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Andy Wittry | | March 14, 2022

7 signs you picked too many NCAA tournament upsets

How to tell when you've picked too many upsets

We know how fun it is to pick a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 seed in your NCAA tournament bracket. Hey, it's March, so maybe it's even tempting to do it more than once. But that made us wonder: how do you know when you've overdone it and made too many upset picks?

Here's how, including a tip for those No. 15 seed vs. No. 2 seed matchups:

1. You pick a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 seed

Look, we know it's tempting. But 2018 was the first time this had EVER happened in men's basketball. Will there be a UMBC in the 2022 NCAA Tournament field? Maybe, but likely not.

UMBC's historic 20-point upset of Virginia in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the first time a No. 16 seed had beaten a No. 1 seed since the men's tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Before the Retrievers pulled off what was once deemed impossible, only 15 games in the 1-versus-16 matchup had been decided by less than 10 points. There hadn't been a game decided by one possession since 1996, before today's college players were alive.

UMBC aside, the other three No. 16 seeds in 2018 didn't have nearly the same luck, losing by an average of 20.3 points.

In 2019, the four No. 1 seeds won by an average of 22.8 points in the first round and all four won by at least 15 points. In 2021, the No. 1 seeds won their first-round matchups by an average of 28 points.

So sure, it'd be great to tell your friends that you predicted the next UMBC. Heck, we wouldn't blame you if you put it as a bullet point on your resume. But we we're warning you: a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed for the second time in four NCAA tournaments seems extremely unlikely.

2. You pick more than 10 double-digit seeds to win in the first round or more than five in the second round

...and more than two to win in the Sweet 16. None of those things have ever happened since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams. On average, about 6.2 double-digit seeds win in the first round (although, nine did last season), 2.3 win in the second round (four in 2021) and 0.6 advance past the Sweet 16 (two last March).

In 2019, eight double-digit seeds won in the first round and just one advanced to the Sweet 16 – Oregon. No team seeded worse than a No. 5 seed made the Elite Eight.

In 2016, a record 10 double-digit seeds won in the first round and five double-digit seeds won in the second round in 1999. You're better off picking between four and eight double-digit seeds to win in the first round and two or three to win in the second round.

3. You don't consider at least two Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16

The streak is finally over. Despite the Big Ten sending nine teams to the 2021 NCAA Tournament, No. 1 seed Michigan was the only team from the conference to advance to the Sweet 16.

In the previous NCAA tournament, in 2019, the streak extended to 12 seasons as three Big Ten teams – Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue – made the Sweet 16.

In total, 34 Big Ten teams have made the second weekend since 2008.

4. You don't have at least one ACC team in the Elite Eight

This was another streak that ended in 2021, as No. 4 seed Florida State and No. 11 seed Syracuse lost in the Sweet 16, but since 2007, at least one ACC team has advanced to the Elite Eight in 12 of the 14 seasons.

Most notably, four ACC teams made the Elite Eight in 2016 and three made it in 2015. Two teams — No. 1 overall seed Duke and reigning national champion Virginia — made it in 2019.

5. The sum of the seeds of your Final Four teams is greater than 20

For the first 20 years of the 64-team tournament format, the number could have been 10, not 20. In 14 of those 20 years, the sum of the seeds of the teams that made the Final Four was 10 or lower, but there have since been more dark-horse teams making deep runs in March.

Since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, the average sum of the seeds of the Final Four teams is 11.3 and on just two occasions (2000, 2011), the total was greater than 20. It's fine — if not encouraged and if not realistic — to pick a dark-horse team or two to make the Final Four because from 2013 to 2018, at least one team seeded as a No. 7 seed or worse made the Final Four every year, but don't get carried away.

The sum of the Final Four teams in 2021 was 15, with No. 11 seed UCLA joining No. 1 seeds Baylor and Gonzaga, and No. 2 seed Houston. In 2019, the sum was 11 with No. 1 seed Virginia, No. 2 seed Michigan State, No. 3 seed Texas Tech and No. 5 seed Auburn.

6. You don't have any teams in the Final Four whose primary color is blue or orange

Heading into the 2021 NCAA Tournament, college basketball teams whose schools have a primary color of blue or orange had the two highest winning percentages of any color. "Blue" teams were winning NCAA tournament games at better than a 57 percent rate and "orange" teams won more than 54 percent of their tournament games.

In 2021, Gonzaga (navy blue) and UCLA (UCLA blue) faced off in the Final Four, and in 2019, Virginia and Auburn met in the national semifinals.

BRACKET IQ: Here's how many upsets to pick, according to the data

Blue schools have combined for 24 national championships, the most of any color.

7. You've picked a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 seed without considering free throws

A common trait, if not the common trait among No. 15 seeds that have upset No. 2 seeds, is free throw shooting. And we're not talking about quality of free throw shooting, but rather quantity. Those upsets have historically come down to the No. 15 seed attempting and, more importantly, making more free throws than the No. 2 seed.

Last season, No. 15 seed Oral Roberts, the No. 1 free throw shooting team in the country at 82.2 percent, attempted the same number of free throws as No. 2 seed Ohio State in the former's upset of the Buckeyes: 18 attempts. Oral Roberts made 14, while Ohio State made just nine.

The most recent time before that when we saw a No. 15 seed upset a No. 2 seed was when Middle Tennessee State beat Michigan State in 2016. The Blue Raiders went 13 of 21 from the charity stripe, while the Spartans made 10 of 15 shots from there. author Mitchell Northam contributed to this story.

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