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NCAA Tournament: Identifying Key Statistics To Help You Make Smart Picks This March

The NCAA Tournament is unlike any other major sporting event. 68 teams enter with the idea of becoming the next champion of college basketball. But only one team will be able to survive, winning six games along the way to capture the gold. Whether they are a one seed or a six seed, it does not matter. If you lose once before winning six, you do not get to be called the champion.

So with such a grueling path to the top of the mountain, how could fans possibly be able to identify how everything will play out over the course of the 67 games played? Well, there are always certain factors to consider.

You can look at which conference a team came from to determine the level of competition they faced during the season. You can look at any potential injuries that could impact a game. You could consider how a team was playing to close out the year. Or my personal favorite, you can look at the numbers!


Now I am not talking about a club’s record or their RPI. Instead, I am talking about their on the court statistics. Because when all is said and done, it are these numbers that help determine who a team really is. It will help show a team’s strengths as well as weaknesses, and potentially their ultimate downfalls.

So that begs the question, which metrics should be looked at? Well a few years back, my dad came home with a book. That book was called “Bracketeering: The Layman’s Guide To Picking The Madness In March”After reading through this book, I developed a formula on Microsoft Excel to help me predict a potential score for each game thanks to each team’s numbers. So below are some of the key numbers you should look at when making your picks in March, courtesy of my favorite Bracketeering book.

One of the most important metrics to look at is the created possession margin. This is a number that takes into account two separate stats: rebound margin and turnover margin. In order to score points (which is the ultimate objective in basketball), a team needs to have the ball. And the two ways to get possession of the ball without giving up points are grabbing rebounds and forcing turnovers.

So, obviously, a team wants to be able to create more possessions than their opponents. Now it does not matter the breakdown between how much of the total comes from either rebounds or turnovers. But when all is said and down, a team would ideally want their CPM to be over five. The breakdown could become more important in an individual matchup, however. Maybe one team is in the negatives with rebounding, but their opponents outrebound their opponents by eight boards a game. A vast difference there would certainly be taken into consideration.

One metric that carries some extra weight with bigger conference schools that is worth looking at would be scoring margin. Or in other words, how badly does a team beat their rivals. For smaller conference schools this number could be skewed thanks to a lack of competition, so do not read into it without that context in mind. The number I look for here is 10 or higher when trying to identify my true national title contenders.

Next, comes the obvious numbers. All of the shooting percentages, both offensively and defensively, are vital. As I mentioned before, the objective of basketball is to put the ball in the net while preventing your opponent from doing the same. So for field goal percentage, the number should be above 45, and under that same number on defense. From beyond the arc, the magic number is 36.

That leads us to the foul game. The more fouls you commit, the more free points you could give away. But when you are on the line, the better your team shoots, the more free points you would earn. So when it comes to fouls per game, it is always good to keep things under 18 per game. That number has been creeping up a bit in recent years, so you may be better off going off the yearly average. As far as shooting free throws, a team as a whole should be knocking them down at a 70 percent clip, with 72 being more ideal.

Finally, you want to find teams that are efficient with their shots. If a team is throwing up a bunch of shots they are going to be able to hit more total baskets in the grand scheme of things. But maybe their two point shots are going down a lot better than their threes. That’s where the PPS (points per shot) metric comes in handy. Simply divide the number of points by the total amount of shots, and boom you have a number. Ideally, a team will earn one point or more (one and a decimal) per shot.

So when you are going to fill out your bracket this March, be sure to take a closer look at the numbers. They tell a story. They could help you identify a mismatch that could result in an upset that no one else will have. Maybe a favorite who commits a ton of fouls is going up against a team that shoots 76 percent from the line. That is going to be a ton of free points, increasing the underdog’s chances greatly.

So what do you say? Will you be picking teams off numbers for this year’s bracker? Or are you just using the nicknames? Or maybe simply blind guesses? Tell us in the comments what strategy you like to use when filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket!

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