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March Madness is here! One of the most wonderful times of the sports year, when experts and amateurs come together to try and predict which team will win it all. Some do it money. Others, for bragging rights.
Whether you are filling out a bracket for the first time or you have done this for years, there are some stats and stories that stick out in the analytics of the tournament. Keep these in mind when making your picks, whether you are trying to win the all-important office pool or you’re doing it for personal joy.
Last year, there were 20 incidents of lower seeds beating higher seeds, including three 12-over-5 matchups and two 11-over-6 matchups in the 1st Round. Since 1985, there have been only three seasons where a #12 seed has not beaten a #5 seed and only five seasons where an #11 seed has not beaten a #6 seed. #9 seeds have a 61-59 record against #8 seeds since 1985.
Which team has the potential to be this year’s Dayton, the double-digit seed to make the Elite 8? Watch out for BYU, an #11 seed that was the runner-up in the WCC and averages over 85 points per game. Also, Buffalo, winners of the MAC, have won 8 games in a row and rank in the Top 30 in scoring. Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Washington enter the tournament on a hot streak and have favorable 1st-Round matchups. #11 Dayton has the all-around talent to make some noise. #11 Texas is an exciting team that is finally healthy and does well against big competition. Get ready to do some dancing.
#1 & #2
Since 2000, 21 #1 seeds and 12 #2 seeds have made the Final Four. 12 #1 seeds have made the championship game and 10 have won it. Four #2 seeds have made it to the championship game and only one has won it. For 5 years out of the last 15, more than one #1 seeds have made the Final Four in the same year (hasn’t happened since 2009).
This year, both the #1 and #2 seeds are strong and could be interchangeable. While they are the popular picks to make the Elite 8, watch out for some of the lower seeds like Michigan State vs Virginia, Notre Dame vs Kansas, Louisville vs Villanova, and Iowa State vs Gonzaga.
WILL HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF?
This year, Kentucky becomes the 19th team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. They join Wichita State from last year, and they were the first since 1991. 7 of those teams have won the national title, and it has not happened since Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in 1976. Kentucky has also qualified for the Final Four THREE times in the five years John Calipari has coached them.
Kentucky is good. Really good. They rank in the Top 5 in Points Allowed Per Game, the Top 30 in Points Per Game, and are #1 in the country in Scoring Margin. They’ve both dominated games and have come from behind to win. They are the clear favorite this year to keep it up since they have beaten elite competition all season, going 11-0 against teams with an RPI in the Top 50. In my opinion, they are a lock for the Final Four, with their toughest test coming against Notre Dame in the Elite 8.
OFFENSE WINS GAMES, DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Over the last 15 years, 12 winners of the NCAA tournament ranked in the Top 10 in SCORING MARGIN (points per game – points allowed per game). 6 led the nation in that category. No winner in that stretch has ranked outside of the Top 40 (Connecticut (2014; 2012) and Syracuse (2003) are the only ones outside of the top 10). Teams that balance both the offense and the defense continue that success into March/April.
This year, all four #1 seeds, three #2 seeds (#2 Kansas is 50th), #5 Utah, #10 Ohio State, and #12 Stephen F. Austin make up the Top 10 in this stat. Ironically, all of these teams are odds-on favorites to win. Look to these teams to make a run to the Final Four and continue dominance throughout the tournament.
Good luck and may the best teams win!
My picks: #1 Kentucky, #2 Arizona, #2 Virginia, and #3 Iowa State make the Final Four. Kentucky beats Virginia in the Championship Game.