These Trends Will Help You Spot March Madness Bracket Busters

Photos from a practices session for the NCAA basketball tournament. – Courtesy photo / Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0)

Upsets make March Madness interesting but they can leave your bracket in shambles. Just last year, the No. 16 seed, University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC), shocked the country be defeating No. 1 seeded Virginia.

These Cinderella stories make for exciting basketball but further complicate your quest for the perfect bracket. Source: Betway has analyzed the past 10 years of the tournament to identify this year’s potential upsets.

Know these trends before you fill out your bracket.

Know Your Numbers

For its analysis Betway has classified a first-round upset as a team seeded 10th or lower advancing, as the chances of a No. 9 seed beating a No. 8 seed are too high to be considered a shock. There have been 72 such upsets in the last 10 years; that’s roughly seven per year. Generally, there are between five to ten first-round upsets in a single year.

Double-digit upsets in the first round are unlikely so don’t waste on your surprise picks on a No. 16 or No. 15 seed. Remember, UMBC is the exception not the rule; just eight No. 15 seeds have ever progressed to the second round.

So, which teams seeded 10th to 14th are most likely to cause a shock? Start by looking a the First Four, a series of play-in games played prior to the tournament. Since 2011, a team that triumphed in the First Four has gone on to win in the first round of the tournament.

Conference Calls

Low seeds fall into two categories: mid-major conference champions and teams that finished lower in the standings in major conferences.

If you’re looking for first-round upsets, keep your eye on mid-major teams. In the past 10 years, 44 of the 72 teams to cause shocks in the first-round were from mid-major conferences.

Atlantic 10 and Conference-USA have been great sources of upsets recently. Atlantic 10 has had eight teams shock in the first round and Conference-USA has had its champion advance to the Round of 32 every year for the past four years.

Going Deep

Upsets occur less frequently after the first round. Just 23 teams seeded 10th or lower have advanced past the Round of 32 in the past 10 years, and 20 of those teams were seeded between No. 10 and No. 12.

Mid-major teams perform well in the first round but the split is more even in later stages. In the past 10 years, 12 of the 23 teams that reached at least the Sweet 16 have come from a major conference.

So while you might have a hunch that a low seed from a smaller conference will upset a powerhouse in the first round, you’re better off sticking with college basketball’s big guns as the tournament progresses, regardless of where they finished in the regular season.

Don’t expect this March Madness to be a repeat of 2018. It’s likely that the more familiar teams will be the ones making deep runs into the tournament this time around.

March 7, 2019

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