four experts, including Sherman, chose UConn to cut the nets in Houston. Some numbers and history suggest this choice might work:

6-0: UConn has never lost a Final Four game in the Lone Star State. The Huskies have won three (2004, 2011, 2014) of their four national championships in Texas.

23: With one 9 seed, two 5 seeds and one 4 seed playing in Houston, the combined seeded total is 23. This is the second highest seeded total ever in the a Final Four. The highest was 26 in 2011 – also a Final Four in Houston and one where UConn won it all.

0: This is the first Final Four since 2011 in which a No. 1 seed has not played. Again, UConn was there and won it all. Zero is also the number of Final Four appearances for FAU, Miami and SDSU.

ESPN Fantasy Sports researcher Kyle Soppe contributed to this story.


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