March Madness Bracketology – A Guide to Picking Upsets

Mar 13, 2011

Whether it is a March Madness office pool, an online contest or a friendly wager between friends, the most common question I receive as a professional handicapper is the following: “Which NCAA Tournament seeds present the best chance of pulling an upset in the first and second rounds?”  The data contained below was originally obtained on March 15, 2010, although some updates were recently made on March 14, 2011.  Hopefully, you will find the information helpful as you begin the difficult task of completing your Tournament bracket.


Teams have been seeded 1 through 16 since 1985 and, since that time, a No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament (0-104).  With this empirical evidence in hand, you should never select a No. 16 seed to win in your bracket.  In the past four tournaments, the average margin of victory for the No.1 seeds has been 29.3 points (14 of the 16 games have been decided by 20 or more points. 


Since 1985, No. 15 seeds are a terrible 4-96 (4.1%) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  Indeed, a No. 15 seed has not defeated a No. 2 seed in nine years when Hampton pulled an incredible upset over Iowa State (0-36 last 9 years).  While Belmont nearly defeated Duke in 2009, you should side with the No. 2 seeds in your office bracket as they present the best value from a historical (and probability) standpoint.   However, #15 seeds are a profitable 18-11 ATS (62.1%) over the last five years.  After the first round, No. 2 seeds have not been as reliable as at least one No. 2 seed has been defeated in the second round over the last twelve years.


While No. 14 seeds have enjoyed slightly more success than No. 15 seeds, they remain an unreliable 15-85 (15%) since 1985.  Indeed, No. 14 seeds are 0-8 in the Tournament over the last two years, with Georgia nearly pulling the upset over Xavier.  The #3 seeds are 11-1 ATS (91.6%) over the last three years.  I should also note that the fifteen No. 14 seeds that managed to escape the opening round with a win are 2-13 in the second round of the Tournament.  Once again, historical trends and mathematical probability dictate avoiding No. 14 seeds in your office bracket. 


No. 13 seeds have a slightly better probability of succeeding in the first round of the Tournament as evidenced by their 22-78 (22%) record since 1985. #4 seeds are 11-5 ATS (68.8%) over the last four years.  Since 2008, No. 13 seeds have been a solid choice in brackets all over the country as they were 2-2 in the opening round.  However, before going crazy and choosing more than one No. 13 seed to succeed in the opening round game, keep in mind that multiple 13 seeds have won only three times over the last 25 years.  However, only four times since 1985 have all the top four seeds in each region survived the round of 64.  Moreover, 2010 marked the third consecutive year (8 in last 10) wherein a No.13 seed won a game when Murray State upset Vanderbilt.


Historically, No. 12 seeds have been very good in the NCAA Tournament as they are 34-66 (34%) since 1985.  No. 12 seeds were an incredible 3-1 in 2009, while #5 seeds are only 10-10 ATS (50%) over the last five years.  In short, you should always pick at least one No. 12 seed to win their first round game, and that conclusion is supported by the fact that one or more No. 12 seeds have won in 23 of the last 26 Tournaments.  I should also note that No. 12 seeds have actually won more games in the round of 64 and the round of 32 than No. 11 seeds!  Let’s also note that No. 12 seeds are a remarkable 16-15 in the second round!


In 2009, 75% of the No. 11 seeds lost in the first round of the Tournament.  However, No. 11 seeds are a modest 31-69 (31%) since 1985, and at least one No. 11 seed has won a game in nine of the last ten Tournaments.  #6 seeds are 15-13 ATS (53.6%) since 2002.  And, while selecting at least one No. 11 seed to prevail in the first round, it is also worth considering taking a No. 6 seed to win the first two rounds of the Tournament.  Indeed, No. 6 seeds are an amazing 35-31 in second round games, whereas No. 7 seeds are a terrible 18-42 in the second round.


Before you think about taking a No. 10 seed in your bracket, be aware that No. 7 seeds have dominated the first round over the last five years.  In fact, No. 7 seeds are 8-4 (67%) over the last three Tournaments and 16-8 (67%) since 2003.  Over the last six years, #7 seeds are also 16-8 ATS (67%), with the outright winner boasting a perfect 44-0 ATS mark (since 1998).  Moreover, No. 7 seeds have performed well in the second round as at least one No. 7 has defeated a No. 2 in each of the last six Big Dances.  Since 1985, No. 10 seeds are 39-61 (39%) in the first round of the Tournament.  You should also know that a No. 10 seed has never advanced to the Final Four.


Since 1985, No. 9 seeds are a decent 54-46 (54%) in the first round of the Tournament.  Dating back to 2003, the #9 seed owns a 15-11 ATS (57.7%) edge.  However, while picking a No. 9 seed to prevail in the first round appears to be a smart move, be advised that a No. 9 seed has never advanced past the Elite Eight.  Conversely, three No. 8 seeds have reached the Final Four, with Villanova taking home the national title in 1985.  Moreover, No. 9 seeds are a dreadful 3-53 (5.4%) versus No. 1 seeds in the second round, whereas No. 8 seeds are 9-35 (20.5%) versus the best squads in the country.

For all of your sports investment advice, join Oskeim Sports Consulting as I have received 22 distinguished awards from The Sports Monitor of Oklahoma since 2007, including finishing Ranked #1 during March Madness with 65% documented winners.   As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me toll free at 1-888-254-0117.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Jeff Keim