Which Upsets are Most Likely in the NCAA Basketball Tournment? | MDRG

Which Upsets Do Fans Think Are Most Likely to Happen in the NCAA Basketball Tournament?

Heath Gregory

Data Science Manager

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament starts today! If you’re a college basketball fan, you’ve probably made a submission to your office bracket pool. Unless you want to be that annoying person who chooses the higher seeded team to win every game, you’ve predicted a few upsets in your bracket. At least some of those predictions may come to fruition because there has never been a Tournament without at least a few upsets. This year should be no different.

With that in mind, we wondered which first round match-ups college basketball fans felt were most likely to end in an upset victory for the underdog. We decided to do some research to find out.

Our MaxDiff Methodology

We chose 20 potential upsets that could happen in the first round of the Tournament and recruited 2,644 college basketball fans across the nation to rank them in terms of most to least likely to happen. If you have a long list of items, a MaxDiff exercise is often the best research methodology for ranking them. Research has shown that most people can’t rank a list of more than five or six items. They may be able to tell you their top and bottom-ranked items, but it is really a toss up if their rankings in the middle truly reflect how they feel. Don’t believe me? Try ranking your top 20 favorite movies of all time. It’s harder than you might think. It requires a lot of thought and effort that you probably wouldn’t want to give in an online survey. MaxDiff solves this problem because it breaks the ranking task down into sets of four. In each set, respondents choose the item they prefer most and least. We can then use fancy math (Hierarchical Bayes Estimation) at the end of the study to compute each respondent’s rankings. In this particular research study, we presented respondents with 15 sets of four potential Tournament upsets, and they chose the upset they felt was most and least likely to happen.

This makes the ranking task easier and more fun for respondents, which is very important because when respondents are engaged in having fun, they tend to give you responses that more accurately reflect how they truly feel. With that in mind, displayed below are the first round upsets that fans across the nation think are most likely to happen.


According to 2,644 college basketball fans across the nation, Nevada, Marquette, Wisconsin, and Maryland are the teams that should be on alert most for a first round upset.

Why Does This Matter to You?

As a marketer, you may frequently have a long list of items such as logos, messages, new product names, slogans, or any other list of marketing assets that you need your target consumer to rank so that you can make a decision on how to move forward. You may need to make a decision quickly, and that’s where MaxDiff shines. At MDRG, we frequently handle quick turn ranking studies for our clients using MaxDiff exercises. We can help you out if you need a ranking of items in the minds of your consumers. That’s who matters most.

Like Research on Sports Fans?

Check out FanJuicer.com, our passion project where we apply market research techniques like MaxDiff to sports fan research studies. Our follow-up post on Fanjuicer (click here to read) shows fans were scarily accurate in predicting the first round upsets.