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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | March 9, 2018

Make sure to do this before picking that No. 8 vs. No. 9 game

Flip a coin. Choose two No. 8 seeds and two No. 9 seeds. Pick all four No. 8 seeds because "Hey, they're slightly better, right?"

Everyone has a different strategy for picking those tricky 8/9 games in the NCAA tournament and none of them seem to work as well as you'd like. We're here to make your life easier and your picks more successful. We hope.

MARCH MADNESS SHOP
What if we told you there is a stat that could help you predict the winner of the dreaded 8/9 game at a 70 percent success rate? Well, there is – at least if past performance is indicative of future results.

We examined the 8/9 matchups in the last 10 NCAA tournaments (a 40-game sample size) and compared the winning and losing teams' offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage, among other statistics, to see if there were any trends. It turns out the statistic you should've been using to pick these games was offensive turnover percentage.

The team with the lower turnover percentage in the 8/9 game in the last 10 years is 28-12, a 70 percent winning percentage.

Why might a lower turnover percentage lead to more wins? Well, committing fewer turnovers means more of a team's possessions end in shots, which can lead to three good outcomes – a made basket (the best option, obviously), an offensive rebound that leads to another scoring opportunity, or a foul committed by the defense.

Plus, if a team does a good job taking care of the ball on offense, it bodes well for its defense as well. Turnovers lead to transition offense for the opponent against a defense that's not yet set. So fewer turnovers mean fewer chances for the opponent to score easily in transition.

For the sake of comparison, here are several other stats, courtesy of KenPom.com, that have largely proven to be less-than-effective predictors of success in the 8/9 game in the last decade. The adjusted efficiency margins, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency numbers come from KenPom.com's pre-tournament data, so it reflects where teams stood entering March Madness.

Better adjusted efficiency margin: 23-17

More efficient offense: 23-17

More efficient defense: 16-24

Higher team 3-point percentage: 23-17

Higher free throw percentage: 21-19

Higher defensive turnover percentage: 17-23

More difficult strength of schedule: 20-20

More experienced team: 25-15

Taller average height: 13-27

If you're looking for a secondary metric to help you pick this year's 8/9 games, it wouldn't hurt to go with the more experienced team. The more experienced team has won the 8/9 matchup at better than a 62 percent rate in the last 10 years. Weirdly, the team with the shorter average height is 27-13 in the last 40 8/9 matchups, which might hint at modern basketball's shift to small ball lineups that can space the floor and switch defensively on screens.

Here's the full list of the 8/9 matchups in the last 10 years, along with each team's offensive turnover percentage.

Year Winning Team Winning Team's TO% Losing Team Losing Team's TO%
2017 No. 8 Wisconsin 17.0% No. 9 Virginia Tech 17.2%
2017 No. 8 Northwestern 16.0% No. 9 Vanderbilt 18.2%
2017 No. 9 Michigan State 20.5% No. 8 Miami (FL) 19.5%
2017 No. 8 Arkansas 16.6% No. 9 Seton Hall 19.5%
2016 No. 9 UConn 16.3% No. 8 Colorado 18.8%
2016 No. 8 Saint Joseph's 14.3% No. 9 Cincinnati 16.3%
2016 No. 9 Providence 16.1% No. 8 USC 16.6%
2016 No. 9 Butler 14.5% No. 8 Texas Tech 17.8%
2015 No. 8 Cincinnati 21.0% No. 9 Purdue 19.9%
2015 No. 8 Oregon 16.9% No. 9 Oklahoma State 18.5%
2015 No. 8 NC State 16.0% No. 9 LSU 20.3%
2015 No. 8 San Diego State 18.6% No. 9 St. John's 15.7%
2014 No. 9 Pittsburgh 16.3% No. 8 Colorado 19.7%
2014 No. 8 Memphis 18.6% No. 9 George Washington 19.0%
2014 No. 8 Gonzaga 17.4% No. 9 Oklahoma State 14.7%
2014 No. 8 Kentucky 18.1% No. 9 Kansas State 18.5%
2013 No. 8 Colorado State 17.2% No. 9 Missouri 19.0%
2013 No. 9 Wichita State 19.4% No. 8 Pittsburgh 18.1%
2013 No. 8 North Carolina 17.2% No. 9 Villanova 22.9%
2013 No. 9 Temple 15.9% No. 8 NC State 18.0%
2012 No. 8 Iowa State 18.2% No. 9 UConn 18.7%
2012 No. 9 Saint Louis 17.7% No. 8 Memphis 18.5%
2012 No. 8 Kansas State 21.0% No. 9 Southern Miss 16.2%
2012 No. 8 Creighton 17.7% No. 9 Alabama 20.1%
2011 No. 8 George Mason 16.9% No. 9 Villanova 17.9%
2011 No. 8 Michigan 16.6% No. 9 Tennessee 19.8%
2011 No. 9 Illinois 19.4% No. 8 UNLV 18.6%
2011 No. 8 Butler 17.0% No. 9 Old Dominion 20.7%
2010 No. 9 Northern Iowa 17.9% No. 8 UNLV 17.4%
2010 No. 8 Gonzaga 18.6% No. 9 Florida State 24.3%
2010 No. 9 Wake Forest 21.1% No. 8 Texas 18.2%
2010 No. 8 California 17.6% No. 9 Louisville 19.8%
2009 No. 9 Siena 18.1% No. 8 Ohio State 20.9%
2009 No. 9 Texas A&M 18.9% No. 8 BYU 16.5%
2009 No. 8 Oklahoma State 16.7% No. 9 Tennessee 18.3%
2009 No. 8 LSU 17.5% No. 9 Butler 20.0%
2008 No. 9 Arkansas 21.7% No. 8 Indiana 19.8%
2008 No. 8 UNLV 16.1% No. 9 Kent State 22.3%
2008 No. 8 Mississippi State 21.1% No. 9 Oregon 18.3%
2008 No. 9 Texas A&M 19.0% No. 8 BYU 20.1%