March Madness is one of the most riveting events because it’s so unpredictable. It starts with 68 teams and ends with just one team victorious in what is probably the most entertaining and convoluted of ways to crown a champion.
It also happens to steal the sports scene and even nation attention for three weeks as everyone from die-hard fans to sport novices get involved and root for their team. Why is that?
It’s because of the bracket; one of the greatest inventions in sports history where 64 teams get split into four regions and are numbered one through sixteen based upon their win-loss record, strength of schedule, notoriety, and probably a bunch of other things that could be important or just novel. Either way, it’s captivating to look at an empty bracket and fantasize over the multiple ways that it can be filled out.
Of course its practically impossible to fill out a perfect bracket because it never goes the way we expect; teams that should win end up losing and teams that can’t even be found on a map somehow become Cinderella even if just for one night. It provides some of the best drama in all of sports and the bracket makes it all the more intriguing because it creates an opportunity to predict the unpredictable and to exhibit our ability to prognosticate.
But filling out a bracket doesn’t need to be seen as an impossible challenge because with just a little research a definite advantage can be had. By looking at the last thirteen years of the Tournament there a number of trends that exist that make filling out a bracket a bit more than a shot in the dark.
Here’s some facts about the Tournament since 2000 that will make filling out the bracket that much easier:
A #1 seed as made the Final Four 11 of the last 13 years, and a #1 seed has won the Tournament 9 of 13 years or 70% of the time.
About half of the time (6 of the 13 years) two #1 seeds made it to the final four but only once as all four #1 made it to the Final Four.
Other than a #1 seed the only other seeds to win the Tournament were #2 and #3 and the only other seeds to even make it to the Finals were #5 and #8.
The worst seed to make it to the Final Four is #11 and it has happened twice (both times #11 beat a #1).
Eleven times there was at least one upset from the Elite Eight into the Final Four with two or more happening nine of those eleven meaning that best teams remain regardless of original seed.
#2 seeds make it to the Final Four about 70% of the time, #3 seeds make it about half the time, and #4 seeds make it a quarter of the time.
At the Elite Eight level a #1 seed as made it every year and the most common scenario is at least 2 #1′s making it (11 of 13 years) and even all four #1′s have made it five of those years.
11 of 13 years has seen a #5 seed or worse make the Elite Eight and about half the time it’s at least two such teams.
Six times a #10 seed or worse has made the Elite Eight (#10′s, #11′s, and #12′s only) and only once did two teams do it in the same year.
To be honest sometimes the easiest part of filling out the bracket is picking the winner, especially if there was one dominant team all year long that was a level above the rest like Kentucky last year or North Carolina a few years back. This year doesn’t look to be one of those years so the trends given above should prove to be advantageous in filling out the middle of the bracket and picking teams that could go on long runs.
The harder part of the bracket is picking those first round upsets that tend to be much harder because we know they are going to happen but it’s a matter of picking the right ones. Many times it’s safer to just pick chalk for a particular reason but that can be just as risky as picking a lot of upsets because there have only been 8 chalk regions out of a possible 52 (15%) so sometimes it pays to throw an upset into each region because it’s more likely to have one than not have one. The puzzle though is knowing the right one to pick.
Let’s take a look at the most common seeded matchups and shed some light on them to help make the right pick on the bracket.
#8 vs. #9-This matchup is viewed as the closest to a 50-50 proposition and while that’s true it’s not that close. Since 2000 8 seeds have won 56% of these games (29 to 23) and twice all #8′s have swept and once all #9′s have swept and three times the seeds have split. It’s almost a certainty that at least one #9 will win and the odds that even 2 or 3 win is about the same; it will come down to the teams that get paired because it could be obvious who the stronger team is.
#7 vs. #10-This matchup is also sometimes seen as one of the “easier” upsets to pick though it can be a challenge. A #7 has won 60% of the time (31 to 21) and five of the thirteen years there has been a split which is a strong option. The most likely scenario is that at least one #10 wins and possibly two but anymore than that is highly unlikely. Also, the best upset candidate is a major conference team (one of the big six conference teams) which represents 67% of 10 seed wins.
#6 vs. #11 & #5 vs. #12 both come in with the same upset chance of 34% for the worse seed. Picking a #12 seed as the “go-to” upset pick has been conventional wisdom among those filling out brackets but picking an #11 seed can be a bit more savvy especially since #11 seeds tend to make deeper runs in the tournament than #12′s do.
It’s likely to see one of each of these upsets happen this year and its possible for more as seven of the thirteen years as seen as least two of each win. The best candidates for these picks are minor to mid-major conference schools over a major conference school.
The last one to be covered is #4 vs. #13 which happens about 23% of the time and has happened ten of the thirteen years which means its very likely to see one. The best candidate is a small school surprising a major conference school.
In conclusion, here are some guidelines to use when filling out your bracket:
Bet on at least one #1 seed making a deep run and likely one will win it all against a top #3 seed.
It’s likely to see a majority of better seeds (#1-#4) make the Elite Eight but a few worse seeds (#5 or worse) will make it as well and expect a few better seeds to lose going into the Final Four with likely just one or two #1′s in the Final Four.
It’s likely to see at least one upset in each region and expect at least one #9, #10, #11, #12, and #13 to win though it’s important to use the data given above to tell those particular upset decisions because the odds are upsets will happen but its hard to pick how many.
Don’t forget to keep in mind the Top 25 rankings (which aren’t on the bracket), who won their conference tournament, and the teams who are on “hot streaks” because these provide additional context for how good a team is regardless of the seed given.
Look out for teams like Saint Louis who won the Atlantic 10 Tournament and are in the top 20, New Mexico who won the Mountain West Tournament and are in the top 20, Creighton who won the Missouri Valley Tournament and is in the top 25, as well as big conference teams like Ole Miss who went from a bubble team to winning the SEC Tournament, Louisville who finished strong to close out the Big East, and Ohio State who played great down the stretch to win the Big Ten tournament.
Also, keep in mind schools like Virginia Commonwealth (VCU), Saint Mary’s, Belmont, UNLV and Butler who have had strong seasons and could be difference makers in the Tournament.
I’ll be posting my bracket later on tonight once it’s been released with my proposed upsets that make the most sense.