March Madness: The Do's and Don'ts for Completing Your Bracket
Whether you're just starting your bracket or restructuring it after some extensive research, it's important to keep some more overarching concepts in mind. A lot are based on historical results and the probability of those events happening this time around.
What guidelines should you keep in mind as you finalize this year's picks?
Do Advance at Least One 1 Seed to the Final Four
Since the 2000 NCAA Tournament, there's been at least one 1 seed in 17 of 19 Final Fours. In that same time, 38.2% of all Final Four teams have been number 1 seeds. Of those, 13 have gone on to the win the national championship, with five in the last seven seasons. Last year's four teams consisted of two 1 seeds (including eventual champion Villanova), giving us back-to-back tournaments with a pair of them and at least one in seven straight going back to 2012. According to ESPN's Who Picked Whom data, Duke is the public's favorite 1 seed to get to the Final Four.
Don't Advance All Four 1 Seeds to the Final Four
As expected, 1 seeds have had a ton of success over the years. However, there's nothing saying you should have all four in the national semifinals. The only time the top four teams all made it was back in 2008, and since then the average is 1.4 1 seeds per tournament.
This year, there might be some temptation to advance all four with each of them better than the average 1 seed, according to nERD, our proprietary metric that measures overall team efficiency. They could be outliers, but based on historical data, the odds of it not happening are way more likely. And if you're stuck on which one to keep out, our numbers give Virginia the stiffest competition to reach the Final Four.
Do Pick At Least One 12 Seed to Knock Off a 5
By now, you probably know the drill: 12s upset 5s. Don't read too much into last year's 4-0 record for the higher-seeded 5s either, because a 12 has won at least one of the four matchups in 9 of the last 11 dances. Even coming off a down year, 12 seeds have a win rate of 40.9% going back to the 2008 edition. Having two advance isn't out of the question entirely, as that's occurred 6 times in the last 11 tournaments. By nERD, Oregon is our best 12 seed, but both New Mexico State and Murray State are above average for their line. The Racers have our pick for the most likely 12/5 upset.
Don't Pick a 5 Seed to Win it All
Based on data going back to 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, a 5 seed has never won a national championship. Along with 9s, 5s are the only other single-digit seed not to win one, while the three seeds above them have combined for 31. In fact, 5 seeds have only made the Final Four one more time (6) than 8 seeds have (5), and they have the exact same number of championship game appearances. Compared to the 3 line, that's 10 and 8 fewer, respectively.
Those pesky 12s have helped to keep those numbers down, and as we noted, that's not likely to change this year. Of the four 5 seeds, the Auburn Tigers' +4000 betting odds are the best, yet they imply just a 2.44% probability.
Do Advance a 7 Seed or Higher to the Final Four
If you've frequently played any type of contest that has involved the total number of seeds (from four up) you have in the Final Four, you may have noticed a trend in recent years. After chalking up another one in 2018, we have now had the seeds of the Final Four teams add up to 10 or more in six straight years. In five of those, it's been at least 12, with four years of 15 or more. And going all the way back to 2000, it's been in double-digits in 11 tournaments, supporting an average of 12.6.
Baked into that is the need for at least a 7 seed to push an otherwise chalky Final Four -- three 1 seeds -- to the double-digit mark. Prior to 2013, that wasn't a very common occurrence, but it's become one over the last six seasons. Over that span, a 7 or higher has reached a national semifinal each year with the breakdown as follows: 7(3), 8(1), 9(1), 10(1), 11(1).
Louisville is our highest rated team at a 7 or higher, coming in with a 13.77 nERD and +1900 odds to come out of the East Region.
Don't Advance a Double-Digit Seed to the Final Four
Though you'll want to target upsets in the first round, you want to limit your exposure to having those teams go on a deep run. Including last year's magical run by 11-seed Loyola, only 4 times in the last 19 tournaments has a 10 seed or higher made the cut. It's worth noting that none of those four were seeded higher than 11, so rolling with a 12 or 13 in the Final Four might not be the wisest of choices.
Do Trust North Carolina as a 1 Seed
The Tar Heels are in the NCAA Tournament for a ninth straight year under head coach Roy Williams. Before 2009, they had also made consecutive appearances in his first six seasons in Chapel Hill. Across the 14 preceding this year, North Carolina was a 1 seed in seven instances, or yes, exactly half of them. Their record as a 1 is 33-4 with three national championships, and they have at least appeared in the Final Four five times. Not once have they come up short of an Elite Eight bid.
According to nERD (20.02), this year's team isn't as good as two of those championship teams, but they are better than the one that took the title in 2017. Don't get fooled into overlooking them.
Don't Trust Cincinnati Beyond the Round of 32
As you're filtering through all the higher seeds and trying to feel good about who you are advancing, the 7-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats are one team to avoid. Not only are they overrated by historical standards, but their track record hasn't been great under head coach Mick Cronin.
After failing to reach the tournament in Cronin's first four years, Cincinnati's gone to the tournament in nine straight. However, they have been seeded around this range often and have made quick exits in all but one (a Sweet 16 appearance in 2012). They've lost in the first round once and in the second round (or third if you count the play-ins) six times. That includes four years where they were seeded better than they are in this one.
If that wasn't enough, the Bearcats draw an underrated Iowa team in the first round, and even if they win they'll likely get a very tough Tennessee team in the Round of 32. The odds of them getting to Louisville are long.