NCAA Tournament Success Hinges on One Important Step

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NCAA Tournament Success Hinges on One Important Step
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
VCU is one of the 2013 NCAA Tournament teams to have built a double-digit halftime lead. The Rams won comfortably by 46 points after doing so.

Virtually guaranteeing a victory in the NCAA Tournament is remarkably easy. All a team has to do is build a double-digit halftime lead and reap the subsequent benefits of its incredibly smart strategy.

Of course, actually managing to lead by double digits at halftime requires a team to maximize its possessions while limiting the efficiency of its opponent. If that can be accomplished, the leading team has basically assured itself that when the game ends, it will be the victor.

In order to calculate just how effective of a winning strategy building a double-digit halftime lead is, I looked at the games played over the past five tournaments (2008-12), which encompass a total of 331 contests.

Of those 326 games, there were 119 where a team was able to build a double-digit halftime lead, per archived box scores provided by ESPN.com. Doing so was enough to ensure victory in 113 instances for a winning percentage of .950. It is really hard to overstate just how valuable a double-digit halftime lead can be.

Lest you think that the team that builds the double-digit halftime lead watches that lead whittled away by its opponent as it withstands furious comeback after furious comeback, let us dispel that notion right now.

In those 113 victories, the double-digit leader's average half-time margin was 15.4 points, and the average winning margin was 17.6 points per contest. More often than not, the team with the sizable halftime lead maintains it throughout the contest. Only rarely is the outcome of the game in doubt.

For those six teams that did blow their double-digit halftime leads, Oregon (2008), Clemson (2008), Georgetown (2008), American (2009), Florida State (2009), and Iona (2012), they had built up an average halftime lead of 11.7 points only to end up losing their games by an average of 6.3 points, for a swing of 18 points over the course of the rest of the game. 

The trend of benefiting from double-digit halftime leads has continued into this tournament and will no doubt apply in the future. So far this March, 36 games have been played with a team cobbling together a double-digit lead in 16 of those contests.

Each one of those 16 teams eventually won the contest, stretching an average halftime lead of 15.7 points into an average winning margin of 19.6 points.

The knowledge of just how powerful a double-digit halftime lead can be to a team's chances of winning is not just beneficial to the team. When time is valuable, you can save yourself from watching the second halves of any tournament game where a team has assembled a double-digit halftime lead.

Sure, there is always the chance that you will catch one of the incredibly rare times when the team with the double-digit halftime lead loses, but it is so slight you are better off switching to another game or to another activity.

No matter who the team is or what their seed might happen to be, there is no better guarantee of moving on to the next round than to build a double-digit halftime lead. After that is done, the rest of the pieces are likely to fall into place.   

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