March Madness Predictions: Statistics to Help You Fill Out a Winning Bracket

••• Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Sport/GettyImages

March Madness. The NCAA Tournament. The Big Dance. Whatever you call it, the biggest month in college basketball has arrived, and the beautiful thing about March Madness is you don't need to be a die-hard sports fan to participate.

The single-elimination tournament pits 64 of the best teams in men's college basketball against each other, and while the players duke it out on the court, friend groups and workplaces around the country compete to see who can correctly predict the results of each game in the tournament.

Here's this year's bracket:

••• NCAA

Anyone can fill out a bracket, and based on how insanely tough it is to get a perfect bracket, there's no tried-and-true formula to picking winners. If you're participating for the first time, we're here to make it easier.

Statistics play a big role in March Madness, and you don't have to understand advanced metrics or basketball jargon to have data on your side. Simply looking at how teams have done in the past reveals a lot of trends, and can give you a big leg up on your bracket opponents.

Sciencing's data science team has scoured the March Madness history books to prep you for to the 2019 tournament.

How Teams are Ranked

We won't get too deep into the seeding process, but what you need to know is this: The main 64 teams are divided into four regions (West, South, Midwest, East) and ranked from No. 1 to No. 16 in each region. Our statistics are mainly centered around historical win percentage based on these seedings.

A few things to note, before we hop in:

  1. The Numbers: Our stats only date back to 1985, the first year March Madness included 64 teams.
  2. Seeds: When we say “higher” seed, we mean the higher number, so the weaker team. No. 1 is the lowest seed. No. 16 is the highest seed.
  3. Defining an upset: Folks have different definitions of what constitutes on upset. A seed difference of five or higher between the winning team and losing team is considered an upset by our standards

Safe Predictions

These are some picks you can pretty safely count on. Don't think twice when checking your own bracket against these predictions:

  • A top three seed will win the tournament. There’s about an 88 percent chance that this year’s March Madness champ will be either a No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
  • At least one upset will occur throughout the tournament.
  • Not all four No. 1 seeds will make it to the Final Four, but there will at least be one No. 1 seed in the Final Four.
  • No seed lower than No. 8 will make it to the championship game.
  • At least one of the top four seeds will make it to the championship game.

Click here if you want a closer look at our team's full dataset.

Ambitious Predictions

So you're feeling a little aggressive, huh? If you're looking for some high-risk, high-reward moves, we've got some predictions.

  • At least eight upsets will occur throughout the tournament.
  • At least one team with a higher seed than No. 5 will make it to the Final Four.

From here, we'll go ahead and offer you statistics based on each round in the tournament.

Round of 64

••• Sciencing

Upsets:

There have been ~4.6 upsets on an average in the Round of 64 every year. Here are the most common matchups to result in an upset:

  • 11 vs 6: 51 times
  • 12 vs 5: 47 times
  • 13 vs 4: 28 times
  • 14 vs 3: 21 times
  • 15 vs 2: 8 times

Round of 32

••• Sciencing

Matchups not listed above:

  • 7 (2 wins) vs 15 (1 win)
  • 9 (1 win) vs 16
  • 10 (5 wins) vs 15
  • 11 (5 wins) vs 14

Upsets:

There have been ~2.9 upsets on an average in the Round of 32 every year. Here are the most common pairings to result in an upset:

  • 7 vs 2: 25 times
  • 10 vs 2: 18 times
  • 11 vs 3: 17 times
  • 8 vs 1: 13 times
  • 12 vs 4: 12 times

Sweet Sixteen

••• Sciencing

Matchups not shown above:

  • 1 (4 wins) vs 13
  • 3 (1 win) vs 15
  • 4 (2 wins) vs 9 (1 win)
  • 5 vs 8 (2 wins)
  • 5 (1 win) vs 9 (2 wins)
  • 7 vs 11 (4 wins)
  • 7 (1 win) vs 14
  • 8 vs 12 (1 win)
  • 8 (1 win) vs 13
  • 9 (1 win) vs 13
  • 10 (1 win) vs 11 (2 wins)
  • 10 (1 win) vs 14

Upsets:

There have been ~0.21 upsets on an average in the Sweet Sixteen every year or one upset every five years. The following are the only three pairings to result in an upset:

  • 10 vs 3: 4 times
  • 11 vs 2: 2 times
  • 9 vs 4: 1 time

Elite Eight

••• Sciencing

Matchups not listed above:

  • 1 (4 wins) vs 7
  • 2 vs 5 (3 wins)
  • 2 vs 9 (1 win)
  • 2 (1 win) vs 12
  • 3 (2 win) vs 5 (1 win)
  • 3 (1 win) vs 8
  • 3 (2 wins) vs 9
  • 4 (2 wins) vs 6 (1 win)
  • 4 (2 wins) vs 10
  • 5 (1 win) vs 6
  • 5 (1 win) vs 10
  • 6 vs 8 (1 win)
  • 7 vs 8 (1 win)
  • 9 vs 11 (1 win)

Upsets:

There have been ~0.3 upsets on an average in the Elite Eight every year or approximately one upset every three years.

The Elite Eight is more likely to feature an upset than the Sweet Sixteen.

Following are the only five pairings to result in an upset:

  • 11 vs 1: 3 times
  • 8 vs 2: 3 times
  • 6 vs 1: 2 times
  • 10 vs 1: 1 time
  • 9 vs 2: 1 time

Final Four

••• Sciencing

There’s been only one instance of the Final Four featuring exclusively No. 1 seeds. UCLA, Memphis, Kansas and North Carolina completed the feat in 2008, which proves it’s unlikely that all four No. 1 seeds will make the Final Four.

\def\arraystretch{1.5} \begin{array}{c:c:c:c} Final \;Four\;Seed\;Distribution& Occurences\;Since\;1985 \\ \hline At \; least \;one \;No.\; 1\;seed & 32/34 \\ \hdashline At\;least\;one\;No.\;2\;seed & 22/34 \\ \hdashline At\;least\;one\;top\;four\;seed & 34/34 \end{array}
  • Both No. 8 and No. 11 seeds have made it to Final Four on four occasions each, which is more than the No. 6, No. 7, No. 9, No. 10 and No. 12-16 seeds.
  • No seed from No. 12 through No. 16 has ever made it to the Final Four.
  • There has been at least one seed higher than No. 6 in recent years (since 2013). 

Final Four seeds since 2013:

\def\arraystretch{1.5} \begin{array}{c:c:c:c} Year & Seeds\;in\;Final\;Four \\ \hline 2018 & 1, 1,3,11 \\ \hdashline 2017 & 1,7,1,3 \\ \hdashline 2016 & 1,10,2,2\\ \hdashline 2015 & 1,7,1,1\\ \hdashline 2014 & 7,1,8,2\\ \hdashline 2013 & 1,9,4,4 \end{array}

Upsets:

There have been ~0.09 upsets on an average in the Final Four every year, or about one upset every eleven years. The following are the only two matchups to result in an upset:

  • 8 vs 2: 2 times
  • 7 vs 1: 1 time

National Championship

••• Sciencing

No seeds from No. 9-16 have ever made it to finals, so it's probably not the best idea to pick one of those as your winner.

\def\arraystretch{1.5} \begin{array}{c:c:c:c} Finals\;Seed\;Distribution & Occurrences\;Since\;1985\\ \hline Both\;seeds\;are\;No.\;1 & 7/34 \\ \hdashline At\;least\;one\;No.\;1\;seed & 26/34 \\ \hdashline At\;least\;one\;No.\;2\;seed & 13/34\\ \hdashline At\;least\;one\;top\;four\;seed & 33/34\\ \end{array}

The No. 8 seed has made the finals three times which is historically fewer times than only the top three seeds:

\def\arraystretch{1.5} \begin{array}{c:c:c:c} Seed & Appearaces\;in\;Championship\\ \hline No.\;1 & 26\\ \hdashline No.\;2 & 13 \\ \hdashline No.\;3& 9\\ \hdashline No.\;8 & 3\\ \end{array}

The only time when none of the top four seeds made it to finals was in 2014 (No. 7 vs. No. 8).

Finalists in recent years:

\def\arraystretch{1.5} \begin{array}{c:c:c:c} Year & Seed\;Matchup \\ \hline 2018 & 1\;vs.\;3 \\ \hdashline 2017 & 1\;vs.\;1 \\ \hdashline 2016 & 2\;vs.\;1\\ \hdashline 2015 & 1\;vs.\;1\\ \hdashline 2014 & 7\;vs.\;8\\ \hdashline 2013 & 1\;vs.\;4 \end{array}

Results:

  • A top-three seed has won 30 out of 34 times
  • A No.1 seed has won 21 out of 34 times.

Upsets:

There have been ~0.06 upsets on an average in the National Championship every year or about one upset every seventeen years. These are the only two pairings to result in an upset:

  • 8 vs 1: 1 time
  • 6 vs 1: 1 time

Upset Analysis

••• Sciencing

The graph above shows upset percentage by round since 1985. It's important to note, however, that the total number of games (in parentheses on the X axis) only represent the number of games that could result in an upset.

Remember, we define an upset as a seed difference of five or higher between the winning team and losing team. So when we say that 19 percent of games have resulted in an upset in the Round of 64, those 816 games are the number of contests between teams with that seed difference of five or higher.

••• Sciencing
  • Mean number of upsets each year: ~8.1
  • The Elite Eight has the highest upset percentage among all the rounds with at least 30 possible matchups that could end in an upset.
  • Percentiles for the number of upsets per year:

Send Us Your Bracket

Want to see how our data plays out? Meet the three sports bloggers who are implementing these stats into their March Madness brackets.

If you end up using our data in your bracket, let us know! Tag us on Twitter @realsciencing or shoot us an email at hello@sciencing.com.

About the Author

As Sciencing.com's editor-in-chief, Jacob leads weekly editorial coverage and all sports-related, data-driven projects. He studied journalism at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and covered sports for Mashable.

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