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Taking the mystery out of March Madness

March 1, 2013

Stranded in sports purgatory between the Super Bowl and Opening Day, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is one of America’s most popular sporting events.

The tourney’s bracket structure invites fans to pick the winners of all 67 games. Adventurous fans even enter online pools, casting their picks against millions of others with cash prizes at stake.

One may ask, what qualities should fans look for in picking Final Four teams? After years of trial-and-error, here are four elements which determine a team’s chances of success in the NCAA tournament.

Experienced Coaching

When a team loses a big lead or gets off to a slow start, an experienced coach who has been through the battles and can calm his team down is a must. Well-coached teams that execute their offensive system efficiently can rely on “running their stuff” in games where they may struggle.

Teams with experienced coaches tend to have the discipline to make the right decisions in close games. Leadership definitely matters; since 2003, only five coaches with less than ten years of Division I coaching experience have led their team to the Final Four.

Record Away From Home

A team’s record away from their home court is always a sticking point for the tourney’s Selection Committee; it should also be a sticking point in choosing your Final Four. Since no team will have the luxury of playing an NCAA tournament game in their home gym, hedge your bets with teams that consistently win away from home. In the past ten years, Final Four teams have won a staggering 74 percent of their regular season games on the road or at neutral sites.

Experienced Guard Play

In basketball, point guards are often the players who initiate their team’s offense, have the ball in their hands when the offense breaks down and make decisions with the ball in clutch situations. If the opposing team looks to trap or press defensively, a solid ball handler is even more important in order to break pressure and create opportunities.

On the defensive side, point guards generally guard the opposing team’s best ball handler. Experience almost always equates to more disciplined on-ball defense, shutting down the opposing point guard without racking up fouls.

A senior was the team’s primary ball handler on 63 percent of Final Four teams since 2003. In another 25 percent of these cases, a junior was the ‘floor general’. Teams only have a ten percent chance of reaching the Final Four with underclassmen point guards.

Low Turnovers Per Game

Ultra-talented teams can occasionally get away with turning the ball over during the regular season, but in the NCAA tournament a greater premium is put on each possession.

Generally speaking, teams with experienced guards make fewer mistakes on the offensive end, giving themselves more margin for error.

Often, turnovers lead to easy baskets for an opponent. Half of all turnovers in college basketball occur when a team gets the ball stolen from them, which usually leads to an easy transition basket with little defense to stop them.

Many websites measure what’s called the “offensive efficiency” of each team in Division I, which factors in turnover rate; a site called Kenpom.com is the most thorough. This stat helps determine how effective a team’s offense is over an entire game.

Whether you’re filling out a bracket in your office pool, dorm contest or wagering serious cash in an online pool, doing a little research and factoring in the above elements can help you come out on top.
There is no guaranteed method to bracket success, but that’s why we love March Madness– anything can happen, and usually does.

Kyle McEwen
Sports Editor

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