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How to Study March Madness Teams, Ensuring the Best Bracket

When it comes time to work through filling out a March Madness, it can be overwhelming. This is where the madness begins, and predicting the unthinkable upsets and turns of events is a looming challenge.

People spend hours attempting to dissect all of the trends and stats for the bracket. For instance, trends suggest it is wise to select two 12 seeds over 5 seeds every year.

How to Study March Madness Teams, Ensuring the Best Bracket
Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP

In nearly every game, a solid case can be built for either team. Many end up going with their gut feeling or simply skip on the research and pick based on a team color or mascot.

How can the process of filling out a bracket be simplified? Could a handful of tidbits guide you along the bracket journey?

The simple answer is yes. If the right areas are studied, completing brackets can become less difficult than it needs to be.

1. Use Analytical Tools like Kenpom

First off, Kenpom is an analytical tool that can take bracket picks to the next level. Many stats and trends involving Kenpom are out there.

In the last five tournaments, there have been 50 upsets, and only four of these teams have been ranked outside of the top 100 of Kenpom. This is one way where Kenpom can be utilized to narrow potential upset picks.

When selecting Final 4 teams or a national champion, look for a balanced squad. Teams that rank highly in Kenpom’s offensive and defensive efficiency are typically the ones contending for a title late into March.

Kenpom has been around since 2002, and every year national champions are ranked within the top 35 for both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Baylor took home the title last year and had the lowest defensive efficiency heading into the tournament for any title-winning team in Kenpom’s history. The Bears were in the 30s for defensive efficiency prior to the tournament but finished 22nd in defensive efficiency when the season ended.

With the exception of Baylor last season, national champions have been in the top 25 of Kenpom’s offensive and defensive efficiency before the start of the NCAA Tournament.

This is helpful for a team like Purdue which has been ranked highly all season, but its defensive efficiency is 107th. Picking the Boilermakers to win it all seems like a poor decision.

As of March 1, the following teams are top 25 in Kenpom’s offensive and defensive efficiency: Gonzaga, Kentucky, Baylor, Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Houston, and UCLA. This really helps narrow down potential national title picks.

Kenpom is a great tool to use when filling out brackets. There are many ways to use it and it consistently produces results.

2. Who’s Hot Coming into the Tournament

The phrase “it’s all about getting hot at the right time” is absolutely true in March Madness. Teams become more enticing and easier to advance if they are on a massive winning streak.

Gonzaga was a shoo-in for the Final 4 last year as the Bulldogs held the top overall seed. Plus, the Zags were compared to some of the best teams of all time with their 26-0 regular-season record.

The 13 seed Ohio was a popular upset over No. 4 Virginia in last year’s tournament, and sure enough, it happened.

The Bobcats were another team coming into the tournament hot. They cleared the MAC tournament and won their last three games by an average of 14.7 points and took down Toledo — which was a good mid-major last season — during that span.

Looking at who’s hot coming into the tournament should not be the ultimate deciding factor for picks. Some teams, like UCLA last year, are stumbling into March Madness and randomly catch fire at the right time.

Overall, selecting teams on a winning streak is like a bonus point. That team that has played at a high level for a month straight will be the more likely team to advance when compared to a team that has struggled recently.

3. Breaking Down Matchups

The fundamental basis of filling out brackets is predicting who wins each matchup throughout the tournament. It is important to know what to look at when breaking down each individual matchup.

Searching for advantages or disadvantages is the biggest key here, especially in later rounds. If a team heavily relies on 3-pointers, but their opponent is one of the best perimeter defenses in the country, siding with the good perimeter defense seems wise.

What if a team gives up many offensive rebounds per game and they are facing one of the country’s best offensive rebounding teams? Selecting the elite rebounding team is the safe bet here.

Upsets will still happen, this is why it’s called March Madness. More times than not, heavy statistical advantages will produce results though.

Breaking down matchups is not realistic for every single game, this would take too much time. There are always a handful of games in a bracket that we keep going back to and cannot make a decision. This is where breaking down the matchup can finally put your mind at ease with making a pick.

Overall, there is no magic fact that can guarantee bracket glory. Perfect or near-perfect brackets are rare. There are infinite possibilities in every NCAA Tournament, and that makes filling out a great bracket extremely hard.

However, prioritizing a handful of information will make the process far easier, and will greatly increase consistency in bracket quality. In the end, it’s all about what we are looking for in teams.

At the least, using the suggested information will save your sanity and time when working through brackets in this year’s edition of March Madness.

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