NCAA Tournament viewed via BPI

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index was not originally designed to predict results of games, but over the last three years, BPI has performed equally as well, if not better, than comparable systems when projecting the tournament.

Based on BPI’s projections, which account for the strengths of the teams and their paths to the title, we can uncover upset picks, sleepers and overvalued/undervalued teams for the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Below are three storylines for this year’s tournament using BPI’s projections.

Can Kentucky win it all?

The 2015 NCAA Tournament will be defined by Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection. The Wildcats were given a favorable draw with the weakest No. 2 (Kansas), No. 4 (Maryland) and No. 5 (West Virginia) seeds in the tournament, based on BPI ranking.

BPI projects that Kentucky has an unprecedented 81 percent chance to reach the Final Four and about a 50-50 shot to win it all. For perspective, since BPI became official in the 2011-12 season, no team before this season has had more than a one-in-three pre-tournament chance of winning the national title.

If not Kentucky, then who?

BPI gives Wisconsin the second-best chance (11 percent) to take home the title, but unlike Kentucky, Wisconsin was not given a favorable draw.

Based on average BPI ranking, Wisconsin’s West region is by far the toughest. The West’s strength is built upon its top two seeds – Wisconsin and Arizona – who are second and third in BPI rank.

If Wisconsin had been placed in a region with any other No. 2 seed, the Badgers would have had a better chance to make the Final Four than their current 46 percent chance.

Gonzaga and Virginia are No. 2 seeds that could make some noise. Gonzaga is in the easiest region, based on average BPI rank, and has the third-best chance to reach the Final Four. Duke is the No. 1 seed in Gonzaga’s region, but the Blue Devils have a lower BPI ranking than the Zags and less than a 30 percent chance to advance out of the South region.

Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite to win it all, but when looking at Kentucky versus the field, it is slightly more likely that the Wildcats’ pursuit of perfection will fall short and some team from “the field” will win the championship.

Who is this year’s Cinderella?

Because the top eight teams in BPI are also the top eight teams in the tournament, BPI projects a fairly “chalky” Elite Eight. Every No. 1 or No. 2 seed other than Kansas has at least a 50 percent chance to win three games in the tournament.

BPI’s projections have uncovered some sleepers in the tournament, though. Accounting for team strength and each team’s path to the Sweet 16, Texas has the best chance (21 percent) among double-digit seeds to advance out of the opening weekend. Buffalo, Ohio State, BYU and UCLA are all double-digit seeds with potential to make a deep run.

Similarly, Ohio State, Davidson and Dayton (if it beats Boise State in its opening-round game) are all double-digit seeds favored by BPI in their Round of 64 matchups. VCU, Iowa and Providence are on upset alert in those games.

BPI is not projecting a Cinderella to make the Elite Eight (that team wouldn’t be Cinderella!), but there are double-digit value picks in the tournament. Pick wisely and let the fun begin!