Every third month of the year, March Madness sweeps the country. Underdogs, upsets, last-second buzzer-beaters – the massive number of games always produces dramatic results.
Of course, sheer unpredictability might be what makes picking March Madness brackets so thrilling. The guy in your bracket with the self-proclaimed moniker of “College Basketball Professor” will probably get beat by the old lady who picks based on the pretty uniforms. Shoot, did you know that every year actual monkeys beat many human bracket-pickers?
To make it even more fun, the revolving door on the coveted number one spot has created more unpredictability than ever. Last year, Kentucky blew through the year, most picked them to win the whole enchilada, and, well, they did. How boring.
So, in order to help you sort out the unpredictable-ness of this year’s tourney, I’ve put together a can’t-fail, give-you-all-the-answers guide to filling out a perfect bracket. Follow this guide, and you’ll get every last pick correct!
Or more accurately, I’ve compiled some interesting stats that might help you pick 1 of the 73 upsets that will happen. Here ya go.
How Many of Each Seed?
The link above to Roher’s statistically ingenious post explains how many of each seed are usually left at the end of each round.
For example, he explains that an average of 4.00 #1 seeds make the second round. In other words, 100% of the time, all 4 #1 seeds win in the first round.
Other interesting tidbits are that #9 seeds beat #8 seeds more often than not, and more #5 seeds have been upset in the first round than #6 seeds.
Mr. Roher has computed these stats through the Final Four, however the article was written almost 3 years ago. While some of the stats might be slightly outdated now, the overall principles still hold.
When filling out your bracket, I’d definitely take a look at those numbers and compare them to your bracket. For example, the stats say that only 1.75 #1 seeds make the final four. If you have 3 or 4 #1 seeds making the final four, you might want to rethink your strategy as you’d be going against the statistics.
Which Team Stats Indicate Upsets?
With the first March Madness tournament held in 1939, we now have 73 years’ worth of upsets to help us understand commonalities between the underdogs.
In fact, there are a number of statistics that can give us a pretty good indication of which types of teams do well in the Big Dance.
In each of these stats, I rank the top 10 of all teams with an RPI of 68 or better (the indicator I’ll use to guess which teams make the tourney).
You have to love teams that haul in the rebounds! If an underdog team can outrebound a superior foe, that means more possessions – which they’ll badly need.
Here are the top 10 teams according to rebound rate (percent of available rebounds obtained):
1. Colorado State – 59%
2. Missouri – 56.7%
3. St. Mary’s – 56.4%
4. Minnesota – 55.8%
5. Wichita St. – 55.8%
6. Butler – 55.5%
7. Pittsburgh – 55.2%
8. Gonzaga – 55.1%
9. Indiana – 55.1%
10. Oregon – 55%
3 Point Percentage
You gotta love teams that can drain from downtown! If a team catches fire, they can beat almost anyone with enough 3-pointers. Who are the teams most likely to make a ton of threes? The teams with the best 3 point percentage!
1. Creighton – 42.2%
2. Duke – 41.9%
3. Indiana – 41.8%
4. Virginia – 40.3%
5. Boise St. – 39.4%
6. NC State – 39.3%
7. Southern Miss – 38.5%
8. Middle Tennessee – 38.5%
9. Belmont – 38.4%
10. Florida – 38.3%
Field Goal Percentage
If a decent team is going to beat a great team, they’ve gotta make a ton of shots, right? These teams are the ones that can put up points big time on the scoreboard, and do it efficiently.
1. Creighton – 51.1%
2. Gonzaga – 50%
3. Belmont – 49.6%
4. NC State – 49.5%
5. Michigan – 48.6%
6. Indiana – 49.1%
7. Florida – 48.8%
8. Valparaiso – 48.5%
9. Kentucky – 48.5%
10. St. Mary’s – 48%
Assist to Turnover Ratio
Like I said above, to beat a superior team, the underdog needs to score efficiently. Dishing out a lot of assists usually indicates efficient offense, and so does a lower turnover rate. Here are the leaders in Ast/TO ratio (number of assists per turnover).
1. Notre Dame – 1.58
2. Pitt – 1.543
3. UCLA – 1.493
4. Michigan – 1.433
5. Wisconsin – 1.431
6. Creighton – 1.427
7. Denver – 1.422
8. Ohio – 1.42
9. Kansas St. – 1.405
10. Bucknell – 1.369
Opponent Field Goal Percentage
These are teams that cause those boring, low-scoring contests, but they can produce upsets! Like the adage goes, defense wins championships – or at least a game or two in March Madness.
1. Kansas – 35.1%
2. Syracuse – 37.1%
3. Florida – 37.3%
4. Stony Brook – 37.6%
5. Stephen F. Austin – 37.6%
6. Bucknell – 37.8%
6. Georgetown – 37.9%
7. Gonzaga – 38.5%
8. Indiana – 38.7%
9. Cincinnati – 38.7%
10. Virginia – 38.7%
Opponent Turnover Percentage
These are the full-court pressing, get-in-your-grill, disrupting teams that wreak havoc on opponents’ offenses. These ball-hawking teams force turnovers in bunches, creating extra chances for themselves to score! (Turnover percentage = turnovers divided by possessions.)
1. VCU – 28.5%
2. Louisville – 27%
3. Denver – 25.9%
4. E. Kentucky – 25.9%
5. Ohio – 25.4%
6. S. Mississippi – 24.7%
7. LA Tech – 24.1%
8. Middle Tennessee – 24%
9. Belmont – 23.9%
10. Syracuse – 23.5%
Frankly, I don’t care if those stats show that Gonzaga or Indiana are great. We know that already, and everyone’s going to pick them to go far.
But, using the stats above, we can make some (maybe) educated guesses as to some upset candidates:
Creighton RPI 34 – Their RPI puts them at about a 9 seed, so a first-round win wouldn’t be too much of an upset, but any further and they’re likely playing the underdog role. They ranked 1st in 3 point % and field goal %, as well as 6th in Ast/TO ratio. Basically, they shoot the best percentage, hands down, of anyone in the tourney, and they don’t waste possessions either. Potent combo.
Belmont RPI 23 – I know, wouldn’t be a huge upset because they’re ranked pretty good… they would be slated for about a 6 seed. That puts them as likely underdogs for every round but the first.
But take a look at this: they are one of the few teams ranked for offensive and defensive categories (and most of the others are juggernauts like Gonzaga). They rank in at 9th in 3 point % and 9th in opponent turnover %. That’s an awesome combination to have, because they can steal extra possessions away and rain 3s on you. Nice pick to go deep.
VCU RPI 30 – It’s possible they’ll snare an 8 seed come selection Sunday, and they’re famous for terrorizing opponent’s defenses. Ranking at #1 for opponent turnover %, they forced turnovers well over a quarter of the time.
St. Mary’s RPI 36 – Another potential 9 seed that ranks for multiple cats. They’re 3rd for rebounding (one of the better indicators for wins) and 10th for field goal %.
Dark Horse Candidates
Virginia RPI 59 – They’re 4th on the 3 point % list, and as a serious underdog you better believe they won’t be gun-shy. They also come in at 10th in opponent field goal %. Hmmm… another offense/defense category combination!
Denver RPI 67 – A team that loves to wreak havoc, ranking in at 3rd at forcing turnovers. That’s definitely an impressive stat for a bubble team.
A Few Random Statistics
When filling out your bracket, it’s important to know things like “no #1 has ever lost in the first round.” You know, so you don’t look lame and stuff.
– Only once have all 4 #1 seeds made the Final Four.
– No #1s in the Final Four has only happened three times.
– 11 of the last 13 winners have won 82% of their games, averaged 77 points per game, and won by an average of 14 points per game. The only teams so far to qualify: Gonzaga and Indiana!
– Other teams qualifying for 2 of those 3 categories: Duke, Louisville, Florida, Stephen F. Austin, and Middle Tennessee.
I think you’re probably all stat-ted out by now, so I’ll let you be. Good luck with your bracket!
Anything I missed? Let me know!
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