Last March, many of us worked in offices — but, thanks to the coronavirus, there was no NCAA Tournament.
This March, thanks to the coronavirus, many of us no longer work in offices — but the NCAA Tournament is returning.
So even if your “office pool” has gone digital, here are 10 tips that could help you build the bracket that wins:
- The bracket line where upsets are most likely to happen. The last time we had an NCAA Tournament, 2019, the famous “12-5 upset line” was in full force.
No. 12 seeds went 3-1 vs. No. 5 seeds in the 2019 Big Dance.
Since 2012, No. 12s are 14-18 vs. No. 5s.
However, over the past eight renewals of March Madness, there is a another bracket line where upsets have been more likely.
Since 2012, No. 11 seeds are 16-16 vs. No. 6 seeds.
2. How to identify teams vulnerable to the early upset by using the line. According to sports-gaming website oddshark.com, teams favored by five points or more in NCAA Tournament first-round matchups have won 85.4 percent of games since 1996.
Conversely, teams favored by less than five points have won 55.3 percent of first-round games since 1996.
3. How to identify teams vulnerable to the early upset by using statistics. The numbers geeks now say the teams that are the most susceptible to NCAA tourney upsets are those with a higher than average turnover rate; poor three-point shooting percentage; and/or which average taking fewer free throws a game than their opponents.
4. Unless you have a strong feel about a game based on the matchups, stay with the chalk early. Based off recent history, there’s little reason to pick a team seeded below the 12 line to win in the round of 64.
Since 2012, No. 1 seeds are 31-1 (oh, Virginia) vs. No. 16s; No. 2s are 28-4 vs. No. 15s; No. 3s are 27-5 vs. No. 14s; and No. 4s are 26-6 vs. No. 13s.
(However, if you are looking for a reason beyond sentiment to pick local favorite Morehead State — the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament champions are a No. 14 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology — there is this:
Of the last 12 OVC teams to make the NCAA Tournament, six have won their initial game).
5. Where to look for round of 32 upsets. In 2019, all four No. 2 seeds reached the round of 16.
That is an anomaly, however. No. 2 seeds have a history of vulnerability in their second NCAA tourney games.
Since 2016, only 10 of 16 No. 2 seeds have made the round of 16.
6. Consider the NCAA tourney track records of coaches. Coaches are the constants in the ever-churning world of college basketball. So it can be their tournament trends that matter the most.
So be leery of teams coached by UCLA’s Mick Cronin (6-11 in NCAA tourney games) and Purdue’s Matt Painter (15-12).
However, one tournament run can rewrite a coach’s narrative.
Before 2019, Virginia’s Tony Bennett had led the Cavaliers to six prior NCAA Tournaments — three times as a No. 1 seed, once as a No. 2 — yet was a pedestrian 7-6 in the Dance since his arrival.
After Virginia went 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA tourney and won the national title, Bennett is viewed very differently.
7. Picking your Final Four. Since 2002, 57 of the 72 teams that have reached the national semifinals have ranked in the top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency in the Pomeroy Ratings (available at kenpom.com).
Over the same time frame, 59 of 72 Final Four entrants have ranked in the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
This year, using the top 30 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency as a Final Four screen would eliminate some well-thought-of teams — Baylor (No. 38 in adjusted defensive efficiency), Ohio State (No. 78 adjusted defensive efficiency), Alabama (No. 43 adjusted offensive efficiency) and Virginia (No. 35 adjusted defensive efficiency).
8. No. 1 seeds win championships. Of the last eight NCAA championships, six have been won by No. 1 seeds — including Virginia in 2019.
9. Picking the national champ. Twelve of the 18 NCAA champs since 2002 have ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency in the Pomeroy Ratings.
This year (through Friday afternoon), there are only four such teams: Gonzaga, Michigan, Illinois and Houston.
10. If all else fails, pick a team that wears blue. Since 2004, every NCAA champion but one has had blue among its primary school colors.
That’s very good news for Gonzaga (navy blue and white), Michigan (maize and blue) and Illinois (navy blue and orange).
It is not so great for Houston (red, silver and white).
Enjoy your return to “Bracket-ville.”
By Mark Story, Lexington Herald-Leader