NCAA Tournament Last Minute Bracketology: How to Pick a Winning Bracket

Chase TitlemanContributor IMarch 16, 2017

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Every season around the North American continent, thousands of brackets are filled out as we eagerly await the beginning of March Madness—NCAA basketball-style.

There are thousands upon thousands of strategies, many of which are simply pipe dreams and hopes of our local hometown teams performing well and bringing home some hardware.

However, if you want to fill out a bracket that has a little staying power, instead of wishy-washing it through the dry cycle, why not think it through by making a decision based on sound statistical evaluation? writer Peter Tierman, who runs , put forth an interesting view on how to pick a solid bracket, based on something other than hopes, dreams, or your own gut instincts.

So in due respect, please take some time to do your homework in considering the following points when filling out your bracket. 

It is a well-known fact that the middle part of the bracket is what separates the men from the boys in eliminating the bulk of the masses in the nationwide office pools. 

Your chance of winning your office pool is virtually over after the first round if you don’t pick wisely in the six vs. 11, seven vs. 10, or eight vs. 9 matchups. 

Rarely does a team lower than a No. 6 seed make it to the Final Four, but a six will almost always upend a three in the second round of the tournament. 

"Five versus 12" can give you some heartburn if you don’t choose wisely, and a No. 13 seed seems to always give us a two-step dance with Cinderella, but rarely, if ever, does she make it to the final grand ball dance floor.


1 vs. 16 Seeds

In the last 25 tournaments, not a single No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 16 isn’t going to start this year either with Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and Syracuse entertaining the likes of Lehigh, E. Tennessee State, Vermont, and Arkansas Pine-Bluff.  Don’t waste any time here trying to out-think ain’t going to happen.


2 vs. 15 Seeds

This only happens once in a blue moon, or every six or seven years, whichever comes first. 

Typically, the giant-killing No. 15 seeds have entered the tourney winning nine or more in a row, their regular-season records were between .600 and .800 in terms of win percentage, and they scored more than 69 points a game with a victory margin of three or greater. 

All had at least one senior starter and got the bulk of their point production (70 percent) from their starting five with a strong balance between frontcourt (the bigs) and backcourt (the smalls) players.

Teams that satisfy this phenomenon are 4-7 in 2 vs. 15 matchups...and the teams that don’t satisfy this criteria are 0-89. There you have your homework here and think before you write.


3 vs. 14 Seeds

Two out of every three tourneys are bad news for No. 3 seeds! Iowa in '06 and Kansas in '05 found out the hard way. 

No. 3 seeds are nearly four times more prone to upsets than No. 2 seeds. The telltale sign of a No. 3 seed ripe for an upset would be a low margin of victory (three points or less) and a so-so record. 

No. 3 seeds that have not won at least nine of their last 10 are ripe for upsets. If a No. 3 seed has all of these characteristics...the stars are aligning.

The underdog No. 14 seeds most likely to pull the upset are high-scoring (with 75 points a game being the key number), coming into the dance with a solid three-game win streak and solid momentum (six wins in last 10 games) overall down the stretch run.


4 vs. 13 Seeds

No. 4 seeds perform just as well as No. 3 seeds and much better than No. 5 seeds. With nearly 80 percent of No. 4 seeds advancing to Round Two, and less than one per tourney getting upset, it is not recommended you waste any time or energy picking a No. 13 seed in Round One!

However, if you do have the guts to pick a No. 13 seed to win, it may be the difference between you winning and losing your office pool, as many will not have the courage or staying power, nor will they spend adequate time evaluating the troops.

The combinations for No. 13 seed bracket busters are balance, scoring, and momentum.  The KEY numbers are 32-67 percent scoring from the smalls and relying on starters for less than 88 percent of their scoring

But the holy grail number here is teams that have won at least six of their last 10 games coming into the tournament are 10-10 when meeting this one criteria.

A-ha...a needle in the haystack for you!


5 vs. 12 Seeds

This is where it begins to get interesting. This is where the bulk of your energy should be focused, along with the six vs. 11, seven vs. 10 and eight vs. 9 match-ups.

This is the jumping-off point, for it no longer pays to simply pencil in the higher seed, especially in the last 10 years, for the higher seeds are a meager 20-16 against their lower-seeded brethren.

Last year alone, three of the No. 12 seeds sprang major upsets, eliminating most of the masses who filled out their brackets in the process.


Key factors include:

* Overall team experience and frontcourt scoring (smalls).

* No. 12 Seeds who were in the tourney the previous year are 18-14 against No. 5 Seeds...all others are 16-52.

* No. 12 Seeds getting 55-75 percent of scoring from the Bigs are 20-15 vs. 14-52 against those who do not qualify here!

* To pick a No. 5 seed victim...look at backcourt scoring (smalls) and lack of momentum.  If they get between 25-50 percent scoring from the smalls and have not come into the tourney with at least three consecutive wins...mark it down as an upset, baby, as those No. 5 seeds who meet this criteria are 21-20 versus 45-14 if they don’t meet this criteria!


6 vs. 11 Seeds

A funny stat here! No. 6 seeds are more likely to advance to Round 2 than No. 5 seeds! No. 6 seeds are an unbelievable 20-8 over the past seven years, and they are notorious No. 3 seed killers in Round 2! 

The question becomes which No. 6 seed will fill the bill?

To answer this question, consider offensive firepower, scoring margin percentage, and winning percentage. Teams scoring more than 73 points per game and teams who score eight points more than they allow with a winning percentage above .640 certainly qualify here.

No. 6 seed upset fodder includes high-scoring teams (75 points per game) who are riding false momentum (winning streaks of seven or more coming into the tournament), as they are a mere 13-15 in these games.

Look for offensive teams who do not play good solid defense and have played what could be deemed a weak or weaker than normal schedule.


7 vs. 10 Seeds

Although they took it on the chin last year, No. 7 seeds win this matchup over 60 percent of the time, but again, 60 percent is not the 85-100 percent category that No. 1 through 5 seeds enjoy.

No. 10 Seeds who have gone to the tournament fewer than three years in a row and have coaches who have made fewer than six trips to the dance are in good shape here...23-20 when measuring this criteria.

Look for a No. 7 seed who lacks offensive punch, especially due to the injury bug or low backcourt scoring with the smalls. Squads that score less than 76 points a game and get less than 56 percent of their points from the smalls are 13-20 in these matchups.


8 vs. 9 Seeds: A True Pick'em HERE!

If you are going to lean one way or another, pick the No. 9 seed, as they have the upper hand in these matchups.

No. 9 seeds are 3-51 against the top seeds in Round 2, but nonetheless, a great pick in this 8 vs. 9 matchup could be the difference maker.

Which No. 9 do you pick?

Try one with legitimate staying power, not one that can simply win the first game, because No. 8 seeds have had a little more success than No. 9 Seeds in Round 2 versus the top seeds, as in nearly a third of the last 25 NCAA Tournaments, a No. 8 seed has made it into the Cinderella Round of the Sweet 16!

If you do not envision can't miss "Sweet 16" status with your No. 9 seed, go with the 8 spot to avoid having your bracket snookered by the 8-ball.  Win or lose, it is still one heck of a dance to enjoy!


Best of luck—choose wisely—and may the force be with you!


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