Statsational 5 Ways To Eliminate NCAA Tournament Pretenders

By | March 16, 2015


There is absolutely nothing in sports that compares to the excitement of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Everyone from the sharpest of sharps to your grandmother and her hair dresser are putting in a bracket pool entry somewhere. I do hours upon hours of research this time of year in the hopes of finding some angles worth playing. Let me share with you some of my thoughts on this upcoming tournament and what you should be looking for in your brackets.

Much of the data I will be referencing in this article I received via Peter Tiernan of Bracket Science. His site is an invaluable tool for getting information on the tournament teams. Unfortunately Pete will not be updating his site this year.

In picking potential final 4 teams and champions I find it much easier to eliminate teams from consideration to narrow down the selections. Here are some of the criteria I will use

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.

This has held up since then.

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) TBD
2015 N. Iowa (5) TBD

2. 3 point shooting

In this day and age of college basketball the three point shot has become extremely important.

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

This year no teams qualify

Since 2007 only 4 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%. Last year Kentucky was sub 33% but they defended it well at 32.5%

Teams to be leary of
Hampton 30.4%
Louisville 30.4%
Providence 31%
West Virginia 31.9%
Georgia St 31.9%
Texas Southern 32%
San Diego St 32.1%
Wyoming 32.3%

3. Scoring Margin

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

113 teams have been a 1-4 seed and come in to the tournament with a 15+ scoring margin. 46 have made the final 4 (41%) and 16 have won it all (14.2%).

This years teams:

Kentucky +20.9
Arizona +17.8
Gonzaga +17.1
Wisconsin +15.8
Villanova +15.4
Duke +15

There have been 8 teams in the tournament with a 15+ scoring margin and a strength of schedule 70 or worse. None made it to an elite 8. Gonzaga has an 83 SOS

Of the 137 teams to get a 1-4 seed and have a scoring margin under 10 just 2 have won a title and 11 gone to the final 4.

This year:

Kansas +6.5

Iowa St +9.1

Oklahoma +9.2
Baylor +8.8

North Carolina +9.5

Louisville +9.7

Georgetown +6.1

Maryland +6.2

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

Again 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 years Snake Bit coaches with a 1-6 seed are:

Notre Dame

5. Points Per Game

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

72 Teams have scored 73 ppg or less in the tournament and had a 1-4 seed. 10 made the final 4 with no champions.

This year:

Wisconsin 71.9
Virginia 65.3
Kansas 71.2
Oklahoma 71.9
Baylor 69.1
Louisville 69.2
Maryland 69.5
Georgetown 70.7


27 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

Wisconsin (5)

2 Seeds
Virginia (5)
Kansas (3,5)
Gonzaga (3,4)

3 Seeds

Oklahoma (3,5)
Notre Dame (4)
Iowa St (3)
Baylor (3,5)
4 Seeds

Louisville (2,3,5)
Maryland (1,3,5)
North Carolina (3)

Georgetown (3,5)

So of the 1-4 seeds that leaves us with
1. Kentucky
1. Villanova
1. Duke
2. Arizona

Obviously Kentucky looks to be the team to beat as they try and go 40-0. If you have a medium to large office pool that you are in then picking Kentucky to wins means you will have to do a great job of picking in the early rounds. Having a bracket or two with longer shots like Duke and Arizona will improve your chances if Kentucky were to get knocked off.

The East looks to be wide open. We were able to eliminate the top 3 of the top 4 seeds there so that could be a place where you find a sleeper. Michigan St with a 7 seed can shoot the 3 really well at 38.6%. They also do not rely heavy on the 3 ball just shooting 34.7 of the time from 3. That is a good combination. For teams to go deep you do not wan them to be heavily reliant on the 3 but when they do shoot it you want some accuracy. You also get one of the best tournament coaches in the game in Tom Izzo. I think Michigan St might be a good sleeper pick.


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