Picking upsets accurately in the NCAA tournament bracket is always a dicey task.

History has shown they happen frequently enough with the higher seeds that you at least want to pay attention to them, and pick enough to steal a few important points in the first round.


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With that in mind, we decided to look at how we’ve typically chosen upsets in the first round, using bracket data from the past five years from the official bracket game of the NCAA tournament. We compared those those pick percentages in the first round to actual on-court percentages back to 1985, when the NCAA tournament field was expanded to 64 teams and 32 first-round games.

Quick disclaimer: This data doesn’t explore the exact winning percentage of all brackets, instead looking at the larger view of how we pick seeds. The data is below, but here are some things we learned.

• The world is not picking the 12 seed enough, but oddly, has a really good handle on the 6-11 game. The No. 12 seed wins 12 percent more than we typically pick.
• As you might expect, bracket selection falls in line with the seeds. The bracket-picking population sticks closely to the selection committee’s seeding by selecting No. 1 seeds at the greatest rate, No. 2 second most and follows that trend in order through No. 16.
• The 6-11 game, in general, has the closest match between picks and results. Next is the 1-16 game, which shows people wisely resist the temptation to select what would be a monumental upset. The No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed.
• The NCAA tournament selection committee does a pretty solid job seeding teams considering the on-court win percentage in the round of 64. The only hiccup is at No. 5-6. Six seeds have the slight edge on five seeds despite playing what is a tougher opponent on paper.
• If you are going to pick the higher seeds in the first round, you probably want a total of six upsets picked among the 10-15 seeds. History shows that’s the about the average. That’s where the skill comes in – picking those six and trying your best not to knock out a potential Final Four team seeded 7 or better.

1 100.0000000% 98.1477021% 1.8522979%
2 94.3548387% 96.6014257% -2.2465870%
3 83.8709677% 93.5711801% -9.7002124%
4 79.8387097% 87.7982929% -7.9595832%
5 64.5161290% 77.4995555% -12.9834265%
6 65.3225806% 66.2511990% -0.9286184%
7 61.2903226% 63.1861291% -1.8958065%
8 50.8064516% 54.3998776% -3.5934260%
9 49.1935484% 45.6001224% 3.5934260%
10 38.7096774% 36.8138709% 1.8958065%
11 34.6774194% 33.7488010% 0.9286184%
12 35.4838710% 22.5004445% 12.9834265%
13 20.1612903% 12.2017071% 7.9595832%
14 16.1290323% 6.4288199% 9.7002124%
15 5.6451613% 3.3985743% 2.2465870%
16 0.0000000% 1.8522979% -1.8522979%