Betting data key to selections in NCAA tournament

Mar 25, 2014 3:01 AM

You hear the word “Cinderella” more during the NCAA Tournament than the rest of the year combined – with the exception, perhaps, of those with a young daughter.

Is all the “Cinderella” talk nothing but that, or do the big underdogs really have a chance to affect the tournament? Guided by history, the answer is both yes and no.

One element of the NCAA tournament that makes it ideal to analyze is the fact we’ve started on the first Thursday with exactly 64 teams since 1985. The recent play-in games early in the week have not changed this consistent fact. Meaning this year’s results will be the 30th year for us to consider. What the data tells us is tournaments never exactly follow form, while at the same time certain seeds encounter a ceiling as they reach certain rounds.

To make Sweet 16: No seed worse than 12 (less than 2% of teams in modern era; zero this year).

To make Elite 8: No seed worse than 11 (only one team in modern era).

To make Final 4: No seed worse than 9 (only one in last 28 years).

To make Finals: No seed worse than 6 (only one in last 28 years).

To win it all: No seed worse than 4 (never in last 25 years).

Not only can we use this data to help us pick our brackets before the tournament, it also can be considered with our handicapping each round. History makes a strong case that only teams of a certain quality (as measured by seeding) are able to proceed past a certain round of the NCAAs.

2014 notes: Big long shots still alive – Tennessee 25/1 (200/1 before tourney); Stanford 65/1 (300/1 before tourney), Dayton 85/1 (500/1 before tourney)

Biggest upset so far: $100 on Mercer to beat Duke won $850. Before the tournament, two of the top three favorites were No. 4 seeds, and that is still the case entering the Sweet 16.

Perfect bracket: An estimated 80% of perfect brackets eliminated after the first final score, Dayton over Ohio State, on Thursday. Picking perfect on first two days (32 out of 32) – based on Vegas odds – was 815,000 to 1 against.

Bracket Notes: No. 16 seeds are now 0 for 120; 15 seeds are now 7 for 120.

At least one Top 4 seed has now lost in the first round 26 of 30 years.

A 12 seed has now beat a 5 in 24 of the last 26 years.

A double digit seed has now made the Sweet Sixteen 28 out of 30 years.

RJ Bell is the founder of - and co-host of FIRST PREVIEW, heard Monday through Friday at 10 am on ESPN 1100/98.9 FM. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. Discussion of this article continues at Contact RJ at [email protected]

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