Every March, the entire country comes together in a mad scramble to try to answer one question: Who can make the perfect bracket for the NCAA tournament?
Picking teams to win March Madness is exhilarating, but there’s a reason no one has ever had a perfect record beyond the Sweet 16. Nonetheless, fans still search for stats or trends that can inform their picks and bring them success.
If you want to win your family bracket challenge — or just feel good about your gut picks — you’ve come to the right place. These six stats are a combination of data-driven research and historical trends to hopefully give you that edge to finally beat your mom.
KenPom, named after creator Ken Pomeroy, encapsulates a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency while accounting for pace of play and strength of schedule.
Since 2002, every national champion except UConn in 2014 has been in the top 21 in adjusted offense and top 37 for adjusted defense.
Teams fulfilling this parameter are, naturally, top seeds: 1-seed Houston, Alabama and Purdue; 2-seed Texas and 4-seed UConn. Within a reasonable striking distance of this top 20 include 2-seed UCLA, 1-seed Kansas and — surprisingly — 6-seed Creighton.
KenPom can be used to compare any matchup, not just national champions. The overall rankings can be a simple way of seeing which team is better overall, and the comprehensive set of stats available on the KenPom website can truly paint a picture of how a game between two squads should play out.
2. Quad 1 wins and losses
March Madness is filled with big games against worthy opponents. A team’s success in the regular season against high-level adversaries can be indicative of its ability to perform in the tournament. A Quad 1 game is a regular season game against a top 50 team in the country, compiling all the biggest games a team had this year.
Kansas holds the most Quad 1 wins in the nation with a record of 17-7. Texas, Alabama, Purdue, Baylor and Iowa State all have more than 10 Quad 1 wins. The latter two, however, are hovering around just .500 in their record. Arizona sits at an impressive 9-2, Houston maintains a 7-2 record and UCLA is 8-5.
Most top seeds flourish, but the Quad 1 records do raise some questions for other high seeds. Namely, 4-seed UConn stands at just 7-6 in Quad 1 games, while the KenPom-favored Creighton is an unsightly 3-9.
3. Turnover percentage
‘Turnover percentage’ and ‘turnover percentage (against)’ are arguably the two best indicators of ball security and defensive aggressiveness. Maintaining possessions and getting a shot up every time a team is on offense — all while preventing its opponent from doing the same — is a key factor in March Madness success.
Higher seeds such as Houston, UCLA and Marquette excel at forcing turnovers and keeping their own turnovers down. Sleeper picks that do the same include 13-seed Kent State and 11-seed NC State. Teams that are bad on both sides of the ball are generally the worst in the country, but one top team stands out: Alabama. The first overall seed is below average in committing and forcing turnovers — 204th on the offensive end and 318th on the defensive end.
An upset may well be brewing.
Having numerous turnovers both ways can be a risky but demolishing playstyle; 12-seed VCU and 6-seed Iowa State can cause havoc. On the other hand, keeping turnovers down and simply playing stout defense can lead teams to be more well-rounded elsewhere. 10-seed Penn State excels here, and fan-favorite Oral Roberts once again has upset potential.
Seedings are the most base-level stat, appearing on every bracket as an indicator of how good a team is. However, it likely wouldn’t be wise to simply choose the higher seed to win every matchup.
The biggest demonstration of this comes in the 8 vs. 9 first-round games. Since the 8-seed is ranked higher, it’s natural for people to choose the 8-seed to win. However, the 9-seeds have more wins all-time, with a 76-72 record.
The top four seeds win in the first round over 79% of the time, but the fifth seed is where wins take a nose-dive: 5-seeds are infamous for being upset, only having a 64% win percentage.
5. Team Color
With the ‘blue bloods’ reigning supreme over college basketball, it may be a surprise to find out blue is, in fact, not the best color.
Crimson and cream, accounting for schools such as Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma, are the best colors with 59% and 55% winning percentages, respectively. Gray, navy blue and blue follow closely, all landing at 54%. Black, red and gold all find themselves below .500, while brown is the worst with just 21.6%.
6. Team Mascot
A common practice for casual — or indecisive — fans is to pick between the two teams’ mascots. Imagining which of the two mascots would win in a fight to move on in the bracket certainly spices things up, and having an entirely separate bracket dedicated to this mascot battle royale is a valid choice.
Historically, cat mascots have had the most success in the tournament, led by Kentucky, Arizona and Villanova. Birds are second, with Kansas leading the flock. Dogs come third, headlined by UConn and Gonzaga. North Carolina solely carries rams to fourth, while UCLA and Baylor represent bears at fifth. These mascots may hold a bit of an advantage over others if you have no other information.
Some of these stats are better indicators of success than others, but all give some level of insight into which teams may be favored over others. It’s called March Madness for a reason, though — expect the unexpected. Good luck.