March Madness Preview, Upset Picks and Bracket Tips

The Madness is finally here! It’s the best time of year for College Basketball players, coaches and fans. I have split this post into 3 sections: A quick look at the best offensive/defensive/rebounding teams, upset predictions and bracket tips.

Defense Wins Championships

School Def PPP Rank eFG% Rank TOV% Rank
Texas Tech 87.2 1 42.8% 2 20.0% 6
Virginia Commonwealth 88.6 2 43.0% 3 20.0% 7
Michigan 89.2 3 44.0% 7 16.2% 42
Virginia 89.8 4 43.5% 4 15.6% 51
Houston 90.1 5 42.2% 1 15.9% 48
Gonzaga 90.9 6 44.2% 8 16.5% 36
Kansas State 91.2 7 48.1% 33 20.3% 5
Duke 91.3 8 44.6% 9 17.1% 31
Old Dominion 92.9 9 45.6% 12 16.3% 40
Wisconsin 92.9 10 44.8% 10 15.0% 57

The chart above shows some of the top defensive teams in the field, ordered by defensive points allowed per 100 possessions. The other defensive categories include opponent’s effective field goal percentage (field goal % weighted for 3s and 2s) and turnover percentage (percent of possessions ending in a forced turnover). Each stat also has the team’s ranking in that particular stat among the 68 tournament teams. The top 5 teams on this list are pretty well known as defensive teams. A little attention should at least be paid to Old Dominion. A 14 seed, Old Dominion has a match up with 3 seed Purdue in their opening game. Purdue is the 11th best offensive team in the field, but Old Dominion could give Purdue’s guards trouble. One team that doesn’t appear on the chart, but leads the field in turnover percentage is Auburn. Although “defense wins championships”, teams on this list have a pretty high chance of being upset if they can’t find any offense.

Offense, Offense, Offense

School Off PPP Rank 3P% Rank FG% Rank AST% Rank
Gonzaga 124.1 1 36.5% 24 53.2% 2 55.9% 20
Wofford 119.9 2 41.6% 1 49.3% 33 50.9% 53
Virginia 117.1 3 40.9% 2 47.8% 3 56.6% 18
Tennessee 117.1 4 35.8% 33 49.8% 6 61.4% 4
Belmont 116.6 5 37.4% 16 49.9% 48 62.4% 2
Murray State 116.1 6 34.8% 46 49.6% 47 59.8% 10
Michigan State 114.6 7 38.3% 11 48.8% 4 68.4% 1
Virginia Tech 114.2 8 39.4% 4 47.6% 11 59.6% 11
New Mexico State 114.0 9 33.5% 58 45.9% 45 53.5% 36
Auburn 113.9 10 37.6% 15 44.9% 12 52.4% 42

The offensive chart above includes points per 100 offensive possessions, 3 point field goal %, field goal %, and percent of possessions with an assist. Both Ohio Valley teams, Belmont and Murray State, show up on the list and of course Wofford, who I’ve been high on all year. Auburn cracks the top 10 and put on an offensive exhibition in their SEC Tournament championship victory over another Top 10 offensive team in Tennessee.

Top rebounding teams in the field

School Total Rebound % Rank
New Mexico State 57.1% 1
Kentucky 56.6% 2
Utah State 56.3% 3
North Carolina 56.2% 4
Michigan State 56.1% 5
Maryland 56.1% 6
Houston 55.2% 7
UC-Irvine 55.1% 8
Wofford 55.0% 9
North Carolina Central 54.7% 10

Above are the best rebounding teams by total rebounding percentage. As far as offensive rebounding goes Baylor, Cincinnati, LSU, Duke and Kentucky are among the best. Obviously, for all of these it needs to be taken into account that the competition each team plays is not the same, but these tables can give you a sense of the stronger teams in certain areas. These are teams that have a higher chance to gain extra possessions throughout the game and limit their opponent’s possessions.

Potential Opening Round Upsets!

6 Villanova vs. 11 Saint Mary’s

Many people could be on to this one. Saint Mary’s is fresh off a West Coast Conference tournament title where they beat then #1 Gonzaga; Gonzaga’s first conference loss of the season. Saint Mary’s is a disciplined team that takes care of the ball and that ability will prevent them from being blown out. Saint Mary’s is also one of the best transition offense teams in the country. Saint Mary’s has three starters that shoot the crap out of the ball from three: Jordan Ford (42.3%), Tanner Krebs (40.5%) and Malik Fitts (40.3%). Villanova may be the defending champs, but they lost the core of their team and have looked shaky at times throughout the year. In the past three years, #11 seeds have actually beaten #6 seeds eight out of the 12 times. Keep your eye on this one.

6 Maryland vs. 11 Belmont

Another 6 vs. 11 match-up. I expect Belmont to beat Temple in the play-in game Tuesday and move on to play Maryland. Maryland is a team that is seeded better than they should be. They finished their last 13 Big Ten games 6-7 including some terrible losses (Nebraska, Penn State and Illinois). Belmont won the Ohio Valley regular season beating out Murray State before losing to them in the tournament final (their first loss since an OT loss on January 17th). If Maryland comes out sloppy like they’ve shown they can, Belmont could jump all over them.

5 Marquette vs. 12 Murray State

This might be the most obvious upset pick. First off, this game is going to be fun to watch. Two of the top 10 scorers in the country going head-to-head in Marquette’s Markus Howard (25.0 PPG) and Murray State’s JA Morant (24.6 PPG). Morant is having an incredible season and is a projected top 5 pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Murray State as a team gets a lot of shots close to the basket and scores at a high rate. One of their strengths is rebounding, whereas one of Marquette’s biggest weaknesses is rebounding. This one is the classic 12-5 upset waiting to happen.

4 Kansas State vs. 13 UC Irvine

This is one many people might not expect, but I’m taking the Anteaters of UC Irvine all day! Kansas State struggles shooting and they take a lot of shots close to the rim. They don’t shoot a great percentage on those close shots and UC Irvine is one of the best rim-protecting teams in the country. Aside from that, UC Irvine is a top 10 rebounding team in the field. This is a bad match-up for Kansas State! As if that’s not enough to make you consider UC Irvine, Kansas State’s best player, Dean Wade, injured his right foot in the last game of the regular season. Wade missed the conference tournament and it is unclear if he will be ready by Friday. Kansas State is going to struggle on offense making this a solid upset pick.

A Few Longer Shot Upsets

I’m not as confident in saying that these will happen, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they do.

3 LSU vs. 14 Yale

LSU’s head coach, Will Wade, was suspended recently and you have to think it could have some effect. In LSU’s loss to Auburn in the conference tournament, LSU made some bad mistakes- both players and coaches. LSU is a really good rebounding team and Naz Reid is an absolute monster down low and on the boards. He’ll be a problem for Yale. However, Yale can really shoot and if they get hot that could negate Naz Reid’s impact. Yale got hot in the second half of the Ivy League championship and built up a big lead against Harvard. Let’s not forget the last time Yale made the tournament in 2016 and upset 5-seeded Baylor.

4 Kansas vs. 13 Northeastern

For the first time in what seems like forever, Kansas didn’t win the Big 12 regular season. They’re not the Kansas team we’re used to seeing. On the other hand, Northeastern can shoot it well and Northeastern is a school that almost upset Notre Dame in the 2015 NCAA tournament as a 14 seed. I’m not buying Kansas this year and Northeastern definitely has a shot at this one.

If I had to pick a 15-2 Upset:

2 Tennessee vs. 15 Colgate

Okay so Tennessee is 18-point favorites, but that’s why this would bust brackets. It’s not likely and I’m not picking it on my bracket, but if any 15 seed is taking down a 2 then here you go. Colgate wouldn’t be the first team from the Patriot League to pull the 15-2 upset. Lehigh did it back in 2012 against Duke. Colgate has won 11 games in a row and has a top 15 effective field goal percentage. Tennessee has lost 4 of their last 10, albeit to good competition (Auburn 2x, LSU and Kentucky). There’s two ways this game can go: Tennessee can be way too much and overpower Colgate to likely win by 20 or Colgate could hit shots and hang around. If they start hitting, brackets could be busted by Colgate.

Bracket Tips

Before You Pick Duke:

Know that if you’re in a large pool, this will decrease your odds of winning significantly. So many people are going to pick Duke that even if they do win, you are going to have a lot of competition to win the bracket still. Duke is the #1 overall seed, but that being said, Duke is no shoe-in. Number 1 overall seeds have only won the Tournament 3 times in the last 15 years. They have also only made the Final Four in 6 out of the last 15 years. Selecting a different 1 seed or a 2 or 3 will give you a better shot at winning your bracket.

Teams to Stay Away From:

Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio State and St. John’s

Sure, you probably weren’t thinking of having these teams advance very far anyways, but if you were thinking about one of these teams making a run, I’d advise against it. All four of these teams were under .500 in conference play. Teams with that bad of performance in conference play are almost unheard of to make a Sweet Sixteen run. The only one of these teams who I could see making any noise would be Oklahoma and that’s only because they got a decent draw.

Don’t Pick All 1 Seeds


The graph should say enough. It is way more likely that one or two 1 seeds will make the Final Four than 3 or 4. All 4 have only made it once in the last 40 years. Recent history has shown there is always going to be a random in the Final Four. Each of the last six years, a 7 seed or higher has made the Final Four, but good luck picking who that’s going to be. What you should take from this is that your Final Four is where you win or lose in your bracket pools so stick with the one or two 1 seeds you’re most confident in.

Enjoy the Madness and best of luck on your brackets!

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