By Evelyn Tjoa, Matthew Sheridan, Kalman Strauss, Ty Isaksen, and Elliot Chin
It’s that time of year again! March has arrived and the madness is sure to follow. The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective returns with our 68 facts to help you construct a winning bracket.
- Champions typically dominate the regular season, as 28 of the last 30 tournament winners had an average margin of victory of 10 or more. Houston leads the country in scoring margin (+19), and other contenders, such as Gonzaga, UConn, UCLA, Alabama, and Tennessee also have average margins above 10. On the other hand, Kansas, Marquette, and San Diego State have average margins below 10.
- The SEC and Big 10 are the two conferences sending the most teams to the tournament with 8 each. An SEC school has not won the title since 2012, and a Big 10 school has not won since 2000. However, Alabama and Purdue are well positioned to break this trend.
- To win your bracket pool, your strategy should depend on the pool size. If you’re competing with just a few friends, we recommend Houston or Purdue. In a pool with a small double digit number of entries, we recommend a less popular pick such as UCLA or Marquette. In a huge pool? No. 3 seeds and below are on the table.
- No No. 5 seed has ever won the championship. Can San Diego State, Miami, Saint Mary’s, or Duke be the first?
- A team seeded 4th or worse has made the Final Four in each of the last 12 seasons. However, a No. 6 seed has not made the Final Four since 1992.
- Do seeds really mean everything? Some underseeds include UConn (No. 4 seed, No. 4 overall per KenPom), Tennessee (No. 4 seed, No. 5 overall per KenPom), West Virginia (No. 9 seed, No. 17 overall per KenPom ), and Utah St. (No. 10 seed, No. 18 overall per KenPom).
- Upsets are common, but which ones are the most likely? 538 predicts Boise State, Utah State, and Auburn to all beat their higher-seeded first-round opponents.
- Believe in vengeance? Kansas, Houston, and Virginia are coming off of disappointing conference-tournament losses and are entering the tournament with ice in their veins.
- Don’t count on an all No. 1 seed Final Four; this has only happened once in all of tournament history. That was in 2008, with Kansas, Memphis, UCLA, and UNC.
- Do coaches really know best? According to coach’s polls, Marquette (No. 2 seed) and Purdue (No. 1 seed) both started the season unranked. Kansas State (No. 3 seed) and Alabama (No. 1 seed) also outperformed pre-season expectations. However, according to HSAC analysis, teams that outperform their preseason rank often underperform in the tournament.
- Alabama, Southeast Missouri State, and Arizona play at some of the fastest tempos while Virginia, Saint Mary’s, and Northern Kentucky play at some of the slowest.
- According to KenPom and TeamRankings, Kansas had the hardest strength of schedule.
- The Kansas Jayhawks make their 33rd straight tournament appearance and look to win a consecutive title, a feat only accomplished 8 times in tournament history. However, no defending champion has made it past the Sweet 16 since Florida in 2007.
- Kansas’s strength of schedule is mainly due to games against Duke, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa State (3), Kansas State (2), TCU (2), Baylor (2), and Texas (3). They are 9-7 against these tournament talent teams. If they’re going to make a run this year, they have the experience but need to win consistently against the best.
- Blue blood UCLA enters this year’s dance with their highest seeding since 2008 (No. 2 seed). Although riddled with injuries, the Bruin’s have a streak of impressive tournament runs and boast the #1 spot for adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.
- Gonzaga has the strongest offense according to KenPom and boasts a field-goal percentage of 52.87%. Their defense on the other hand is only ranked 76th in the nation.
- Be prepared for a fight at the glass against UConn. They average 13.5 offensive rebounds per game. They’ve also won the championship in 5 of their last 11 tournament appearances.
- The Fighting Illini will live up to their name: they’re led by stars Terrance Shannon and Matthew Mayer and record 5.7 blocks per game (2nd overall). Illinois, however, tends to struggle against stronger teams and is 2-11 against Quadrant 1 opponents.
- The Howard Bison’s started off the season a little shaky but have finished strong to win 13 of their last 15 games. They’ll need to keep their hands on the ball and prevent turnovers (ranked 356th) to stay in the game against the No. 1 seed Jayhawks.
- Saint Mary’s doesn’t allow many shots, as they’re ranked 12th in field goals against per game, 13th in field goals attempted against per game, and 8th in 3 point attempts against per game. They’re also 5th in opponent points against per game. If you’re going to beat Saint Mary’s, you’re going to have to scrap it out. Despite this, they haven’t fared well against top ranked opponents recently (Gonzaga).
- VCU avoided the bubble with a win against Dayton on Sunday, extending their current win streak to 9. They look to lean on their momentum against a St Mary’s team coming off of a disastrous 26 point loss to Gonzaga.
- Watch out for TCU! The Horned Frogs are top 25 at forcing turnovers and go on to convert for an average of 18.89 fastbreak points per game. They could meet their match in either Nevada or Arizona State, two teams who are good at holding onto the ball.
- Grand Canyon University pulled off a Cinderella run in the WAC Tournament to make March Madness but Vegas doesn’t like them against Gonzaga; they have the worse spread (Gonzaga -16) of any 14 seed and all but one 15 seed.
- Is this finally the year for Boise State? The Broncos are 0-8 in March and are up against a defensively strong Northwestern.
- Teams should avoid fouling Walter Clayton Jr. of Iona; he’s the best in the nation at the line, making 95.15% of his free throws. UConn will have to play cleaner as they currently average 16.3 personal fouls per game.
- The luckiest team at the dance is UNC Asheville according to KenPom. Creighton, Tennessee, and Arkansas however, are the least lucky teams of the field.
- Virginia enters the tournament as the 4th seed in the South conference, in part due to a crushing 59-49 loss to Duke in the ACC championship. Stout defensive play will be key for the Cavaliers, who enter the tournament without a player averaging above 13 points per game.
- Arizona (No. 2 seed) comes into the tournament after an unconvincing win against UCLA in the PAC-12 championship. They come in with the 4th ranked offense and 41st ranked defense according to KenPom, but are led by 6’ 11” forward Azuolas Tubelis, averaging 19.8 points per game and boasting a 76.4% Free Throw Percentage, improved from 66.9% and 69.2% from the prior two seasons respectively.
- Alabama (No. 1 seed) is coming into the NCAA tournament hot, beating (and covering against) Mississippi State (No. 11 seed), Missouri (No. 7 seed), and Texas A&M (No. 7 seed). They have the best ranked defense for a 1 seed by KenPom (ranked 3rd), a vast improvement from their rank of 92 last year.
- To continue with the Alabama love, they play with the highest tempo of anyone in the tournament, ranked 4th in the nation with 72.7 adjusted possessions per 40 minutes.
- Cavalier Concern? Virginia entered their ACC championship game against Duke ranked 1st in the country with only 8.4 turnovers per game, but had 12 turnovers during that game. Tony Bennett and his veteran roster will look to clean up that mess for their date with Furman (No. 13 seed).
- Creighton (No 6. seed) may not have their hands full in the first round this year with NC State (No. 11 seed), but they’ve faced some monster teams after the first round, with losses to Kansas (champion) in 2022 and Gonzaga (runner up) in 2021. This year, if they beat NC State, their likely opponent is Baylor (No. 3 seed).
- Not many people know much about the Charleston Cougars (No. 12 seed). Here’s what’s special about them: They’re ranked 2nd in the nation with 30.2 three point attempts per game, 11th in the nation for three points made per game at 10.1, and when they miss, they can hurt you with their 4th ranked 13.65 offensive rebounds per game. Not bad for a 12 seed.
- The 3rd seeded Baylor Bears may be a year removed from being the national champions, but they’re certainly not being counted out this year. They have three players averaging over 14.5 points per game, but don’t have many stats that make them stand out, such as their nation leading three point percentage when they were champions.
- Despite the average looking statistics, Baylor actually has the second highest ranked adjusted offensive efficiency score, by KenPom. That’s not something to take lightly, as 14th seeded UCSB will need to contain Baylor on the perimeter.
- Texas A&M Corpus Christi is 0 for 2 in the tournament but is back better this year with 3 players averaging over 13 points per game and sinking 36.8% behind the arc.
- Utah State (No. 10 seed) is favored by a bit to beat Missouri (No. 7 seed), who were just knocked off by Alabama in the SEC tournament. Although Utah State is the lower seed, head coach Ryan Odom knows a thing or two about upsets. Odom was the coach of the special UMBC Retrievers team that upset number 1 seeded Virginia, to be the first 16 seed ever to do so.
- College of Charleston has just 3 losses all season, coincidentally the same number of Quad 1 and Quad 2 games they’ve played. They should push the pace against a defensively strong but offensively inefficient San Diego State team.
- Both Utah State and Missouri have high flying offenses that score 77.7 and 79.5 points per game, respectively. They are 19th and 17th in offensive efficiency and 7th and 14th in true shooting percentage. Missouri seems to have the defensive edge statistically (despite playing in different conferences), as KenPom has them two spots apart in strength of schedule.
- Southeast Missouri State (first four) Have the 7th highest adjusted tempo per KenPom. That’s…interesting, They’re a high paced team that actually scores quite a bit (ranked 45th with 77.7 points per game), but their shooting percentages are quite low. This might be a team you cheer for with excitement in mind.
- Princeton (No. 15 seed) upset Yale in the Ivy league tournament after losing twice to a stout Bulldog team. I wouldn’t pick them to beat Arizona, but they’re a team that rebounds well and has a streaking player in Tosan Evbuomwan.
- Houston enters the tournament as the most balanced team, ranked in the top 11 for both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom. 538 predicts that they have a 25% chance of walking away with the championship.
- Misfortune has followed the Texas Longhorns this season, and they look to push past the Round of 32 for the first time since 2008. They’ll have to immensely improve at defending behind the arc to do so as they are set to meet Colgate, the best 3-point shooting team in the nation.
- Do you get Deja Vu? Indiana and Kent State will face in the first round as No. 4 and No.13 seeds. The last time they met in the first round, they had the same seedings and Flash the Golden Eagle walked away victorious.
- Iowa State has had its fair share of experience against offensive powers having faced the best offenses on average. If they make it past the first round, they could find themselves against a 9th ranked offense in Xavier.
- Northern Kentucky could keep the score close against No. 1 seed Houston by harnessing their slow tempo and forcing turnovers. Houston, however, plays at a slow tempo as well which will make for a game of patience.
- The Kent State Golden Flashes not only have one of the best names in all of college basketball, but also have a scrappy style of play headlined by the 7th best turnover margin, 19th best turnovers forced per game, and 12th best steals per game. Their opponent, Indiana, will have their hands full.
- The same Kent State Golden Flashes only lost by 5 to Houston and 7 to Gonzaga. The MAC champions will not be an easy out.
- Although 7th seeded Texas A&M made it to the SEC championship game, they will have their hands full with 10th seeded Penn State. Penn State has made the tournament for the first time since 2011, in part to the 12th best three point percentage and 5th best three pointers per game. A&M gives up 24.9 three point attempts per game – a mismatch that Penn State could exploit favorably.
- If you want to walk away with a win against Texas A&M, you’d better keep the gap large. The Aggies got to the free-throw line the most out of any team in the NCAA this season.
- For the first time, Pittsburgh enters as a No. 11 seed. And while they struggle on the defensive end (ranked 142nd by KenPom), they have 4 Quadrant 1 wins under their belt against notable teams like Virginia and Northwestern.
- For Drake to keep up with the offensive efficiency of Miami (ranked 12th by KenPom), they’ll have to create second chances and improve on getting offensive rebounds (they’re currently ranked 309th in this respect).
- This will be Kennesaw State’s first time making an appearance in March, and ranked in the top 50 for sinking 3’s, the Owls will put up a fight against a wobbly 3-point defense in Xavier.
- Purdue’s Zach Edey will be a force to reckon with; the 7’ 4’’ center recorded 23 double-doubles this season and averages 22.1 points per game. What opponents can do is get him to the free-throw line as he only averages 73.21% there.
- Marquette won’t be an easy team to take down. They share the ball well, boast 4 players that average double digits, and are 8th in offensive efficiency. However, they struggle to defend inside the arc and Vermont can use this to their advantage, shooting for 56.2% inside.
- That same Vermont team is on a 15 game heater coming into the tournament. They might have a very easy schedule, according to KenPom, but you can’t count out teams that know how to win and play like it.
- Tennessee vs. Louisiana will be a battle of strengths: the Volunteers boast the #1 3-point defense while the Ragin’ Cajuns shoot for 37.8% behind the arc.
- Jon Scheyer’s first season as head coach might not have been ideal, but Duke is coming off hot with a conference title and 9 game winning streak.
- Tom Izzo and Michigan State make their 25th straight appearance in the tournament, marking the longest streak for any head coach. The last time the Spartans took home the championship was 2000.
- Houstonites Kendric Davis and Deandre Williams are the stars of the Memphis Tigers, averaging 21.8 and 17.9 points per game respectively. Behind them, the Tigers were able to win the AAC tournament, taking down No. 1 seed Houston.
- Get used to hearing the name Florida Atlantic: they’ll be joining the AAC from C-USA and are a quite well-rounded team. They’re ranked 9th in defensive rebounds and 13th in 3-pointers.
- Veteran guard Boogie Ellis will be looking to carry USC to victory in the first round after averaging 18 points a game; if he and Drew Peterson can take control of the game, the Trojans could be an offensive threat.
- The Wildcats may have won only 5 of their last 11 games, but if Kansas State can recapture their early season magic, they could be a danger for the rest of the East region.
- Look out for battles within the paint in the matchup between Providence and Kentucky. The teams are ranked 33rd and 25th respectively in field-goals.
- Expect a clean matchup with Duke and Oral Roberts. They combine for just 28.3 fouls per game. Auburn, Iowa State, Arkansas, and Alabama on the other hand commit the most fouls out of the teams in the tournament.
- Don’t underestimate Oral Roberts: the last time they made an appearance at the dance, they took out No. 2 seed Ohio State in the first round. Blue blood Duke can’t rely on forcing turnovers to remain on top; Oral Roberts turns over the ball the least in the nation.
- Texas Southern (first four) are only the third 20-loss team to make it to the tournament in its history. The reward for a first four win? A date with the Boilermakers.
- Montana State (No. 14 seed) finished first in the Big Sky and has won 22 of its last 26 games – an incredible tear. Despite their weak opponents, don’t discount a team that’s hot coming into the tournament to win a round or two. They’re second in free throws made per game, but that’s about all they have statistically going for them (besides wins!).
Editor’s Note: If you have any questions about this article (or March Madness in general), please reach out on Twitter @Harvard_Sports. Enjoy the tournament!