March Madness brackets: How often we pick NCAA tournament upsets
Picking upsets in the NCAA tournament bracket is always a dicey task.
History has shown they happen frequently enough that you at least want to pay attention to them. And they happen frequently enough that you might want to pick enough of them to steal a few important points in the first round.
With that in mind, we decided to look at how we’ve typically chosen games in the first round, using bracket data from 2017's tournament. We compared that data on picks in the first round - from more than one million picks - to how often that team actually wins, all the way back to 1985, when the tournament field was expanded to 64 teams and 32 first-round games.
The data is below, but here are some things we learned:
- The world is not picking the 12 seed enough but, oddly, has a pretty good handle on the 6-11 game. No. 12 seeds win almost 36 percent of their games, but we pick them only about a quarter of the time.
- The 8-9 game is a virtual lock. We've picked the 8 seed at a slightly higher clip, but it's really close, with 8 seeds winning 50.76 percent of the matchups.
- The world does best picking the 1-16 game, unsurprisingly. To be fair, it's also picked way less often than it should be, seeing as 16 seeds have never won a game in the history of the tournament.
- As you might expect, the bracket-picking population sticks closely to the selection committee’s seeding by selecting No. 1 seeds at the highest rate and No. 2 second-most. That follows in order through No. 16.
- The NCAA tournament selection committee does a solid job seeding teams considering the on-court win percentage in the round of 64. The graph goes in a smooth line with 5-6 seeds and 8-9 seeds interchangeable based on results.
- You can go with the higher seeds in the first round, but you probably want a total of six upsets among teams seeded 10-15. History shows that’s about how many of those lower seeds actually win in the first round. That’s where the skill comes in – picking those six and trying not to knock out a potential Final Four team. Last year, five such double-digit seeds won in the first round.
|SEED||FIRST ROUND WIN PCT||FIRST ROUND PICK PCT||DIFFERENCE|