2018 NCAA March Madness – Eliminating Teams From Your Brackets

By | March 11, 2018

The NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament is upon us once again and as always I will be breaking down 5 ways you can eliminate some top seeds from consideration. In picking potential final 4 teams and champions I find it much easier to eliminate teams from consideration to narrow down the selections. The criteria we will use to do this are as follows

1. Preseason AP Rankings vs Current Rankings
2. 3 Point Shooting
3. Points Per Game
4. Coaches Success
5. Scoring Margin

1. Pre Season AP Rankings can predict tournament success

The following comes from a Nate Silver article in the NY Times before the 2011 tournament.

Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 41 cases in which a school that was unranked to start the season entered the tournament ranked in the A.P. top 10 (excluding a couple of cases where the team was ineligible for tournament play). These schools, as you might expect, were seeded highly: eight were No. 1 seeds and another 17 were seeded No. 2.
Absolutely none of these teams have made the Final Four, however: they are 0-for-41. Instead, they have been the victims of some notorious upsets, like the No. 2-seeded South Carolina Gamecocks losing — by 13 points! — to the No. 15 seed Coppin State in the opening round of the 1997 tournament, and the No. 3 seed Wisconsin Badgers being one of Davidson’s victims in 2008. Three of the No. 1 seeds that fit this description — Michigan in 1985, St. John’s in 1986, and Cincinnati in 2002 — lost in the Round of 32.

Since this article, I have kept track of all qualifying teams.

2011 Notre Dame (2) lost in 2nd round to Florida
2012 Florida State (3) lost in 2nd round to Cincinnati
2013 Georgetown (2) lost in 1st round to Florida GC
2013 Miami (2) lost in 3rd round to Marquette
2014 Villanova (1) lost in 2nd round to Uconn
2014 Iowa St (3) lost in 3rd round to Uconn
2015 Maryland(4) lost in 3rd round to Kentucky
2015 N. Iowa (5) lost in 3rd round to Louisville
2016. Xavier (2) lost in 2nd round to Wisconsin
2016. Oregon (1) lost in Elite 8 to Oklahoma
2016. West Virgina (3) lost in 1st round to Stephen F. Austin
2016. Miami (3) lost in 3rd round to Villanova
2017. Baylor (3) lost in the 3rd round to South Carolina

The record is now 0-54 for these teams to reach the Final 4.

Here are the preseason rankings for 2017-18

2017-18 NCAAB Preseason Rankings

Current Teams in the top 10 not ranked in the preseason

1S Virginia
3W Michigan

2. 3 Point Shooting

The 3 pt shot has become extremely important in both the NBA and college basketball.

Since 2007 no team who shoots under 30% from behind the arc has won a game in the tournament.

No teams qualify for this one this year

Since 2007 only 5 teams shooting under 33% from 3 have made the elite 8. If you are not going to shoot the 3 well then you need to defend it well. In 2012 both Louisville and Ohio State made it to the final 4 with sub 33% 3 point shooting but both defended the 3 as good or better than they shot it. Louisville gave up 30.3% from 3 and Ohio State 32.5%. 2015 Kentucky was sub 33% but they defended it well at 32.5%.  2016 North Carolina broke this trend a bit with a poor 3pt shooting team that gave up 36% from 3.

Teams to be leery of
15 Lipscomb
7 Texas A&M
9 Alabama
11 Syracuse
10 Texas

Be careful advancing these teams too deep in your brackets

3. Points Per Game

Playing defense is great but you will need to keep pace with great offenses come tournament time.

80 Teams have scored 73 PPG or less coming into the tournament and had a 1-4 seed. 11 made the final 4 with no champions.

Two seasons ago there was a change in the rules. The shot clock went from 35 to 30 seconds. This has caused more possessions and as such higher scoring. The average ppg per team since 2010 are as follows

2010-11 : 68.28
2011-12 : 67.25
2012-13 : 66.72
2013-14 : 70.10
2014-15 : 66.76
2015-16 : 72.29
2016-17 : 72.57
2017-18 : 72.98

Scoring has increased about 6.6%. If we add 6.6% of 73 to 73 we get an average ppg of 77.8. This is now the number needed to be exceeded in order to be a contender. To be conservative we will round down to 77.5 PPG. In 2015-16 Villanova was at 77.2 ppg entering the tournament and won it all. We want to be careful if teams are really close as this stat has obviously changed over time.

Here are the 1-4 Seeds and their PPG

Points per game for all 1-4 seeds

The teams coming up short are
1S Virginia
2S Cincinnati
3E Texas Tech
3W Michigan
3S Tennessee

4. Coaches Success
Coaches are very important to the success of a team come tournament time. The great coaches tend to outperform their expectations.

This is taken from Pete at Bracket Science

Using tourney appearances and Elite Eight trips, I’ve come up with the following taxonomy of coaching types in the tourney:

Rookies – making their first trip to the tourney
Novices – 2-5 tourney trips with no Elite Eight runs
Prodigies – 2-5 tourney trips with at least one Elite Eight run
Snake-bit – more than five trips with no Elite Eight runs
Flashes – more than five trips with one Elite Eight run
Destined – 6-10 trips with more than one Elite Eight run
Veterans – more than 10 trips with 2-4 Elite Eight runs
Legends – more than 10 trips with more than four Elite Eight runs

I’m focusing this analysis on one through six seeds, the seeds most likely to advance in the dance. A standard PASE analysis on the eight classes of coaches turned up these results:


As the chart shows the “snakebit” coaches are ones you will want to stay away from picking to make a deep run.

This year’s teams with Snake Bit coaches with a 1-6 seed are:

2S Cincinnati
2E Purdue


5. Scoring Margin

Using the PASE (Performance above seed expectations) stat from the now-defunct Bracket Science the number one determinant of being able to outperform your seed expectation is scoring margin.

123 teams have been a 1-4 seed and come into the tournament with a 15+ scoring margin. 50 have made the final 4 (41%) and 17 have won it all (14%).


Of the 153 teams to get a 1-4 seed and have a scoring margin under 10 just 2 have won a title and 11 have gone to the final 4.

Teams under the 10ppg margin are
1W Xavier
3S Tennessee
4S Arizona


30 Champions since 1985 have been a 1-4 seed with just 3 seeded higher. So for a potential champion, we should eliminate all teams seeded above 4.

From the above, we can eliminate the following top 4 seeds from championship contention;

Team (corresponding number from above that eliminated them from consideration)

1 Seeds
Virginia (1,3)
Xavier (5)

2 Seeds
Cincinnati (3,4)
Purdue (4)
North Carolina (5)

3 Seeds
Texas Tech (3)
Michigan (1,3)
Tennessee (3,5)

4 Seeds
Arizona (5)

I will be putting out some more articles this week. I will go into some potential Cinderella teams and who you will want to target in each region.

Good Luck!


10 thoughts on “2018 NCAA March Madness – Eliminating Teams From Your Brackets

  1. Cam

    All 4 teams in the South are eliminated by the criteria; what do you look to next? I want to pick UVA for the final 4 because of their dominance this season, but I’m a bit scared away due to the recent injury news.

    1. statsational Post author

      How many people in your pool and what is the scoring structure?

      1. Cam

        Small pool (~8). 32 points available per round (1st- 1 pt; 2nd- 2; 3rd- 4… etc.).

        Other Final 4 are Nova, Duke, and Gonzaga.

        1. statsational Post author

          8 people you do not want to go out on a limb at all. Stick to a chalky pick in the South. You have Gonzaga already. If they make the final 4 that might be enough to win for you.

  2. Sarosh Nizami

    6 of the 9 teams identified have already been eliminated prior to the Sweet 16 (including all Top 4 in the South) 😳 Well done analysis!

    1. statsational Post author

      Thanks man! The big one is that South bracket. If you got rid of all of those teams you are probably in good shape to win a bracket pool. I have Nevada and KY in 2 of my 3.

  3. Sarosh Nizami

    Michigan takes criteria #1 to 1-55 .. wow! Any thoughts as to why? They were in a region with Xavier and NC .. but Gonzaga didn’t have any disqualifiers (which is why I took them).

    1. statsational Post author

      Yeah, I was high on Gonzaga also for the same reasons. Michigan should have been out against Houston but they got lucky. They were probably 98% to lose in the last seconds. It happens. Nothing is a lock in gambling.

  4. Sarosh Nizami

    Yeah, I had UH as well .. wife is a Cougar alum and was devastated. Missed free throws down the stretch turned the tide of that region. Definitely no locks , especially when dealing with college kids.


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