The 7-10 and 8-9 matchups seem like they should be the hardest matchups to pick. However, using predictive statistical analysis can turn a 50-50 coin flip into an easier, informed decision.
For instance, merely selecting the better team in adjusted efficiency margin for 7-10 and 8-9 matchups would have been the correct choice 71% of the time since 2010. Of the teams that did not have such an advantage but won, nearly half were ranked within 5 spots of the favorite, and only three teams were beyond 20 spots. Interestingly, 8-9 matchups showed a wide variance of upsets based on adjusted efficiency margin rank, ranging from a four to 36 rank difference, while 7-10 matchups averaged only a 5.6 average difference and only one team ranked more than eight away. In fact, 8-9 upsets by adjusted efficiency rank tend to be because one team is better than the other in either offense or defense. Whereas in 7-10 upsets by adjusted efficiency rank, the upsets occur when the underdog can nearly match the favorite in either offense or defense.
Furthermore, there have been two to three adjusted efficiency rank upsets in all but one year since 2010. Like we said earlier, choosing the top ranked team is only 71% correct. Picking the few teams to buck the trend is crucial to selecting a perfect bracket, hopefully now made easier knowing what type of matchup leads to an upset. These trends will need to be monitored going forward.
A couple other notes about the first round before we move on. Most upsets overall in the first round will come from teams with an adjusted efficiency margin over 10, usually about rank 70 or better. However, there are usually about two upsets that come from even unlikelier teams. All mid-major upsets have had a top 100 victory according to kenpom’s post-tournament stats except for Stephen F. Austin’s wins. Usually, about 19-20 of the top 25 kenpom teams survive the first round. It is also very unlikely that a conference tournament champion from a power conference does not win their first game; however, this has happened in four of the last six tournaments. Finally, first round upsets typically favor either offense or defense based teams
Next up, we’ll look at the second round in full as we narrow our bracket to 16.