Before you last minute folks start, or while you early birds can still edit your picks, here's some guidance from the stat room floor:
Studies have shown over and over again that referees calls are influenced by fan behavior. This is a fact of life. In arenas where there is a strong rooting interest, there will be an advantage at play for the well supported team. In the NCAA tournament, those fans will also root for a live underdog in the other game at the same arena, hoping their team will get an easier draw. Here are some teams with large followings who will see some type of home court draw:
Kentucky, rounds 2&3 (Louisville)
Kansas, rounds 2&3 (Omaha)
Dayton, rounds 2&3 (Columbus)
Virginia, rounds 2&3 (Charlotte)
Duke, rounds 2&3 (Charlotte)
Gonzaga, rounds 2&3 (Seattle) (fans will also root for Davidson)
Look for Balance
In the last two seasons, 14 of the 16 Elite 8 teams were in the top 50 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Only last years Dayton and Michigan teams were the outsiders. Here are a list of contenders that people are picking this year, but will not end the year in the top 50 in both categories. Don't expect a deep run from:
Iowa St (3)
Notre Dame (3)
NC State (8)
San Diego St (8)
(So if you didn't like Wofford before in that 5/12 game in Jacksonville, being played in an arena full of UNC fans rooting for Wofford, well... it might be time to hop on that bandwagon)
Winning Streaks Lead to Winning It All
In the past decade, 6 of the 10 NCAA Tournament winners were "major conference" teams that also won their conference tournament. Since only 7 of the teams in the field were major conference winners (6 before the American Athletic Conference came around), an over 50% hit rate from those 7 of 64 teams is extremely impressive. The sample is small, but it seems to point to the idea that no one "needs a loss" to go into the tournament hungry. Here are your major conference tourney winners this year:
* These teams were "unbalanced" in the section above, leaving the other 5 teams as better selections to be likely to move deep into (or win) the tourney
Defense Wins Championships
As mentioned in the prior blog post, in the past 5 years, every national champion has been in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency and done that against top 20 offensive strength of schedules. Here are the teams that could do that this year:
Going back more than 5 years, the defense stat holds, but strength of schedule becomes slightly less important. If you lax the SOS requirement, Arizona comes into play here as well. Also, if Georgia had been a top 9 seed, then they would have been on the unbalanced list above, so don't buy in quite yet. And Georgetown has been on this list and lost in the first weekend many times before, so they aren't worth the buy in either. If we cross reference these three list, only 3 teams avoid the first category and hit both of the next two:
As a Drexel fan, it's scary to see how easy Villanova's path is to an Elite 8 battle likely with Virginia or Oklahoma. With no Philadelphia representative in the tournament this year, that run would be very well covered, and with it being the 30 year anniversary of the 85 team well, I hope you like hearing about Nova if you're in the local Drexel area.
That Wisconsin/Arizona Elite 8 rematch from last year is must see TV if it happens. On the revenge aspect alone, I would favor Arizona in what will likely be a pick em in Vegas.
One Last Note
I've never won a bracket pool in my life. The greatness of March is that it supersedes number, every game is one small sample size after the next, and we will cheer like hell for Cinderella the entire way. So after you're done with this and carefully made your picks... rip it up and just flip a coin for each game.
March is here. Enjoy the holiday.