By William Ezekowitz
Here’s a dirty little secret about March Madness. The difference between a bad bracket and a good bracket is skill, but the difference between a good bracket and a great bracket is luck. Anyone who has won their pool has gotten lucky. A lot of these games are basically coin flips or won by buzzer beaters, and you can’t predict that. You just have to hope enough of those breaks go in your favor.
Where you can distance yourself from your competition, though, is in the 60-40 or 55-45 games. If you can figure out which team has a slight advantage and why, and pick enough teams with a slight advantage, odds are something will break your way some day. That is the purpose of these 68 Facts, to help isolate favorable and unfavorable match-ups. Hopefully they will help your bracket—or at least help you justify your bracket in your head, which is debatably more important anyway. Let’s get to it:
1. Cal is 18-0 at home and 5-10 on the road or at neutral sites.
2. Providence’s Kris Dunn hasn’t looked like himself lately, scoring single digits in 3 of his last 6 games, after having just 2 single digit outputs in his first 25 games.
3. Kentucky has the lowest defensive assist percentage in the country. Indiana gets assists on an above average proportion of its made field goals.
4. Of Dayton’s seven losses, five have come when one of the Flyers’ three best players, Charles Cooke, Dyshawn Pierre and Kendall Pollard, wasn’t playing. All three are healthy and eligible for the tournament.
5. Cal State Bakersfield’s 25th most efficient defense is anchored by the 16th best steal rate in the nation; Oklahoma surrenders steals at a rate that is 300th best in the country.
6. Iowa had the nation’s 5th best offense through 22 games. In the last 9, in which they went 3-6, they were at the D1 average.
7. Michigan State’s starting lineup features the best offensive rebounder in the Big 10 (Costello), the best three point shooter in the country (Forbes) and the most efficient player in the country (Valentine).
8. The two chinks in the 50th ranked Oregon defense are their defensive rebounding rate (254th nationally) and their 3 point FG defense (264th). Cincinnati is the 20th best offensive rebounding team and an average three point shooting team. St. Joe’s is below average in both categories.
9. Turning the ball over the most of any single digit seed, Indiana is a prime upset candidate. Chattanooga has the 30th highest steal rate in the country and the 54th highest turnover rate.
10. Without Amile Jefferson, Duke is the worst defensive rebounding team in the field besides Farleigh Dickinson. Baylor is third in offensive rebounding rate.
11. However, Yale, Baylor’s first round opponent, is 7th in defensive rebounding rate.
12. Also, Baylor is susceptible to passing teams, allowing assists on 72% of their field goals allowed, the highest mark in the country. Yale is well above the D1 average in assists per field goal made, ranking 58th.
13. Iona’s opponents both attempt and make threes at a higher rate than the D1 average. Iowa State is 39th in the country in three point field goal percentage.
14. Maryland’s Melo Trimble’s offensive rating has fallen from 116.5 through the first 24 games of the season to just 96.5 through the last 8. Maryland is 3-5 in those games.
15. Virginia gives up three point attempts at a slightly above average rate and allows opponents to shoot at the D1 average from three. Michigan State is the best three point shooting team in the country.
16. Averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per game, Jameel Warney is the most prolific post player in the tournament. Kentucky is an average-sized team with a below average defensive rebounding rate.
17. West Virginia lives off of turnovers, forcing them on 25% of possessions, which is first in the country. Notre Dame turns it over the 10th least in the country per possession.
18. Oregon State will be without Tres Tinkle, who averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds per game during the season, for the Tournament. The Beavers are 2-2 without Tinkle so far.
19. North Carolina is the fourth best offensive rebounding team in the country. Kentucky is 270th in defensive rebounding rate.
20. Oregon is 21-4 when all of its starters are healthy. The Ducks lost twice when Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell were each out for a game, but both are healthy for the Tournament.
21. As Edmond Sumner goes, so go Xavier. The Freshman point guard has an offensive rating of 78 in the Musketeers losses and 111.5 in their wins.
22. Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehad has scored 20+ points in 8 of the Pirates’ last 9 games.
23. Green Bay relies on running, with 40% of its attempts coming in transition. Texas A&M’s opponents attempt just 21% of their attempts in transition.
24. West Virginia is 273rd in the country at keeping the ball; Stephen F Austin is 1st in the country at forcing turnovers.
25. West Virginia is 1st in the country in offensive rebounding rate; Stephen F Austin is an average defensive rebounding team.
26. Wichita State is 1st in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Arizona is 2-6 against teams in the top 50 in defensive efficiency this season.
27. Michigan is 4-11 against the KenPom top 50 this season. Tulsa is 58th and Notre Dame is 41st.
28. UCONN has allowed opponents to shoot above the D1 average from three in 8 of its 10 losses, and UCONN opponents get the 58th highest proportion of their total points from threes. Colorado is the 17th best three point shooting team in the country.
29. Long mired in a shooting slump, Butler’s Kellan Dunham has made 14 of his last 24 threes. Texas Tech has a below average three point defense.
30. Utah forces opponents to score on isolations, with the 7th lowest defensive assist percentage in the country. But Fresno State, Seton Hall and Gonzaga all rely on isolations to score, as each has a below average assist rate.
31. Tulsa, Fresno State and Iowa State are the oldest teams in the field.
32. KenPom describes luck as, “a measure of the deviation between a team’s actual winning percentage and what one would expect from its game-by-game efficiencies. It calls Utah and Temple the luckiest at large teams in the field.
33. Stephen F Austin hasn’t lost in 2016.
34. Purdue’s assist to turnover ratio dips from 3:2 to almost 1:1 in its losses. Arkansas Little Rock is 20th best in the country at forcing turnovers
35. Iona lives by the three, shooting it at 37% and relying on it for 38% of its points, 3rd most in the tournament. Iowa State has the 119th best 3 point defense in the country.
36. A healthy Cameron Ridley could make all the difference for Texas against a Northern Iowa team that is smaller than the D1 average and consistently gets blocked and out-rebounded.
37. Oregon State has offensive and defensive rebounding rates below the D1 average, while VCU is comfortably above average in both categories.
38. Cincinnati has built the 8th most efficient defense by being well above average in every category except defensive rebounding rate and 3 point percentage. Saint Joseph’s is 219th and 263rd in those categories, respectively.
39. Iowa has the 20th best 3 point defense in the country. Villanova shoots threes 24th most in the country.
40. Purdue is 6-7 against teams in the top 35 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Iowa State ranks third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.
41. Kyle Wiltjer led the WCC in offensive rating, with a rating of 126. The Bulldogs went 1-3 in games where his rating dipped below 100, though.
42. During the whole season, Gonzaga went 1-3 against defenses in the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Seton Hall ranks 17th.
43. Miami has allowed opponents to score a points per possession mark exceeding the D1 average in each of its losses (its defense is 44th best for the year). Villanova, Arizona and Iowa all have offenses in the top 20 in efficiency.
44. Hawaii’s 40th best defense is anchored by the 14th best opponents’ effective field goal percentage in the nation. Cal has the 59th best effective field goal percentage.
45. Texas A&M is 6-4 against top 50 defenses and 22-4 against all other teams. Texas, Northern Iowa and Oklahoma all have top 50 defenses.
46. The only offensive category Syracuse ranks in the top 100 in is offensive rebounding rate. Dayton is 4th in the country in defensive rebounding rate.
47. Syracuse’s opponents get the third highest proportion of assists per made field goal in the country. Dayton’s offense ranks 59th nationally in assists per made field goal.
48. How do you beat North Carolina? In 5 of their 7 losses, opponents have limited their offensive rebounds to close to the national average, and in 6 of the 7 losses, opponents have shot above the D1 average from 3, exploiting the Tarheels’ 251st three point field goal defense.
49. Indiana is slightly above average at defensive rebounding and top 25 at shooting threes. Xavier is slightly above average at shooting and top 25 at defensive rebounding. Michigan State is in the top ten nationally in both categories.
50. Blocking 12.51% of shots, Oregon’s Chris Boucher is the best shot blocker in the Tournament. Duke and Baylor both get their shots blocked at above the D1 average rate.
51. If you believe in momentum (and you probably shouldn’t, but oh well), Syracuse has lost 5 of its last 6 games and USC has lost 5 of its last 8.
52. Some worry about Oklahoma being too reliant on the three ball. Luckily for the Sooners, no one in their region has anything better than a slightly above average three point defense, besides their first round opponent, Cal State Bakersfield.
53. Texas played the hardest schedule this season.
54. If you believe the advanced metrics of KenPom, Temple is grossly overseeded and has just a 24% chance to beat Iowa.
55. If you like senior guard play, look no further than Fresno State, whose three man backcourt is all seniors, and features WAC POY Marvelle Harris, who had a streak during the season of nine straight 20+ point games.
56. South Dakota State, as the 203rd biggest team in the country, faces a severe size mismatch against Maryland, the 4th biggest.
57. In Kentucky’s last 12 games, Jamaal Murray is 48 for 85 from three point range, good for 4 threes per game at 56%.
58. Colorado boasts the 27th most efficient defense in the country. UCONN is 4-5 against top 50 defenses this year.
59. At 38.6%, Iona’s Jordan Washington has the highest usage rate in the past 4 years.
60. Notre Dame should root for Tulsa tonight. They are the 2nd worst team in the field at defending the three and Michigan gets 39.1% of its points from beyond the arc, the 11th highest proportion in the nation.
61. 11 seeded Wichita State is in the top ten in KenPom rankings. The only double-digit seeds to end the year in the top ten made the Sweet Sixteen (Tennessee ’14) and the Elite Eight (Davidson, ’08).
62. Villanova shoots the 24th highest proportion of threes per field goal attempted, but Miami allows the 22nd lowest proportion of threes taken by its opponents.
63. In 3 of Kansas’s four losses, the Jayhawks have allowed above the D1 average in points per possession. The only two elite offenses in their region are Villanova (11th) and Miami (12th).
64. South Dakota State’s Mike Daum was second only to Denzel Valentine in offensive efficiency this season.
65. Wichita State is the first team since 2009 to be in the top ten in both offensive and defensive turnover rate (i.e. forces many, gives up few).
67. Arizona was 5-7 against teams in the NCAA Tournament field this season. They were 20-1 against teams not in the field.
68. Besides 2014 UCONN, every National Champion has been in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive rating. The teams that qualify this year are: Michigan State, North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, Villanova, Oklahoma, Purdue and West Virginia.