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 or 7 seed enough. No. 12 seeds win almost 36 percent of their games, but we pick them only about a quarter of the time. Seven seeds (seemingly one of the most enticing picks to be upset) win 61.4 percent of their games but are only picked to win 51.2 percent. That difference of 10.1 percent is the greatest of all first-round matchups.
- 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. But it doesn't follow in order the entire way down, with 8 seeds being picked to win more than 7 seeds, and 10 seeds being picked more than 9 seeds.
- The NCAA tournament selection committee does a solid job seeding teams considering the on-court win percentage in the round of 64. Graphing the seeds win percentage gives you a smooth line all the way from 1 to 16.
- 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|