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Nick's Picks: Predictions for the men's NCAA Tournament

Data reporter Nick Hedges predicts how ASU and the rest of the field will fare in the NCAA Tournament


ASU players take the field before the Sun Devils 49-7 blowout win over the UTSA Roadrunners at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. Photo illustration published on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.   

Selection Sunday was nerve-racking for ASU men's basketball.

After waiting through three entire regions of the bracket without hearing their name called, the Sun Devils were one of the last four teams announced in the NCAA Tournament.

That “last four in” label comes with a trip to Dayton, Ohio, for the first round of games. ASU is slated to play St. John’s on Wednesday evening. The winner will earn a trip to Tulsa, Okla., to play No. 6-seeded Buffalo.

Now that the chaos of Selection Sunday is over, it’s time to predict how ASU and the rest of the field will fare in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s start by looking at ASU’s path:

ASU vs. St. John’s (Wednesday, March 20, 6:10 MST)

This first four match-up is intriguing for several reasons. It will feature two of the more recognizable coaches in college basketball. ASU’s Bobby Hurley and Chris Mullin of St. John’s will both look to lead their teams beyond the first four.

The Sun Devils will definitely have their hands full with Red Storm Shamorie Ponds and company. Ponds averages nearly 20 points a game and adds an additional five assists. Widely considered one of the best players in the country, Ponds could lead the Red Storm to a win if he gets going.

The composite index gives ASU a slight advantage, but history tells us just as much about the outcome of this matchup. St John’s and ASU played at Staples Center in Los Angeles last season, and the Sun Devils won by 12

Ponds was held to an abysmal 6-for-23 from the field while being primarily guarded by Remy Martin. That one-on-one match-up will come up again Wednesday, and if history is any indicator, Martin will get the better of it, and ASU will pull out a win.

ASU: 51.4 percent chance to win

St. John’s: 48.6 percent chance to win

Prediction: ASU 76, St. John’s 70

ASU vs. Buffalo (Friday, March 22, 1 p.m. MST)

If ASU beats St. John’s, they’ll move on to face the Buffalo Bulls on Friday. This coaching matchup is even more interesting than the last game. Before coaching ASU, Hurley was the head of Buffalo’s basketball team, and he was an integral part of building the program there.

The composite index gives the Bulls a slight advantage, but without taking recruiting rankings into account, their chances increase dramatically, which is really hard to ignore. 

The Bulls also come into the tournament having won 12 games in a row. Their consistency, paired with ASU’s lack thereof, is a recipe for disaster for the Sun Devils. 

The last nail in the coffin is the difference in NET rankings. According to the new metric, Buffalo is the fifteenth-best team in the nation, while ASU is ranked No. 63. ASU worked hard to get into the tournament, but it won’t make it past the Bulls.

Buffalo: 52.95 percent chance to win

ASU: 47.05 percent chance to win

Prediction: Buffalo 81, ASU 72

The Rest of the Field

The same system used to predict games in Nick’s Picks was also used to simulate the entire NCAA Tournament. The bracket can be viewed below, but here’s a quick overview:

Gonzaga is selected as the national champion, predicted to beat Tennessee in the final by a score of 71-67. The predicted final four is rounded out by No. 1-seeded Duke and No. 3-seeded Houston.

The composite index gives Gonzaga an 8.6 percent chance to win the championship, which is the highest of any other team. Duke has the second-highest odds at 8.2 percent (by comparison, ASU is given a 0.7 percent chance to win the title).

As far as upsets are concerned, Nick’s Picks wasn’t too generous to lower-seeded teams, but there were a few surprises in the round of 64 teams to take note of:

No. 12-seed Liberty was given a 48 percent chance to beat No. 5-seed Mississippi State, which was close enough to predict an upset.

In another 12/5 match-up, Murray State is given a 53 percent chance to beat Marquette. This isn’t as surprising as it may seem because Murray State has a potential top-3 NBA draft pick in Ja Morant

12-seed Oregon is not only predicted to win its first round game against No. 5-seed Wisconsin, but also its second game over No. 4-seed Kansas State. The Ducks will look to continue their hot streak from the Pac-12 tournament and play into the Sweet Sixteen, where they would likely meet No. 1-seed Virginia.

Here is the full bracket on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge:

The composite index is formed by combining our own “Power Index” with other rankings and ratings. Read below to see specifics about how the composite index is formed.

The primary component of the composite index is a custom "power index" which combines various player/team unit rankings and scores to create one number that tells how good a team is overall. 

However, because the custom index does not account for in-season changes, ESPN's BPI, Sagarin rankings and national composite scores are factored in as well.

After each of these scores are found for each team, the median and average of those scores for each team is calculated. The median and averages for each team are then averaged together to find the composite index score.

To predict games, the composite index scores for each team in the game are added together, adding 10 points for the home team. After that, the composite index score for each team is divided by that total to find win probability.

Reach the reporter at and follow @nicktrimshedges on Twitter.

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