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Home / Bracket buster

Knowing These Trends Can Help You Identify March Madness Upsets

Photos from a practices session for the NCAA basketball tournament. – Courtesy photo / Phil Roeder (CC BY 2.0)

When March Madness begins, millions of people are formulating the perfect bracket of the2019 NCAA tournament. Last year, UMBC shocked the nation with their 74-54 win over Virginia, becoming the first No. 16 seed in the history of NCAA basketball. This has people wondering, who will be the Cinderella story of this season? How do I account for that in my bracket? Whether you’re filling out your bracket or making your college basketball betting picks, Betway as prepared these are trends frpm the past ten years that could help you spot a shock.

Know your numbers

We’re going to classify a first-round upset as a team seeded 10th or lower advancing, as the chances of a No. 9 seed beating a No. 8 seed are too high to be considered a shock.

In the last 10 years of NCAA history, there have been no more than 10 first-round upsets in a single year, and no fewer than five. This brings us to a total of 72 upsets, an average of approximately seven per season. So while it’s worth populating your bracket with a few surprise wins in the first-round, it would be wise to consider that double-digit upsets are unlikely.

Let’s consider the situation with UMBC and Virginia. While UMBC were the only No. 16 seed to ever win an NCAA tournament game, just eight No. 15 seeds have ever progressed to the second round in the past. Which teams seeded 10th to 14th are more likely to cause a shock? The best place to start is the First Four, a series of play-in games played prior to the tournament. Since its conception in 2011, a team that triumphed in the First Four has gone on to win in the first round of the tournament in every year.

Conference calls

In general, low seeds tend to fall into two categories: mid-major conference champions and teams that finished lower in the standings in major conferences.  Mid-major teams are the ones to watch when it comes to first-round upsets. In the past 10 years, 44 of the 72 teams to cause shocks in the first-round were from mid-major conferences. Recently,

Conference-USA has been a great source of upsets recently with its champion advancing to the Round of 32 in each of the past four years. However, Ohio is the home of the upset. Nine teams seeded 10th or lower from the Buckeye State have won in the Round of 64 since 2009—three more than any other state.

Going deep

Unsurprisingly, upsets occur far less frequently when the first round is out of the way.

While mid-major teams performed well in the first round, the split is more even in the later stages, with 12 of the 23 teams that reached at least the Sweet 16 in the past 10 years having come from a major conference.

Just 23 teams seeded 10th or lower have advanced past the Round of 32 in the past 10 years, 20 of whom were seeded between No. 10 and No. 12. Of the five teams in the past 10 years that have made it all the way to the Elite Eight, just one won their conference.

So while you might think that a team in a lower seed from a smaller conference could upset  a powerhouse, you’re better off sticking with college basketball’s big guns as the tournament progresses, regardless of where they finished in the regular season.

2018 was a year of upset for the NCAA tournament bracket, but the likelihood of the UMBC situation happening again is slim. It’s likely that the more familiar teams will be the ones making deep runs into the tournament this time around.

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