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Villanova’s Loss Is Kentucky’s (And Virginia’s) Gain

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.

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.