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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.


#2 seeds are 80-4 in the first round; but #2 are only 16-14 in the second round vs. #10
#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
+ 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
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.