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What Might Have Happened In The First Round Of The NCAA Tournament

Though there are no actual games to be played, FiveThirtyEight is still taking a shot at a little March Madness. We built an NCAA Tournament bracket, using ESPN’s Bracketology, and we’ll be simulating the results of each game by using a simple “100-sided dice roll” against our forecast probabilities. Check back on Fridays and Mondays through April 6 for how each round went. Here’s how the first round might have gone (including the First Four on the men’s side).

Men’s bracket

First Four: Aside from No. 16 Robert Morris squeaking out a tight win over favored Boston University, the rest of the play-in games went according to predictions, with N.C. State, Richmond and Prairie View moving on to the Round of 64.


The favorites: All of the top five seeds advanced — although Kentucky, Duke and Auburn each had a little more trouble with their first-round foes than we might expect.

The upsets: There were just two in this corner of the bracket. Iowa fell to East Tennessee State by a point, a classic 11-over-6 upset. And No. 7 Providence was unseated by No. 10 Arizona State in an incredibly low-scoring affair.

Next-round matchups: Nos. 2-3 Duke and Kentucky should benefit from the upsets on the road to the Sweet Sixteen, while Auburn-Wisconsin looks like a good duel between two balanced teams.


The favorites: The top five seeds stayed intact out West, with only No. 5 Michigan having some slight trouble getting past No. 12 Yale.

The upsets: This region’s big first-round bombshell was No. 11 Indiana edging out No. 6 Brigham Young. BYU looked like a team on the rise, and we had given the Cougars a 15 percent chance of reaching the Elite Eight, but the Hoosiers squeaked out the upset. Elsewhere, ninth-seeded Oklahoma also slipped past No. 8 LSU.

Next-round matchups: Indiana-Seton Hall recalls this matchup from the 1989 tourney, but the true game to watch next round is No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 7 Arizona — our model calls that matchup a 50-50 coin flip.


The favorites: Dayton survived in its debut as a No. 1 seed, as did Nos. 2-4 Florida State, Villanova and Maryland.

The upsets: Four lower seeds won their first-round games in the East: No. 9 Florida (over Colorado, in a result our model didn’t even consider an upset), No. 11 N.C. State (over Penn State), No. 12 Richmond (over Butler) and No. 10 Utah State (over West Virginia). That last one was a bona fide upset; we gave the Aggies only a 35 percent chance of winning, and we had given WVU a 7 percent chance of making the Final Four — tied for the best odds we gave to any team seeded sixth or worse. So much for that!

Next-round matchups: The many upsets left us with fewer intriguing matchups in the Round of 32, but Florida is a good offensive team that could provide some second-round fireworks against high-flying Dayton.


The favorites: The top six seeds in the South all advanced, with Nos. 1-3 Baylor, Creighton and Michigan State all cruising by huge margins.

The upsets: No. 9 Rutgers handled eighth-seeded Saint Mary’s, although our model gave the Scarlet Knights a 60 percent shot at the win anyway. The far bigger upset was No. 10 USC’s 1-point victory over No. 7 Illinois, a game the Fighting Illini had a 69 percent chance of winning.

Next-round matchups: No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 6 Virginia is an attention-grabber, squaring off two Final Four teams from a year ago. But No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 Ohio State is even closer — our model thinks it’s exactly a 50-50 toss-up.


Women’s bracket


The favorites: The top six seeds all moved on easily, including overall No. 1 South Carolina and No. 2 seed N.C. State.

The upsets: The only underdog to win in this corner of the bracket was 10th-seeded Marquette, which beat seventh-seeded Arkansas by 1 point in a low-scoring slugfest.

Next-round matchups: No. 4 Oregon State vs. No. 5 Missouri State is a replay of the preseason WNIT championship, which saw the Bears take an 8-point third-quarter lead before the Beavers stormed back to win by 11. Oregon State is the favorite again — at 87 percent — but could Missouri State pull the upset?


The favorites: No. 1 seed (and defending-champ) Baylor and No. 2 seed Stanford easily dispatched their foes.

The upsets: We have our first real upset here, with No. 11 James Madison toppling No. 6 Ohio State by 1 point. Her Hoop Stats gave JMU a Simple RPI ranking of 31, compared with OSU’s No. 19, but JMU actually had the higher overall rating from the site.

Next-round matchups: Iowa-Florida State is the most evenly matched No. 4-vs.-No.5 game in our bracket at 60-40, while No. 3 Mississippi State should benefit from James Madison’s upset of Ohio State.


The favorites: The favorites had an easy time of it again, with the top six seeds all winning by at least 20 points.

The upsets: There was slightly more drama in this region than in Greenville … but not by much. No. 9 seed Iowa State bested No. 8 Virginia Tech, but the Cyclones were actually the slight favorite going in (51-49 percent). No. 10 Purdue pulled an actual upset over No. 7 TCU — the Boilermakers had a 39 percent chance of the upset going in.

Next-round matchups: No. 4 DePaul will have a tough task containing Chennedy Carter and No. 5 Texas A&M, who have a 34 percent chance of pulling the upset. Meanwhile, Maryland coach Brenda Frese will face off against Iowa State, where she was an assistant from 1995 through 1999. The Terrapins aren’t likely to struggle against the Cyclones, though — we give them a 95 percent chance of moving on.


The favorites: It was another cakewalk for the top six seeds, with only No. 6 Princeton facing any trouble, prevailing by 1 point over No. 11 Tennessee.

The upsets: No. 10 Texas took down No. 7 Arizona State, but it wasn’t much of an upset — Texas was only a 51-49 underdog. The bigger upset was actually No. 9 Central Michigan over No. 8 Rutgers: Rutgers had a 66 percent chance of advancing in our model.

Next-round matchups: As a reward for their upsets, Central Michigan gets Oregon, while Texas gets UConn. Bella Alarie and the sixth-seeded Princeton Tigers, with the stingiest defense in the country, could give No. 3 Northwestern a run for its money.

Check out our simulated March Madness predictions.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.