As Jon Washburn discussed in his article about not being “that guy” this March, the best part about March Madness is the upsets. However, the hardest part about making your bracket predictions is forecasting which games will be the upsets.
In this post, I will try to shed a little light on this year’s most probable upset picks.
Strategy For NCAA Tournament Upset Picks
A great place to start your analysis of upset picks is at ESPN.com’s Giant Killer blog. It does require an Insider account, which also means that I can’t reveal too many of their secrets, but just know that I enjoy reading their work and find their methodologies to be sound.
A lot of what they do at Giant Killer is look deeper into the stats to see which particular matchups stand out as being closer than the seeds might predict. Remember: seeds are not infallible. They are meant to be reflections of a team’s overall body of work during the season, but they certainly are not always predictive of what will happen when two teams take the court. As we all know, basketball is a game of matchups and styles, and certain lower seeded teams can play styles – think VCU and their frenetic, pressing style – that cause particular havoc in a tournament setting.
Another important component for forecasting upsets, which should really go without saying, is having a supreme individual player. We all know anecdotally that more often than not in the game of basketball the team with the best player on the floor will win the game. Of course, like Indiana found out this weekend against Wisconsin (when a seldom-used sub erupted for 30 points), you can’t always predict who the best player on the floor will be; but you certainly can pinpoint lower-seeded or “mid-major” schools that have individual players talented enough to almost single-handedly carry their teams to tournament victories, guys like Doug McDermott at Creighton and Casper Ware at Long Beach State.
So that’s really my strategy for predicting NCAA Tournament upsets: analyze the advanced stats to pinpoint matchups that are much closer than the seeds might indicate, and focus especially on lower-seeded teams led by great players.
Upset Picks For 2012 NCAA Tournament
In my “official” bracket predictions that I posted last night, which I made using a stats-based system that heavily incorporates the Four Factors, I ended up with the following first round upsets:
- #12 California over #5 Temple (this one, of course, assumes Cal beats South Florida in the First Four)
- #14 Belmont over #3 Georgetown
- #11 NC State over #6 San Diego State
- #10 Xavier over #7 Notre Dame
- #11 Texas over #6 Cincinnati
- #11 Colorado State over #6 Murray State
What jumped out at me once I ran all of the matchups through the system was: a) I don’t have any #9 seeds beating #8 seeds, which probably won’t prove true; b) I only have one #12 seed beating a #5 seed (more on this here); and c) my biggest upset pick, Belmont over Georgetown, does include a team that always seems to be a prime sleeper the experts identify come March…whew.
Let’s analyze a few of these matchups:
Official Upset Picks
Upset Pick: #14 Belmont over #3 Georgetown
Belmont shoots the ball very well (eFG% of 55.7) while pushing the pace, and they are able to do it while turning the ball over less and forcing slightly more turnovers than Georgetown. Yes, Georgetown is more battle tested because of their tougher schedule, and they have a higher efficiency margin than Belmont (22.7 to 20.3), but Belmont has a multi-skilled and experienced trio of guards in Ian Clark, Kerron Johnson, and Drew Hanlen that have tournament experience. I love experienced guards come tournament time, which is why I think Belmont does have a great chance to pull off the upset.
Upset Pick: #11 Colorado State over #6 Murray State
Murray State was the darling of college basketball for a while this year while they were undefeated, and they still are a certain extent because of their great season that perhaps deserved an even better seed. But when you dig deeper into their numbers, Murray State isn’t that impressive considering their comparatively weak schedule. Murray’s efficiency margin is just 7.3, which is not indicative of even a top-25 team, and they are not particularly effective on the glass. Colorado State happens to be a bit better than I would have given them credit for before looking at the advanced stats, although they will have to play better than usual on defense against Murray State. The Racers will have the best player in this game though in Isaiah Canaan, which is what makes me very uneasy about this pick.
Upset Pick: #12 California over #5 Temple
I’m going to be screwed if Cal ends up losing to South Florida, but I don’t think they will. The Pac-12 gets a bad rap this year, and with good reason, but Cal is a team that many people liked coming into the season, and they have two excellent guards in Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez they can lean on. Additionally, Cal’s 19.2 efficiency margin is greater than Temple’s (17.4). The Bears don’t shoot it quite as well as Temple, but they are better in every Four Factor defensive metric.
That’s just three upsets. As we know, there are usually plenty more upsets than that.
Continue reading to see six more potential upsets I could see materializing.