Mark Story

Ten hot tips to help you win your NCAA Tournament pool

How is Kentucky basketball playing heading into the postseason?

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team’s 66-57 win over Florida on Saturday, March 9, 2019. at Rupp Arena in Lexington. UK finished the regular season 26-5 overall and 15-3 in the SEC.
Up Next
Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team’s 66-57 win over Florida on Saturday, March 9, 2019. at Rupp Arena in Lexington. UK finished the regular season 26-5 overall and 15-3 in the SEC.

Mathematicians have generally held that the odds of filling out a perfect men’s NCAA Tournament bracket are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to one.

The 10 bracket tips below might not allow you to overcome the 9.2 quintillion to one odds against achieving perfection — but they could help you win your office pool:

1.) The bracket line where you are most likely to find upsets.

In recent years, the famous “12 over 5” upset line has been superseded.

While 12 seeds are a respectable 11-17 vs. No. 5s since 2012, that pales in comparison to what No. 11 seeds have compiled vs. No. 6s.

Over the same time frame, No. 11s are 15-13 vs. No. 6s.

jean(4)
Loyola Coach Porter Moser hugged team chaplain Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt after the No. 11-seed Ramblers upset No. 3 Tennessee 63-62 in last year’s NCAA Tournament round of 32. Ashley Landis TNS

2.) Identifying teams vulnerable to a round of 64 upset via the line.

According to the internet sports gaming site oddsshark.com, teams favored by five points or more have won 85.07 percent of their round of 64 games since 2009.

Conversely, teams favored by fewer than five points have won only 53.31 percent of their first-round games.

3.) Identifying teams vulnerable to a round of 64 upset via the stats.

The “advanced-metrics set” identifies teams 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 are your prime upset candidates.

4.) Absent a compelling belief based on matchups, there is no reason to pick any team seeded lower than 12 to win in the round of 64.

Since 2012, No. 1 seeds are 27-1 (looking at you, Virginia) against No. 16s; No. 2 seeds are 24-4 vs. No. 15s; No. 3s are 23-5 vs. No. 14s; and No. 4 seeds are 23-5 against No. 13s.

UMBC Virginia Basketball
UMBC players celebrated during the No. 16-seed Retrievers’ stunning 74-54 upset of No. 1 seed Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Tournament round of 64. Gerry Broome Associated Press

5.) Where to find round of 32 upsets.

Over the past seven editions of March Madness, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds have been surprisingly vulnerable in the second game of the first weekend. Only 15 of 28 No. 2 seeds and the same number of No. 3 seeds have advanced to the round of 16 since 2012.

By comparison, No. 1 seeds have filled 22 of 28 possible round of 16 slots since 2012 and No. 4s 18 of 28.

6.) Three coaches of whom to be wary.

Virginia’s Tony Bennett has led the Cavaliers to six prior NCAA Tournaments — including three times as a No. 1 seed, once as a No. 2 — yet is a pedestrian 7-6 at UVa. in the Dance.

Purdue’s Matt Painter is 12-10 in the NCAA Tournament and has never led the Boilermakers to more than two victories in one tourney.

Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin is 6-8 at UC and 6-10 overall in the NCAA Tournament.

Tony Bennett
Virginia Coach Tony Bennett has led the Cavaliers to the NCAA Tournament six times, including three prior times as a No. 1 seed and once as a No. 2 seed, but has only a 7-6 record in tourney games as Cavaliers head man. John McDonnell The Washington Post

7.) Finding your Final Four.

Since 2002, 53 of the 68 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, 56 of 68 Final Four entrants have ranked in the top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Last year, there were eight teams who ranked in the top 30 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency: Two of them, Villanova and Michigan, played for the national title.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 13 such “kenpom dual qualifiers” for 2019: Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Houston, Louisville, Buffalo and Maryland.

8). No. 1 seeds cut down the nets.

Five of the seven NCAA champions since 2012 have been number one seeds. The only exceptions were No. 2 Villanova in 2016 and No. 7 Connecticut in 2014.

Jay Wright triumphant fist
Villanova Coach Jay Wright celebrated after the No. 1-seeded Wildcats beat Michigan 79-62 in the 2018 NCAA Tournament finals. Brynn Anderson Associated Press

9.) Finding your champion.

Eleven of the 17 NCAA champs since 2002 have ranked in the Top 20 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency in the Pomeroy Ratings.

This year, there are eight such teams: Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Michigan, Kentucky and Houston.

10.) The (school) color of a champion.

If you are the type who fills out your bracket based on something trivial like school colors, you might actually be on to something.

Starting in 2004, every NCAA men’s basketball champion but one has had blue among its primary school colors.

And the one exception — a team that wears red and black and plays its home games 74.1 miles west of where these words were written — subsequently vacated its title due to NCAA rules infractions.

bolden.jpg
Both Kentucky’s PJ Washington, right, and Duke’s Marques Bolden play for teams who share a school color, blue, that has fared rather well in recent NCAA Tournaments. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Of the eight teams identified via the Pomeroy Ratings as most likely to win it all (see above) this season, six — Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan and Kentucky — have blue in their school colors.

Happy bracketing to all.

LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER SPORTS PASS

The Herald-Leader is now offering a digital sports-only one-year subscription for $30. You'll get unlimited access to all Herald-Leader sports stories.

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a H-L sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.


  Comments