Two games into Kentucky’s NCAA tournament, the Wildcats are right back where they started: with a 41 percent chance to finish the season as undefeated champions, according to our March Madness predictions. Neither of Kentucky’s wins so far particularly helped its chances; each was expected. Instead, the big event happened on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, on the other side of the bracket: North Carolina State upset Villanova, the team our model pegged as most likely to win the tournament if Kentucky faltered.
Before Villanova’s loss, we gave it a 16 percent chance to win it all. Those percentage points are now spoils for the victors this weekend. Virginia, the No. 2 seed on the other end of the East regional bracket from Villanova, saw its chances of winning the title rise by 3 percentage points, roughly the same gain as Kentucky’s. Arizona’s and Duke’s respective title probabilities each rose by nearly 2 percentage points. And Gonzaga, Michigan State, N.C. State, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma and Wisconsin each gained nearly 1 percentage point of title-winning probability. Kentucky’s still the big favorite, but lots of other teams gained on the Wildcats simply by surviving and advancing into the Sweet 16.
N.C. State’s convincing win — the Wolfpack never trailed in the second half — erased the chalk residue from the previous two days and restored some parity to a top-heavy tournament. It’s the fifth time in the last six years that a No. 1 seed has lost in the round of 32. In a way, Villanova’s loss at this stage is even more surprising than other recent underperforming No. 1 seeds. Villanova started with a title winning probability of 11 percent. No team that started the event with a chance of 1-in-10 or greater of winning the title failed to reach the Sweet 16 in any of the four previous years FiveThirtyEight has forecasted the tournament.
Check out FiveThirtyEight’s March Madness predictions.