Mark Story

Seven bracket tips that could help you win your NCAA tourney pool

John Calipari won 22 of the first 25 NCAA Tournament games he coached for Kentucky but is 4-3 in UK’s seven most recent games in the Big Dance.
John Calipari won 22 of the first 25 NCAA Tournament games he coached for Kentucky but is 4-3 in UK’s seven most recent games in the Big Dance.

According to a Morning Consult poll, 18 percent of Americans plan to fill out a NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket in the coming days.

In Kentucky, it seems certain that number will skew a tad higher.

As we arrive at Selection Sunday, here are seven bracket tidbits that will (might) help you win your tourney pool:

1.) The main “upset line” in the bracket seems to have changed.

The famous “5/12 upset” pairing seems to have been superseded. Over the past two NCAA Tournaments, 12 seeds are a respectable 3-5 against No. 5 seeds in round of 64 contests.

That pales in comparison, however, to the success rate of 11 seeds.

Xavier celebrates
Xavier’s Malcolm Bernard, left, and Trevon Bluiett, No. 5, celebrate after No. 11 seed Xavier defeated No. 6 Maryland 76-65 last year during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament round of 64. In each of the past two men’s NCAA tourneys, No. 11 seeds have gone 3-1 against No. 6 seeds. Wilfredo Lee Associated Press

In round of 64 matchups from the 2016 and 2017 NCAA Tournaments, No. 11s went a gaudy 6-2 against No. 6 seeds.

2.) Absent a compelling reason, stay with the chalk early.

Everyone knows that a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 since the NCAA Tournament adopted the 64-team bracket in 1985 — a record of 0-132.

In recent years, the other low seeds have not had much success, either.

Over the past five NCAA Tournaments, No. 15 seeds are 2-18 in round of 64 games against No. 2s; No. 14 seeds are 5-15 against No. 3s; and No. 13s are 2-18 vs. No. 4s.

3.) Here is how to find teams capable of pulling major upsets.

That said, if you can figure out where the major upsets are apt to come, you obviously have a major pool advantage.

According to statistical analysis by the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg, the best indicator of which teams are likely to pull NCAA Tournament stunners can be gleaned from identifying underdogs with “a high scoring margin while creating extra possessions through turnovers and offensive rebounds.”

4.) Recently, No. 1 seeds have been strong.

For all the talk about parity in men’s college hoops, No. 1 seeds have filled six of the 12 Final Four berths over the past three NCAA Tournaments.

Over the same time frame, No. 2 seeds and No. 7 seeds have both occupied two Final Four slots, with one No. 3 and one No. 10 claiming the other two.

Of the last six NCAA champions, four have been No. 1 seeds.

5.) History says there’s reason to be skeptical of this year’s expected No. 1s.

The four projected No. 1 seeds by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi are all program/coach combinations with unreliable NCAA tourney pedigrees.

Under Tony Bennett, Virginia has advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tourney only twice in five appearances.

Xavier has never made a Final Four. With Chris Mack as head coach, the Musketeers have made it as far as the round of eight once in seven tries.

Jay Wright coached Villanova to the Final Four in 2009 and to the NCAA title in 2016. Yet the Wildcats have gone out of the Dance on the first weekend six times in their past seven appearances.

Bill Self led Kansas to the NCAA crown in 2008 and to the title game in 2012. However, under Self, the Jayhawks have also lost in the tourney to Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa, VCU and Wichita State.

6.) Best bets to make the 2018 Final Four?

According to Rob Dauster of, 51 of 64 teams that have made the Final Four since 2002 have rated in the top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency in the Pomeroy Ratings. Meanwhile, 53 of the 64 Final Four teams from the same period rated in the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Teams in the top 30 in both would, therefore, seem the most likely to make this year’s Final Four.

Tom Izzo
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo is seeking to add a second NCAA title to the first one he claimed for the Spartans in 2000. Nam Y. Huh Associated Press

As of late Friday afternoon, there were only eight such “dual-qualifying” teams: Virginia, Villanova, Duke, Purdue, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Michigan and Ohio State.

(Caveat emptor: Purdue is another program/coach combination with a spotty NCAA tourney track record. With Matt Painter as head man, the Boilermakers are 10-9 in NCAA Tournament games and have never won more than twice in a single tourney).

7.) Best bets to win it all?

Since 2002, 10 of the 16 teams that went on to win the NCAA championship ranked in the top 20 in both of’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency at the time the regular season ended.

Mark Few
If one puts stock in the rankings of basketball statistics guru Ken Pomeroy, Gonzaga Coach Mark Few is leading one of the three teams with the best chance to win the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. L.E. Baskow Associated Press

This year, through games of Friday afternoon, there are only three such teams: Duke (second adjusted offensive efficiency, 11th adjusted defensive efficiency), Michigan State (10th, seventh) and Gonzaga (11th, 17th).

Happy bracketing to all, and to all a good night.

Selection Sunday

When: 6 p.m.


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