Tips on Picking NCAA Tournament Games

First comes filling in your brackets. Office pool success is typically decided by two types of predictions: 1) Picking teams that will go deep into the tournament; 2) Picking a healthy amount of upsets in the early rounds. On the surface every #1 seed looks strong – that's why they are top seeds. But you're not going to win your pool without scoring with some surprises. Let's take a look at how #1 seeds have historically done: (All stats are since 1985, the year the Big Dance became a 64-team tournament. All results are straight-up with no consideration for point spread.) Number of Final Four teams that were #1 seeds in a given year: All 4: zero times 3 of 4: three times 2 of 4: 10 times 1 of 4: eight times 0 of 4: zero times Very interesting . . . never all four, but never none – one or two 18 of the last 21 years! Considering that picking upsets wins bracket pools, the numbers advice advancing only one #1 to the semifinals in your bracket. Which one? Key fact to consider: Of the 84 Final Four teams in our sample, 32 failed to meet ALL of the following conditions: + Made tourney the prior year. + Had a preseason AP All-American. + Beat opponents by an average of 10+ points a game. + Got at least 35% of scoring from their frontcourt (forwards and centers). Stunningly, of the 32 teams that failed to meet ALL the above conditions, only 5 made the Final Four! But don't count on #1 seeds falling easily: 84-0 in the first round. 72 of 84 (86%) make it to the Sweet 16. 58 of 84 (69%) make it to the Elite 8! Which leads to a key point – seemingly upset worthy #8 and #9 seeds inevitably must face a #1 in the second round, severely decreasing the likelihood of advancing as far as even the Sweet 16.

In the Elite 8, #1s are only 21-19 to win that next game to reach the Final Four when playing a #2 or #3 seeds. When playing any other seed lower than 3, the #1s have won 15 of 18 games to reach the Final Four. Non-#1s #2 seeds are 80-4 in the first round; but #2 are only 16-14 in the second round vs. #10 seeds. #3 seeds are 70-14 in the 1st round – but only 46% make it to the Sweet 16! #4 seeds are 67-17 in the 1st round – but only 44% make it to the Sweet 16! #13 and #14 seeds combined have won 31 first-round games, but are only 5-26 in the second round. At least one #12 seed has beaten a #5 in the first round every year but one since 1988. Over the last five tournaments, #5 seeds are only 11-9 vs. #12 seeds. Which leaves #10, #11, and #12 seeds as prime Cinderella candidates – when they win in the first round, these sleepers are shockingly almost 50% (41-44) to win in the second round and move on to the Sweet 16. Teams with automatic bids do significantly better than teams who are chosen for an at-large bid. The Elite 8 is where the big upsets usually end. 27 times in this round big underdogs (defined by being 4 or more seeds lower) have faced favorites, winning only 4 of those 27 games. Seeds of 84 Final Fours teams of the last 21 years: #1: 36 #2: 18 #3: 11 #4: 8 #5: 4 #6: 3 #8: 3 #11: 1 87% of Final Four teams come from the top 4 seeds! Only once has a lower than #8 made the Final Four! Of the last 21 champions, 12 were #1 seeds. Don't believe the myth that the Mid-Major conferences are closing the gap with the big boys – in the last 6 years, these conferences have:

+ sent less teams to the dance + with a lower average seed + won a lower percentage of games than in ANY other 5-year period of the last 21 years. The gap between the super conferences and mid-Majors is widening. Important game factors to keep in mind when picking winners: Experience of both the players and the coach in the Big Dance - the more the better. How the team did on the road during the season – NCAA Tournament games are road games. Home-court fan advantage for certain teams in certain rounds. Ignore bench depth – over the last 6 years, Final Four teams have gotten over 80% of their points from their five starters.