The Duke Blue Devils are one of the few teams that live up to the hype. Mike Krzyzewski guided his team to a record 15th ACC tournament title in 39 seasons as coach and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the 13th in school history.
Zion Williamson, the projected top pick in the 2019 NBA draft, missed five games with a knee sprain but came back strong in the ACC tournament, terrorizing Syracuse for 29 points on 13-for-13 shooting, breaking an ACC tournament record of 66 years. He then had 31 points and 11 rebounds against North Carolina in the semifinals and 21 points against Florida State in the final, earning tournament MVP honors. Fellow freshman RJ Barrett averaged 24.8 points during Williamson’s five-game absence and is a prefect complement to Williamson’s rim-rocking power game. Both are finalists for the USBWA National Player of the Year Award.
As of Wednesday morning, Williamson’s fame and Krzyzewski‘s leadership have led to 38 percent of participants in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge — which had 17.3 million entrants in 2018 — choosing Duke as this year’s national champion. That makes the Blue Devils a terrible choice as the winner of your bracket.
Think about it — if Duke wins the title, you are still tied with almost half the field. Compare that to the two most popular choices last year, Virginia (19 percent of brackets) and Villanova (16 percent), and it is easy to see how much of an advantage you get in such a large pool.
Plus, a 41 percent win rate for Duke is out of line with conventional wisdom. The oddsmakers at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas have kept Duke as the favorite but lowered its odds from 2 to 1 on Sunday to 9 to 4 on Monday. William Hill also has Duke as the favorite with odds of 11 to 5. Those odds from two well-known bookmakers imply Duke has roughly a 31 percent chance to cut down the nets in 2019 — a far cry from the 41 percent the public is giving them.
According to the data and methodology that fuels the perfect bracket, Duke has a 15 percent chance to be the last team standing, making the Blue Devils an abhorrent underlay that should be avoided at all costs in any large pool (100 or more people), not just those with millions of entrants. There are so many brackets picking Duke to win it all that you could go with almost any of the other top-three seeds — over the past eight years, every national champion except one, 2014 Connecticut (a No. 7 seed), was a No. 1, 2 or 3 seed — and come out ahead. The only two I would avoid are No. 1 North Carolina and No. 3 LSU; both are appearing on brackets more frequently than their title odds would suggest.