Every year around this time we all become college basketball experts. We act like we’ve watched every single Wofford game and pick them in our brackets for a massive upset even though most of us don’t even know where Wofford even is. (No, seriously, where is it?)
If you’ve ever been in a bracket pool, you definitely know that picking an upset is extremely challenging. If you don’t know much about the sport, sometimes it’s just best to go chalk because at least the percentages are on your side.
However, with some research it’s possible to make smart, educated upset picks that could help you get to the top of your bracket or make your wallet fatter.
Research done by ESPN’s Peter Keating, shows that upsets are generated by teams who do the following things well: make threes, grab offensive rebounds, force turnovers, and prevent their opponent from doing the same.
Making threes is an obvious one. If a team is efficient from downtown, they are scoring 1.5 times more than the average basket. The value of each shot goes up and if they’re successful at it, they’re going to put plenty of pressure on their opponent.
Grabbing offensive rebounds is important because it essentially gives a team another opportunity to score and keeps the ball out of the opponent’s hands. The best defense is to not even allow an opponent to have the ball. The more offensive rebounds a team gets, the more they give themselves a chance to score. It’s also important to note that most offensive rebounds occur near the basket. So if a player grabs the ball in the paint and shoots it from there, it’s most likely going to be a high percentage shot.
Finally, forcing turnovers are essential for lowly ranked teams because they give teams more possessions and like offensive rebounds, they keep the ball away from the other team. Also, turnovers can lead to fast break opportunities, which can lead to easy points.
It’s also key for teams to prevent other teams from making threes, grabbing offensive rebounds, and forcing turnovers. If a team isn’t known for making threes or grabbing offensive rebounds, but they have a strong perimeter defense and clean up the glass defensively, that’s going to help them get a win in the tournament.
Looking at the upsets in just the first day of this year’s tournament, we can see that these characteristics hold true for some of the underdogs.
No. 11 Dayton held No. 6 Ohio State to just two offensive rebounds and just three 3-pointers in their 60-59 shocker. Dayton wasn’t amazing at either of the categories during the regular season, but Ohio State was woeful in both 3-point shooting (241st in the country) and offensive rebounds (258th in the country).
As you continue to pick winners in the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four, it’s wise to continue to look at these numbers even though the teams will be more evenly matched. Generally speaking, teams that can efficiently and consistently maximize the value of their shots and increase the number of possessions are going to win more games than others.
This year Duke and Louisville are among a few of the schools that were in the top 100 in all three categories. Duke and Louisville are playing in the same region this year and are No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, respectively. They are expected to go deep but it’ll be interesting to see if they can pull off mini-upsets as underdogs if they play the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Sweet 16 because of the fact that they’re good at those essential categories.