Using Big Data and Analytics to Fill Out Your Bracket


Posted by Mike Fitch on March 14, 2022


The 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket is set, and everyone is looking for every little competitive edge to take home the bragging rights in your office pool or friend group. Or perhaps you’re looking to capitalize on a monumental year of sports betting, where about 30 states in the US now have some form of legalized online or in-person sports gambling. However, if you’re looking for perfection, look elsewhere; there’s about a 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 (that’s 9.2 quintillion) chance of creating a perfect bracket, comparable to correctly naming a randomly selected grain of sand on earth.



While perfection may not be attainable, in 2022, there is a tremendous amount of data, analytics, prediction engines, AI and machine learning that can be incorporated into making educated decisions about which picks to make, and why. For example:

There are also plenty of statistic-based ranking systems, such as ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, or the NCAA Ratings Power Index, which both take into account additional factors into how teams are ranked, such as the strength of schedule, pace of play, home and away factors, days of rest, altitude, etc. The amount of data collected from the 9,500+ games that make up an NCAA D-1 season is astronomical. Imagine that data scaled to the healthcare industry. Or the finance vertical. Or the retail space. Big data and what we do with that data has endless possibilities and truly gives us the chance to innovate and optimize across industries.

 

Back to the topic at hand: helping you fill out your 2022 March Madness bracket. I evaluated nine impactful datasets, five on-court and four off-court, that can help determine who you select to move on in your selections.

 

On-court statistics: 5 common traits among champions

Scoring Margin — Teams that make it further into the tournament generally have two common traits: they’re an elite scoring team AND they’re above average defensively. Together, teams that can score at a higher rate while shutting down others defensively consistently throughout the season have the ability to rely on one or the other when it comes time for postseason play.

 

Top 10 teams in scoring margin:

  1. Gonzaga (+22.5)
  2. Arizona (+17.1)
  3. Murray St. (+17.0)
  4. Houston (+16.9)
  5. Vermont (+14.6)
  6. UAB (+14.4)
  7. Kentucky (+13.5)
  8. S. Dakota St. (+13.3)
  9. Duke (+13.1)
  10. Baylor (+12.9)

 

Bottom 10 teams in scoring margin:

59. Michigan St. (+3.7)

60. Alabama (+3.6)

61. Marquette (+3.5)

62. Yale (+3.5)

63. Iowa St. (+3.5)

64. Richmond (+3.4)

65. Michigan (+3.1)

66. TCU (+3.1)

67. Creighton (+3.1)

68. Rutgers (+2.1)

 

Assist-to-turnover ratio — Teams that are capable of moving the ball well without turning it over are often safe, reliable picks to move forward throughout the tournament. Often, this comes at the hand of a skilled point guard, something that is necessary to make deep runs through the rigorous March schedule. Teams that excel in assist-to-turnover ratio are often disciplined and surehanded, finding the open shooter while eliminating unforced errors and unnecessary mistakes.

 

Top 10 teams in assist-to-turnover ratio:

  1. Iowa (1.75)
  2. Duke (1.65)
  3. Vermont (1.57)
  4. Gonzaga (1.55)
  5. UCLA (1.53)
  6. Colgate (1.52)
  7. Arizona (1.51)
  8. Richmond (1.50)
  9. Davidson (1.49)
  10. Houston (1.48)

 

Bottom 10 teams in assist-to-turnover ratio:

59. TCU (0.94)

60. San Diego St. (0.94)

61. Creighton (0.94)

62. Yale (0.92)

63. Cal-State Fullerton (0.92)

64. Norfolk St. (0.90)

65. St. Peters (0.88)

66. LSU (0.88)

67. Seton Hall (0.86)

68. Texas Southern (0.73)

 

Rebound margin — Teams that excel in rebounding statistics do two things: one, they eliminate second-chance scoring opportunities while on defense and increase the number of second-chance opportunities while on offense. Consecutive offensive rebounds can be demoralizing and exhausting for a defense to keep up with high-powered offenses, while an inability to collect those offensive rebounds results in fewer shooting opportunities.

 

Top 10 teams in rebound margin:

  1. Kentucky (+9.9)
  2. Purdue (+9.5)
  3. Gonzaga (+8.8)
  4. TCU (+8.5)
  5. Murray St. (+8.3)
  6. Arizona (+7.9)
  7. UCONN (+7.8)
  8. North Carolina (+7.8)
  9. Houston (+7.5)
  10. Longwood (+7.2)

 

Bottom 10 teams in rebound margin:

59. Iowa (+1.3)

60. Notre Dame (+0.7)

61. Yale (+0.7)

62. Wisconsin (+0.2)

63. Colorado St. (+0.1)

64. Delaware (-0.8)

65. Iowa St. (-1.0)

66. Richmond (-3.2)

67. Miami (-4.0)

68. Marquette (-4.3)

 

Free-throw efficiency — College basketball games often come down to the final possession. In those final few minutes, teams often put their best free-throw shooters on the floor to take advantage of the often-not-so-free points. Our method for calculating free-throw efficiency is blending a combination of the amount of times a team is able to get to the free-throw line and teams with the highest free-throw percentage. It’s not enough to simply get to the line if you’re not consistently making them; conversely, a great free-throw shooting team can’t maximize potential if they’re not drawing the fouls.

 

Top 10 teams in free throw efficiency:

  1. Arkansas (758 attempts, 75.33%)
  2. Montana St. (734, 75.34%)
  3. S. Dakota St. (681, 75.92%)
  4. Iowa (685, 74.89%)
  5. A&M Corpus-Christi (757, 74.37%)
  6. Wright St. (629, 76.79%)
  7. Cal-State Fullerton (617, 76.34%)
  8. Arizona (733, 73.81%)
  9. North Carolina (597, 77.22%)
  10. Delaware (641, 74.26%)

 

Bottom 10 teams in free throw efficiency

59. Baylor (556 attempts, 69.78%)

60. Georgia St. (508, 71.65%)

61. Houston (586, 66.89%)

62. TCU (573, 66.84%)

63. Texas Southern (569, 67.14%)

64. Colgate (525, 69.52%)

65. San Diego St. (531, 69.49%)

66. Rutgers (481, 70.06%)

67. Jacksonville St. (536, 68.10%)

68. Iowa St. (503, 68.39%)

 

Superstar talent and leadership — While we just hyped up teams that are able to move the ball well, there are times when you need to rely on a legitimate scoring threat to take over a game or to lean on in those final seconds. Often, this is someone used to the spotlight and can handle those big moments.

 

Top 10 scorers playing in the tournament:

  1. Peter Kiss — Bryant (25.1 PPG)
  2. Keegan Murray — Iowa (23.6 PPG)
  3. Kofi Cockburn — Illinois (21.1 PPG)
  4. Jordan Walker — UAB (20.4 PPG)
  5. Malachi Smith — Chattanooga (20.1 PPG)
  6. Tanner Holden — Wright St. (19.8 PPG)
  7. Ochai Agbaji — Kansas (19.7 PPG)
  8. Johnny Davis — Wisconsin (19.7 PPG)
  9. E.J. Liddell — Ohio St. (19.6 PPG)
  10. Graham Ike — Wyoming (19.6 PPG)

 

Off-court statistics: The intangibles

Jersey color — If making your picks based off of your love of the color blue is your thing, you’ve probably done very well, historically. Here’s a look at the trends from the last 20 championship games:

  • Of the last 20 championship games, 47.5% (19 of 40) of either the champion or runner-up had blue/white as their primary color combination.
    Top teams in 2022 with this color combination: Gonzaga, Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, UCONN
  • 5 (12.5%)had red/white.
    Top teams in 2022 with this color combination: Wisconsin, Arkansas, Houston
  • 5 (12.5%) had some shade of orange in their primary colors
    Top teams in 2022 with this color: Auburn, Tennessee, Illinois
  • 4 (10%)had red/blue as their primary colors.
    Top teams in 2022 with this color combination: Arizona, Kansas, St. Mary’s
  • 4 (10%) had gold in their primary color palette.
    Top teams in 2022 with this color: Baylor, Purdue, UCLA, Iowa
  • 3 (7.5%) did not fit any of the combinations above.
    Top teams in 2022 with none of the categorized colors: Providence, Texas Tech

 

Mascot type — While we’re not exactly asking who would win in a battle between a Boilermaker (?) and a Gael (?), there have been trends as far as what TYPE of mascot makes it all the way to the championship. Here’s the breakdown from the last 20 championship games:

  • 9 “People” (22.5%)
    2022 top “People mascot” teams: Purdue Boilermakers, Tennessee Volunteers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Texas Tech Red Raiders, Providence Friars, St. Mary’s Gaels
  • 7 Domesticated animals (17.5%)
    2022 top “domesticated animal mascot” teams: Gonzaga Bulldogs, Arkansas Razorbacks, UCONN Huskies
  • 7 Predatory animals (17.5%)
    2022 top “predatory animal mascot” teams: Baylor Bears, Wisconsin Badgers, UCLA Bruins
  • 6 Big cats (15%)
    2022 top “big cat mascot” teams: Arizona Wildcats, Kentucky Wildcats, Villanova Wildcats, Auburn Tigers, LSU Tigers
  • 4 Birds (10%)
    2022 top “bird mascot” teams: Kansas Jayhawks, Iowa Hawkeyes
  • 7 “Other” (17.5%)
    2022 top “other mascot” teams: Duke Blue Devils

 

Proximity to regional location — There’s a lot to be said about a home-court advantage and it makes it a whole lot easier for fans to travel when it’s close to home. This year, the four regional (Sweet 16/Elite 8) locations are in San Francisco (West), Chicago (Midwest), San Antonio (South) and Philadelphia (East). Top 4 teams in each region closest to their Sweet 16/Elite 8 regional location:

West:

  1. #15 Cal State Fullerton — 411 miles
  2. #8 Boise St. — 640 miles
  3. #1 Gonzaga — 877 miles
  4. #14 Montana St. — 1024 miles

East:

  1. #15 St. Peters — 94 miles
  2. #14 Yale — 177 miles
  3. #16 Norfolk St. — 269 miles
  4. #8 North Carolina — 403 miles

South:

  1. #5 Houston — 195 miles
  2. #9 TCU — 265 miles
  3. #12 UAB — 857 miles
  4. #1 Arizona — 873 miles

Midwest:

  1. #3 Wisconsin — 146 miles
  2. #5 Iowa — 221 miles
  3. #11 Iowa St. — 344 miles
  4. #9 Creighton — 468 miles

 

Team valuation — There’s something to be said about a fanatic fan base that is willing to spend considerable money to support their team. Taking into account ticket, merchandise, concession and other revenue streams, here are the top 10 highest valued college basketball programs in the 2022 tournament (Forbes, 2020):

  1. Kentucky
  2. Indiana
  3. Duke
  4. Kansas
  5. Ohio State
  6. North Carolina
  7. Michigan State
  8. Illinois
  9. UCLA
  10. Wisconsin

Cinderella story: How to find the deep sleeper

Seemingly every year, there’s a team from a small conference, relatively unknown to the college basketball ranks who makes a deep run in the tournament. Successfully uncovering these hidden gems can either make or break a bracket. So, how do you find the 2006 George Mason, the 2011 Butler or the 2018 Loyola-Chicago? No, really, we’re asking…

 

How difficult is it to predict a Cinderella? Teams seeded 1–4 have made up 82.6% of Final Four’s in the last 36 years, meaning just 17.4% of teams have been seeded 5 or lower. At least one #1 seed has made the Final Four in 34 of the last 36 tournaments.

 

All of this being said, the best advice I can possibly give:

  1. Go with your gut, especially when you’re on the fence
  2. Have fun with it, no matter what
  3. Pick your alma mater or favorite team farther than you think they’ll actually go; there’s nothing worse than watching your team continue move on when you had them out in the second round

What’s your go-to strategy for filling out a bracket?



About the Author

TD Synnex Editor

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Name
Mike Fitch
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Content marketer and communicator through and through. ASU grad with more than 10 years of B2B tech marketing/communications experience.