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Use these analytics bloggers—and not Kenpom—to fill out your March Madness bracket

What to know before joining your office pool.

 

Adam Huff

Internet Culture

Welcome to the madness of March. Whether you’re a professional fan like myself who spends multiple hours a day watching games, reading articles, listening to podcasts, and probing through statistics; or are simply hoping to not finish dead last in your office pool; here are a few ideas to consider when filling out your bracket.

Everyone who wants to fill out a research-based bracket shares the same idea: Consult with Ken Pomeroy. In 2004, the former meteorologist-turned-blogger popularized the use of advanced analytics and efficiency metrics to help evaluate a team’s overall performance throughout the season. Making use of his rankings at kenpom.com and his predictive metrics to help guide bracket decisions has become a mainstream move over the past 15 years. It’s a great idea, it really is, but it’s also an idea that anyone who pays attention to college basketball has already thought about. If you’re sharing the same advantage as other people in your pool, I’m not sure it counts as an advantage anymore, so consider using alternative and lesser-known predictive efficiency rankings.

Use the same strategy of statistical analysis so you can rely on actual data, but not necessarily arrive at the same conclusions. Try Bart Torvik’s rankings or Evan Miyakawa’s rankings. All three variations, Pomeroy, Torvik, and Miyakawa, are offered for free. I love and appreciate all three websites, but I personally enjoy the Torvik rankings because it’s easy to sort data by date, and Miyakawa’s greatest addition to the advanced statistics is removing statistics that occur in late-game situations during a blowout. So when a team leads by 40 points with two minutes to go, they empty their bench, and their opponent immediately goes on a 10-0 run…he removes that data so it stays focused on the more competitive moments of each game.  

Another strategy to consider is to put a strong emphasis on teams’ results in February and March and not look into what they achieved or did not achieve back in November, December, January. College basketball is a war of attrition and college teams tend to need time to practice before figuring out how their young groups should actually be playing together. For some teams, those early season losses have done considerable damage to their Selection Sunday resumes that they’re not able to fully recover from. Sometimes those diamonds in the rough don’t hit their stride until about a month before the big dance begins—you tell me… when is it better to be hot? According to the Torvik rankings, here are a few off-the-national-radar teams that have been strong in advanced metrics since Feb. 12, one month before Selection Sunday: UCONN (3), Kentucky (6), Utah State (8), Florida Atlantic (14), San Diego State (15). 

History and superstition are also fun things to acknowledge. There are common themes that emerge in every tournament. Since 2010, No. 11 seeds are just as likely to win in the first round as their No. 6 seed counterparts; No. 1 seeds almost always win their first two games. Yes, picking all No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four is too chalky, and picking mass chaos in every region is too wacky to match reality. But if you’re the type to be drawn to superstition and conspiracy theories and want to try to get out in front of a potentially big story if it happens, I want to introduce you to Duke Assistant Coach, Jai Lucas.  

This feels mean of me to write because I’m sure he’s an awesome dude that has purely been a victim of circumstance and coincidence, but if you’re inclined to be intrigued by such a thing, Lucas has been bad luck. 

Lucas was an assistant at Texas for Shaka Smart from 2015-2019. In those seasons, Texas ranged from good to very good, yet Texas failed to win an NCAA Tournament game. In 2020, he was hired by John Calipari at Kentucky. Coach Cal’s Wildcats have racked up more tournament wins (31) than any other program in the nation in his years prior to Lucas joining his staff, yet in the two years Lucas was at Kentucky, they managed zero. You probably already have reasons not to believe in this year’s Duke Blue Devils, i.e., Coach K isn’t walking through that door, they’re a team heavily relying on freshmen, have six losses in what may be the weakest ACC ever, and have a first-time head coach. However, if you want to try to be on the forefront of the Jai Lucas Jinx (I promise this will be a national story if Duke loses in the first round), this is your chance.

When it’s finally time to put pen to paper, you have to eventually place your faith in somebody to survive the gauntlet. A recurring storyline this entire season has been, “There are no great teams.” I don’t know if it’s a lack of great teams or if we’re experiencing even greater parity in a sport that has found a way to build excitement around parity better than any other sports league on the planet. But there are good reasons to trust any of the following schools:

Houston

The Houston Cougars are 29-2 on the season and check every box for the data lovers: H-Town is ranked No. 1 in the Pomeroy, Torvik, and Miyakawa rankings. If you prefer the eye test, Jamal Shead, Jarace Walker, and Marcus Sasser are all terrifying. It takes six straight games of consistent excellence to win this tournament and nobody has been more consistent than Houston.

Marquette

Simply stated, the Golden Eagles have been hard to deal with all season. Each of their losses have been in tight, closely contested games, settled by 5 points or less. The lone exception to that was a 15-point loss at UCONN. Marquette did however win two out of its three games this season vs. UCONN and most recently on March 10 to knock UCONN out of the Big East Tournament. Head Coach Shaka Smart once again has a strong team headed into the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four party crasher is overdue for a run.    

Texas

Texas is a fun and dangerous team that despite a midseason coaching change (Head Coach Rodney Terry replaced Chris Beard on Dec. 12) has managed to fight through that adversity, stay ranked in the AP Top 25, put up very healthy advanced statistics, and finish second in the fully loaded Big 12 before winning the conference tournament outright on Saturday. I like how resilient the Horns have proven to be.

Alabama

Alabama embodies modern basketball as a team that aims to shoot only threes, layups, and dunks. The Crimson Tide shoot a lot of threes, they make a lot of threes, have the nation’s best NBA prospect in Brandon Miller, and are the team in this tournament most likely to humiliate their opponent. I like their threat of dominance.

Choose wisely, choose confidently, and give yourself enough grace to understand that picking a bracket is an agreement with the universe that you’re trying the impossible. Every bracket busts and yours will too, so keep your fingers crossed and enjoy the ride.


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