View Full Version : The Science of NCAA Tournament Upsets

03-18-2008, 01:33 PM

Cinderella Time in March AKA “Bryce Drew pulls a ton of chicks at the bar week.”

By the time you’re reading this, I am guessing you’ve probably already filled out 4 or 5 brackets by now. March is the time Americans stand proudly together to show their love for basketball and illegal gambling. Despite office pools and national contests that wield money and prizes in the thousands, people will often make their picks with no real research. While many picks don’t take that much to figure out, selecting those three or four first round upsets is what separates the winners from the losers. I spent the last two hours looking at the past first round upsets (11 seeds and higher) of the last five years. This beat my previous record for researching an article by one hour and fifty-five minutes. As you probably know, no 16 seed has ever won, so do yourself a favor and pencil those #1 seeds into the next round. 8-9 and 7-10 games usually have no rhyme or reason to which side to take, so you’re on your own there. But for those other games, the games that can separate you from your competition come Final Four time; this should cast some light on who your picks should be. While some of these conclusions are obvious to many, perhaps they can still provide you with some information on this year’s field to help you make informed picks.

1. Last teams in from major conferences normally don’t do well in upset role.

Here is what conferences the Cinderella’s have come from in the last 5 years (with this years 11-15 seeds in brackets):

MAC (none)
Conference USA (2) (none)
Horizon (3) (None)
Big West (Cal State Fullerton)
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (Siena)
Patriot (American)
American East (UMBC)
Big Sky (none)
Colonial Athletic Association (2) (George Mason)
Southland (none)
Missouri Valley (None)
Big South (Winthrop)

This tells us 2 very important things:

* Upsets can happen from any conference; however, if you haven’t pulled one off in the last 5 seasons, then your conference is probably not considered as strong as the conferences that have.
* 11-16 seeds from major conferences don’t have good track records in recent years. This is bad news for some of the last teams from the Big 10, 12, ACC, SEC and Big East.

Possible Upset : See list above
Bad News for: #12 Villanova, #11 Kansas State, #11 Kentucky, #14 Georgia, #11 Baylor

2. Cinderella teams must have shown they can win on the road

While nearly every Cinderella team that makes the tournament has shown it can win in its own building, NCAA tournament games are played on the road for everyone. Every team who has been able to upset a higher seed the last 5 years has had at least a .500 record on the road that season.

Possible Upset: Kent State (8-6 Away), St. Joes (11-7), Boise State (12-3), American (10-7), Siena (8-6), Cal St Fullerton (9-5), UMBC (9-7), Temple (7-5), Oral Roberts (8-6), Cornell (10-4), Western Kentucky (10-3), Baylor (6-4), Belmont (9-5), George Mason (7-7)

Bad News for: Winthrop (7-8), Villanova (4-7), Kansas State (3-5), Kentucky (4-6), San Diego (5-8), Austin Peay (8-8), Georgia (2-8),

3. Cinderella’s are led by upperclassmen

Bucknell over Kansas is the only upset in the last five years by a team that started less then three upperclassman. Most teams that do pull off the upset start a minimum of two seniors, and often as many as three or four. Last year’s two upsets (VCU and Winthrop) featured these classes in their starting five: five Seniors, four Juniors, one Sophmore, zero Freshmen.

Possible Upset: Cal State Fullerton (4 seniors, 1 Junior), American (5 upperclassmen), Boise State (4 Seniors), St.Joes (4 Upperclassmen), Winthrop (3 Seniors), George Mason (4 upperclassmen), Temple (3 Upperclassmen), Oral Roberts (4 Seniors, 1 Junior), Austin Peay (5 Upperclassmen), Western Kentucky (3 Seniors), Baylor (4 upperclassmen), Georgia (4 upperclassmen), Belmont (4 upperclassmen)

Bad News for: UMBC (1 senior, 2 Juniors), Kansas State (3 frosh, 2 senior), Siena (3 Sophomores, 2 Juniors), Villanova (0 Seniors), Kentucky (2 Seniors, 3 Soph), Cornell (2 Upperclassmen), San Diego (0 Seniors)

4. Almost all Cinderellas are usually 11 or 12 seeds

It is hard to sometimes play it safe when picking a bracket, but if there’s money involved it is in your best interest to just select 3 or 4 upsets in the first round. Take a look at how much madness has actually occurred each of the last 10 years:

2007- 2 upsets: both 11 seeds
2006- 6 upsets: 2 ‘11’ seeds, 2 ‘12’ seeds, 1 ’13’ seed, 1 ‘14’ seed
2005- 4 upsets: 1 ‘11’ seed, 1 ‘12’ seed, 1 ’13’ seed, 1 ‘14’ seed
2004- 2 upsets: both 12 seeds
2003- 3 upsets: 1 ‘11’ seed, 1 ‘12’ seed, 1 ’13’ seed
2002- 6 upsets: 2 ‘11’ seeds, 3 ’12’ seeds, 1 ‘13’ seed
2001-7 upsets: 2 ‘11’ seeds, 2 ‘12’ seeds, 2 ‘13’ seeds, 1 ‘15’ seed
2000- 1 upset: 11 seed
1999-4 upsets: 2 ‘12’ seeds, 1 ’13’ seed, 1 ‘14’ seed
1998-5 upsets: 2 ‘11’ seeds, 1 ‘12’ seed, 1 ‘13’ seed, 1 ’14’ seed’

Total Average: 4 Upsets a year
1.3 are 11 seeds
1.4 are 12 seeds
1.3 are 13, 14 and 15 seeds

So in the last 10 years of tournament play, the records for each seed in first round action are:
11 Seeds: 13-27
12 Seeds:14-26
13 Seeds: 8-32
14 Seeds: 4-36
15 Seeds: 1-39

Stick to the 11 and 12 seed games, and maybe one 13 seed if you see a match-up you really like.

Possible Upset:
11 seeds: Baylor, St. Joes, Kentucky, Kansas State
12 seeds: Temple, Western Kentucky, Villanova, George Mason

Bad News for: Everyone else

Based on this research and the average number of upsets each year at around 4, here are my four best bets for an upset come Thursday and Friday:

#11 ST. JOES over # 6 OKLAHOMA

Be sure to catch my next article next week entitled “I am a college basketball genius, bow before me!” or “Who stole my alias last week and made those terrible predictions?”

-Violent J

03-18-2008, 01:50 PM
I've got St. Joe's over OU in most of my picks.

Drake uses a spread offense and I just don't see Western Kentucky being able to defend that. It should be a dangerously close game though.

I do have GM upsetting ND in one.

And lastly, Pitt is too strong for OR- I just can't see them losing to OR.

Nice article....thx for sharing.

03-18-2008, 01:58 PM
Thanks Zach. Ive been wanting something like this to help me set up my bracket.

03-18-2008, 02:00 PM
That guy has 3 of my 4 upset picks. Mason over Notre Dame, St. Joe's over OU, and ORU over Pitt.

03-18-2008, 02:10 PM
I've got St Joes and Temple, but I think Drake and Pitt are for real (at least in the first round) and I cant see lightning striking twice on Mason.

03-18-2008, 02:13 PM
None of this is necessary. Michael Beasley told us all that K-State was going to beat Duke for the title.

03-18-2008, 02:25 PM
None of this is necessary. Michael Beasley told us all that K-State was going to beat Duke for the title.

Just like he was going to be beat KU in Lawrence and Africa right:eek:

03-18-2008, 02:50 PM
N Dame is good. NO way they lose to Mason.