Happy March Madness! We are data reporters from NCAA.com, back for the second year. Ask us anything about NCAA tournament history, trivia, or bracket picking advice.

This year, we partnered with Google Cloud to produce more than 60 stories focused on helping you make better bracket choices. We look at how your bracket would perform if you only picked the higher seed, why Virginia is not a good choice to win the title, how many upsets you should pick each round, how to pick your bracket based solely on each team’s mascot, and much, much more.

You can find all of this at BracketIQ, our site devoted to bracket knowledge. There, you can also use our Matchup Analysis Tool to compare any two teams in the field to see how they stack up. And when you’re feeling confident in your ability to pick a perfect bracket (despite the 1 in 9.2 quintillion odds), head to the Bracket Challenge Game, the official bracket game of March Madness. If you sign up through the app (Android, iOS), not only does the Bracket Challenge Game let you watch every March Madness game right from your bracket, but you can get personalized push notifications to let you know which games to watch based on your bracket and how it will affect your standings within your groups. You can also pit your bracket against Andy Katz’s or Charles Barkley’s.

If you missed it, the 2018 NCAA tournament bracket was revealed yesterday.

Yearly reminder: We are NOT the selection committee, and had absolutely nothing to do with who made the tournament.

Proof: https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/973225716086173697

EDIT: We're signing off for the day. Thanks for all the questions, and good luck with your brackets!

Comments: 782 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

branden_kozicki384 karma

Do y’all think Oklahoma deserved to be in over USC or Notre Dame? Yes OU started off very strong but they’ve been abysmal these past few months where USC and ND have been pretty solid.

Also do you think the “Star-factor” of Trey Young influenced the committee at all?

NCAAcom307 karma

Disclaimer: We have absolutely no say in the bracket, but we'll try to answer this.

True, Oklahoma has been bad lately. But it’s about the entire body of work. For the committee, quality wins in November and December are just as valuable as quality wins in January and February. The Sooners have the second-most PPG in the tournament, and hold a 2-1 record against the top 32 teams.

Oklahoma beat USC head-to-head and has wins over Wichita State (on the road), TCU (twice), and Texas Tech. Does OU inspire much confidence right now? No. But the Sooners were a 4-seed in the NCAA’s early bracket reveal on Feb. 11. They’re 2-5 since then and fell six seed lines (that’s a lot!) OU didn’t deserve a high seed, but it had the resume to get in. From everything we know, star power is a non-factor in committee selections.

SCMatt33239 karma

Penn is one of the highest rated 16 seeds we've had in the past few years and Kansas may be missing (or have limited availability from) one of its best players (Azibuke). Not saying anyone should pick it, but can you see Penn Kansas as being one of the better shots in the last few years at that illusive 16 seed upset?

EDIT: spelling

NCAAcom415 karma

It's definitely one of the most interesting 16-1 matchups in recent memory. Kansas gets 37.4 percent of its points from 3-pointers (a pretty significant amount), and without a healthy Azubuike, they may have to rely on the perimeter game more heavily. But Penn has the second-best 3-point defense in the nation, holding its opponents to just 29.2% of all 3-pointers. Still, don't let this trick you into picking the Quakers. The average margin for a 1-v-16 game is 24.9 points. Only 15 of those games have been decided by less than 10 points, the most recent one in 2014: Arizona’s 68-59 win over Weber State. None have been decided by one possession since 1996. In fact, in the past 11 years, more than three times as many 1 vs. 16 games have been decided by more than 30 points (13) than fewer than 10 points (four). Yes, you'd have bragging right over your friends for eternity if you picked the first-ever 16-seed upset, but the risk of knocking out a 1-seed (and all its potential points) so early just isn't worth it.

Fuzzy__Dunlop__188 karma

How many upsets should I pick?

NCAAcom370 karma

Great question! We define an upset as any game where the winning team was at least two seeds higher than the losing team (i.e., 8-9 games don't count) Since March Madness expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been between 10 and 16 upsets in 26 of the 33 tournaments. The annual average is roughly 12.7. There have been as few as four upsets (2007) and as many as 19 (2014) but the sweet spot is obviously somewhere in between. So, where should you "spend" your upsets? Here's how the average upsets break down by round:

  • First round: 6.1
  • Second round: 3.6
  • Sweet 16: 1.6
  • Elite Eight: 0.9
  • Final Four: 0.3

Most, if not all of your upsets should be in the first two rounds. But which matchups exactly? Here's how each first-round matchup's upset percentage looks:

  • 10 over 7: 38.6%
  • 11 over 6: 37.1%
  • 12 over 5: 35.6%
  • 13 over 4: 19.7
  • 14 over 3: 15.9%
  • 15 over 2: 6.0%
  • 16 over 1: 0.0%

Your 10-12 seeds are the sweet spot for upsets, and the chances of a higher seed winning drop off dramatically once you reach the 13 seed. Finding the exact games to pick is where the magic comes in, but you can read more about it here: https://bracketchallenge.ncaa.com/bracket-iq/article/news/basketball-men/bracketiq/2018-03-07/heres-how-pick-march-madness-upsets-according-data

Laminar_flo177 karma

So a follow up:

When people talk about why there are so many 12 over 5 upsets (or 11 over 6 or 10 over 7) is because the 10-12 seeds are generally the conference champs from weak conferences (or best teams from bad conferences) and the 5-7 seeds are the weaker teams from the power conferences. In other words, you have good teams that have been under seeded (due to limited exposure) playing teams that are overseeded (or should be in the NIT) but benefit from the 'halo' of being in power conferences. At first glance, this theory 1) 'feels' right and kinda makes intuitive sense, and 2) you can go pick out examples of precisely this phenomenon happening.

However, if you dig deeper it becomes a lot less clear that this theory really explains why there are so many mid-seed upsets (eg, is it really small-time conf champs pulling off these upsets?).

1) Have you all ever dug into this phenomenon (why all the mid-seed upsets), 2) do you agree with that theory, and 3) do you have a better theory?

Thanks!

NCAAcom132 karma

That is a good theory. We haven’t done a deep dive into this, and to fully answer this we’d need to do a lot more research, but we can take a quick look now.

First, let’s look at the records for 12 seeds vs. 5 seeds. Since 1985, the 12 seed has a regular-season winning percentage of 81.7%, while 5 seeds' regular-season win percentage sit at 72.3%. That alone would help prove your theory somewhat.

Going a little deeper, 12 seeds have won 47 of their 132 first-round matchups with 5 seeds (35.6%). So let’s compare performance as a 12-seed by conference.

Major conference teams account for 29 of the 132 total 12 seeds (21.97%), But they have 13 of the 47 12-seed first-round wins (27.66%). They account for 81 of the 132 total 5 seeds (61.4%), but have just 27 of the 47 losses (57.44%).

From just looking at this, despite how strong or weak they may be in a given year, teams from major conferences seem to do better on both sides of the 12-5 game.

In conclusion, we can't say for certain right now, but that would be a great story to look into, so follow BracketIQ for an update. Thanks for the idea!

An interesting fact from the research, the higher seed is 19-27 (41.3%) in games decided by four points or fewer. Two of those close wins came in 2016, as No. 12 Little Rock knocked Purdue out of the first round with a 85-83 win and No. 12 Yale took down Baylor 79-74. In 2017, No. 5 Notre Dame held off No. 12 Princeton, 60-58.

OGforGoldenBoot8 karma

I'm confused, how do 12 seeds have an 81% win percentage against 5 seeds and 5 seeds also have a 72% win percentage against 12 seeds? Don't those stats contradict each other?

NCAAcom22 karma

Sorry. That number was each seed's average regular-season winning percentage. Thanks for pointing that out. We edited for clarity.

erikj888 karma

Thanks for taking the time to do this. What do you think are the actual chances of a Georgia State upset over Cincinnati in the first round? That was one matchup that stood out to me immediately and almost nobody is talking about it.

NCAAcom173 karma

Georgia State is a fan favorite every since Ron Hunter fell out of his chair in 2015, when the 12-seed Panthers knocked off 5-seed Baylor, but we're not sure this team has that same magic. We actually looked into the common traits of a 15-2 upset, and the one thing that stands out is free throw shooting. Only eight 15 seeds have ever won a first-round matchup, but the ones that did shot an average of 27.63 free throws in those games. Georgia State currently averages 12.17 FT/G, putting them at 238th out of 351 DI teams. Also, the Panthers are slightly less experienced than the average 15 seed that pulls off the upset. When giving an experience score to each team (Sum of each player's MPG multiplied by that player's experience), GSU scores a 584.6 on the season, while the eight 15 seeds that won averaged 616.9. But this is March of course, so we're not making any guarantees!

Greg_Ostertag184 karma

Which First Four team do you think has the best chance to go the furthest in the tournament?

NCAAcom157 karma

St. Bonaventure. Syracuse and Arizona State are trending downward. UCLA is young and inconsistent. The Bonnies have an outstanding senior backcourt duo in Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley and make 40% of their 3s. It’s hard to trust 3-point shooting, but if St. Bonaventure maintains that clip, it has the potential to advance to the second weekend.

BUKKITHEAD8568 karma

Am I dumb for taking Cincinnati to win it all?

NCAAcom122 karma

Dumb isn’t the right word - but it’s unlikely.

Cincinnati earned its 2-seed by beating the teams it’s supposed to beat. That’s an underrated skill, and it’s why the Bearcats are a sound pick to reach the Elite Eight. But Cincy is 3-4 against top 25 KenPom teams - nothing to scoff at, but also not a mark that screams “future national champion.” Cincinnati has the strongest 1-seed in its region, too, with Final Four contenders like Arizona and Kentucky lurking.

It feels like the Bearcats are a dynamic point guard away from being a true national championship contender.

footer957 karma

Who, in your opinion, is the safest final four bet? Not necessarily most likely to win, but most comfortable taking to the final four

NCAAcom123 karma

To be clear, there’s no such thing as a safe Final Four bet. But this question requires us to look at both the best overall team and the easiest path to the Final Four.

The answer is Villanova - and yes, the fact that the Wildcats are notorious for flaming out of NCAA tournaments early (with the exception of 2016) isn’t lost on us. But these are the biggest non-Villanova threats to win the East: Purdue, Texas Tech, Wichita State, West Virginia. Can you confidently advance any of them to the Final Four in your bracket?

No, and Villanova has been the second-best team in the country this year - its ceiling might be higher than Virginia’s. The Wildcats are legitimately great and have a favorable road to San Antonio.

masshamacide41 karma

Am I wrong to have Virginia make it to Sweet 16 and lose to Kentucky?

NCAAcom56 karma

Not at all. Kentucky deserved to be on the 4 or 5-line, but with the way it looks right now, UK could reach the Final Four. However, the Wildcats will have to go through Davidson and (probably) Arizona to reach the Sweet 16, which won’t be easy. We’d have more confidence in Kentucky if its first two games were more favorable, but the Wildcats are certainly talented enough to beat Davidson, Arizona, and Virginia.

BertoDowns40 karma

Names like Tigers, Bulldogs and Wildcats are popular in the college ranks. Can you think of another time when a team like the Wildcats (Davidson) could emerge into the Sweet Sixteen having only beaten other Wildcats, like Kentucky and Arizona? And do you think the Committee has a good sense of humor to go along with their keen sense of irony in thiose Davidson/Kentucky/Arizona possibilities?

NCAAcom67 karma

That's a fantastic question! Davidson could actually make it to the Elite Eight having only played Wildcats (first round v. Kentucky, second round v. Arizona, Sweet 16 vs. Kansas State). If we want to get a little loose with the rules, they could face another cat in the Elite Eight (Cincinnati Bearcats or Georgia State Panthers). In the Final Four, the Houston Cougars could await, and Davidson could wrap up the tournament with one more Wildcat in the championship game — Villanova.

Has a streak like this been possible before? We’d have to do some deep digging, but we can tell you that teams with cat mascots have played teams with people mascots (Aggies, Musketeers, etc.) the most, and the cats hold a 115-95 advantage. But the age-old rivalry of cats vs. dogs goes the way of the canines in March Madness, as dogs have won 34 of the 59 games between the two.

BritishBeast-38 karma

What is the craziest upset in March Madness history?

NCAAcom149 karma

The craziest might have to be 1990's second-round matchup between 11-seed Loyola Marymount and 3-seed Michigan. The Lions won the game 149-115, which is still the record for most combined points in an NCAA tournament game (264). In that game, Loyola Marymount took 89 shots (!), and made 21 3-pointers (!!). For reference, Savannah State leads both categories in DI this year. They average 73.4 shots per game, and 12.2 made 3-pointers. So yeah, Loyola Marymount's box score was absurd. That 1990 Loyola Marymount team was the highest scoring team, and also allowed the most points per game throughout the whole season (and had done so in 1988 and 1989 as well). They averaged 122.4 points per game. But they met their match in the Elite Eight against 1-seed UNLV, who beat them 131-101 — the third-highest scoring game in modern March Madness history. Read more about those records here: https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/bracketiq/2018-02-28/highest-scoring-march-madness-games-ncaa-tournament-history

ribbygoose33 karma

What popular first round upset pick do you expect not to happen?

NCAAcom71 karma

This certainly could happen, but we don’t expect South Dakota State to beat Ohio State in that 12-5 matchup. Chris Holtmann is 3-for-3 in NCAA tournament first round games, and with apologies to Mike Daum, he has the best player on the floor in Keita Bates-Diop. The Jackrabbits are good, but their best win of the season was against South Dakota.

TeddyJTran31 karma

Thanks for the AMA.

1) How far do you see Michigan going in the tournament?

2) What are some First Round games to keep on Upset Alert?

NCAAcom51 karma

We can give you our NCAA.com reporter Andy Katz's thoughts on this. Andy has Michigan going to the finals and losing to Villanova there. Not a bad run - he's big on the Wolverines.

Looking at his bracket - Katz has a few moderate upsets. - Loyola-Chicago over Miami - New Mexico State over Clemson Katz also has two First Four winners moving on from the 11 seed: He's picked Arizona State into the second round as well as St. Bonaventure.

thefred_mcgriff25 karma

UMBC have any shot over Virginia? Am I crazy?

NCAAcom51 karma

Eh, probably. Sorry! We can apply the “stranger things have happened” statement to just about anything NCAA tournament-related, but this would actually be the strangest thing that’s ever happened. That said, Virginia plays at the slowest pace in the country, which means there will be fewer possessions. Fewer possessions = better chance of an upset. But if you’re daring enough to pick a 16-1 stunner, Penn over Kansas is the more likely choice. The Hoos have the best defense in the country; hard to see them dropping a game like this.

LLAMARULER24 karma

What year was the closest to a "no upset" year? Do you think there will be a year of no upsets?

NCAAcom40 karma

Great question. 2007 was a remarkable year with just two first round upsets (upsets being defined purely by seeding). The whole tournament had only four. 2016 saw the most in the first round with 10 (out of 32 games). 2014 had the most total with 19.

Here's way more on that if you're interested: https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/bracketiq/2018-03-07/heres-how-pick-march-madness-upsets-according-data

robotsincognito20 karma

Loyola seems to be a trendy pick around these parts. How can Miami erase that in the first round?

NCAAcom30 karma

Miami quietly closed the regular season on a four-game winning streak before losing to North Carolina in the ACC tournament.

A matchup like this comes down to Lonnie Walker IV. In those four wins, Walker scored double-digit points in each game and made 10 3s. In the ACC tournament? Nine points, 0-for-5 from 3. Loyola and Miami match up fairly evenly when you look at the metrics, but the Ramblers don’t have an athlete of Walker’s caliber. He doesn’t need to go off, but if he’s solid, Miami is in good shape.

__SEV__19 karma

Is Kansas viable to make a deep run?

NCAAcom18 karma

Sure, but there’s no guarantee. Devonte’ Graham is playing the best ball of his college career — considering the career he’s had, that’s saying something. Kansas starts four plus shooters and the center trio of Udoka Azubuike/Mitch Lightfoot/Silvio De Sousa has improved tremendously since Big 12 play began.

But Kansas is in a tough region and has a history of (relatively) early March Madness exits. Duke and Michigan State loom at the bottom of Kansas’ region — probably the scariest 2-3 combo this year. Azubuike’s health is also a question mark.

loyaltyElite16 karma

When do 1 seeds typically start falling out of the tournament? What are the stats behind it? What about the odds of at least 1 1 seed making the final four? Sounds like this year is a super balanced field though.

NCAAcom23 karma

1 seeds win an average of 3.13 games per tournament, which would get them to the Elite Eight before losing. 38 of the 132 total 1 seeds lost in the Elite Eight — the largest culling of 1 seeds in any round. Here's how the losses break down per round for 1 seeds:

  • First round: 0
  • Second round: 18
  • Sweet 16: 22
  • Elite Eight: 38
  • Final Four: 22
  • Championship game: 12
  • Winning the championship: 20

So, 54 of the 132 total 1 seeds (40.91%) have made it to the Final Four. Here's how the rest of the seeds stack up:

  • 1: 40.91%
  • 2: 21.21%
  • 3: 11.36%
  • 4: 9.85%
  • 5: 4.55%
  • 6: 2.27%
  • 7: 2.27%
  • 8: 3.79%
  • 9: 0.76%
  • 10: 0.76%
  • 11: 2.27%
  • 12-16: 0.00%

No one is ever a lock for a Final Four, but 1 seeds get there almost twice as often as any other seed.

There have only been two years where no 1 seed has made the Final Four. 2006 (11-seed George Mason, 4-seed LSU, 3-seed Florida, 2-seed UCLA) and 2011 (11-seed VCU, 8-seed Butler, 4-seed Kentucky, and 3-seed UConn)

In 2008, there were four 1 seeds in the Final Four, with Kansas, UNC, Memphis and UCLA — the only year that has happened.

Strikesuit13 karma

I don't see how Xavier makes it past the Elite 8. Am I wrong?

NCAAcom17 karma

Xavier can make it past the Elite Eight - but when comparing the Musketeers to other 1 or 2-seeds, it’s fair to be skeptical.

Xavier has been awesome in close games this year. It’s why the Musketeers are only 14th in KenPom despite being 28-5 and playing in a great conference. Their point differential isn’t great, they're ranked 56th out of the field of 68 in defensive efficiency, and they don't force opposing mistakes (318th out of 351 in turnover rate).

That said, winning close games is a skill — having a senior duo like Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura is an asset. But the Musketeers aren’t going to overwhelm anyone, and that’s a trait you’d want in a Final Four pick.

ols9299 karma

hi! what's the best strategy for picking the close teams - like an 8 seed/7 seed, etc? I usually flip a coin

NCAAcom5 karma

For 8-9 seed games, flipping a coin might be your best bet. The 8 seed holds as slim a winning margin as you can against the 9 seed (67-65). But a good theory is to look at the difference between first round win percentage and first round pick percentage for each seed. Seeds with the biggest negative differential are a great choice, since they tend to win games more often than people pick them to win, giving you an edge in your pool if you get them right.

  • SeedWin%Pick%Difference
  • 1 — 100.0% — 97.9% — -2.1%
  • 2 — 93.9% — 96.9% — 2.9%
  • 3 — 84.1% — 89.9% — 5.8%
  • 4 — 80.3% — 86.3% — 6.0%
  • 5 — 64.4% — 73.2% — 8.8%
  • 6 — 62.9% — 67.3% — 4.5%
  • 7 — 61.4% — 51.2% — -10.1%
  • 8 — 50.8% — 55.6% — 4.9%
  • 9 — 49.2% — 44.4% — -4.9%
  • 10 — 38.6% — 48.8% — 10.1%
  • 11 — 37.1% — 32.7% — -4.5%
  • 12 — 35.6% — 26.8% — -8.8%
  • 13 — 19.7% — 13.7% — -6.0%
  • 14 — 15.9% — 10.1% — -5.8%
  • 15 — 6.1% — 3.2% — -2.9%
  • 16 — 0.0% — 2.1% — 2.1%

SuperstarTinsanity7 karma

Any chance of Buffalo making it out of the first round against Arizona?

NCAAcom9 karma

Probably a better chance than the public thinks. Yes, Arizona just won the Pac-12 tournament, and Deandre Ayton is a monster. But outside of Arizona, the Pac-12 only sent two teams to the tournament - both in the First Four. It’s fair to be skeptical of the Wildcats’ recent competition.

And the Bulls are smoking hot, having won 19 of their last 22. Buffalo should double or triple team Ayton if it has to - Arizona’s perimeter players can make shots, but they’ve been inconsistent. Make Ayton fight through a forest or arms and pray that the PJC/Alkins/Trier trio struggles from deep. It’s possible. You can score on Arizona.

binpud5 karma

[deleted]

NCAAcom19 karma

You'll get lots of varying odds here. The website 538 has a perfect round at 1 in 3,500, and in 2017 there were more than 200 that did this. One professor we talked to said the formula is essentially like a coin-flip at 70-30 odds (opposed to 50-50), figuring the difference in team ability makes it better than a 50-50 shot. Regardless of that, what you did is impressive and rare. There have been years where it doesn't happen at all.

TeenGnarWolf5 karma

Which team from the 5-8 line will make it the furthest?

NCAAcom5 karma

6 seeds actually have the highest winning percentage out of the 5-8 seeds. The 6 seeds are 144-127 (53.1%) in the tournament, three wins ahead of the 5 seed (52.6%). The 6 seed wins an average of 1.09 games per tournament, while the 5 seed wins 1.07, the 7 seed wins 0.86, and the eight seed wins 0.7.

DayandKnight135 karma

Thanks for doing the AMA. I am an avid Creighton fan, and hope we beat KState (honestly, I see that game as a near toss-up), but if we advance, do you think we have a chance to beat Virginia?

NCAAcom6 karma

Not a great chance, but sure, there’s a chance.

Marcus Foster feels like a guy who could break Virginia’s defense - and that list is short. The Hoos want to slow you down and force you into bad decisions. But if you have heat check guys like Foster launching from NBA 3-point range, and he gets hot? Not even the most sophisticated, disciplined version of the Pack Line can stop that.

But that’s what it would take. Outside of an unconscious Foster game, it’s hard to find any clear edge Creighton has over Virginia.

XxSoapxXHD4 karma

Is Texas Tech a safe bet?

NCAAcom9 karma

No, because the Red Raiders aren’t the best team in their region (that’s Villanova) and didn’t play well in February.

But the East Region is winnable, so if you subscribe to the “great point guard + great defense = NCAA tournament success” theory, Texas Tech checks both boxes. Keenan Evans is a treat, and the Red Raiders rank third in defensive efficiency.

Purdue, the 2-seed, isn’t playing great either. Tech can go far, and Zhaire Smith is comically underrated. But better 3-seeds than Texas Tech have lost early on.

awherm174 karma

Big fan of the truly elite Drexel Dragons -- is Drexel the only school to win an NCAA tournament game with something made up as its mascot?

NCAAcom18 karma

Very interesting question. They are not! There's a whole host of teams with fictional mascots who have won games. Mainly, the Duke Blue Devils, but from the Green Bay Phoenix to the St. Louis Billikens, 16 different fictional mascots have won a combined 170 NCAA tournament games since 1985.