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Brackets beware: These March Madness trends narrow down possible NCAA Tournament winners

Struggling with your bracket? Here are some trends that can help you narrow down your winner.

NEW ORLEANS — Can you feel it in the air? March Madness is here! The 2022 edition of the Men's Basketball NCAA Tournament kicks off Wednesday with the "First Four" play-in games before the First Round begins on Thursday.

Every year, millions around the world try to fill out a bracket hoping to, of course, get every game right. The chances of that are one in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. So at the least, everyone's trying to get their champion correctly predicted.

So how on Earth do you do that when there are 68 different teams to choose from?

Well, there are plenty of trends that the typical fan may not be aware of that can help YOU pick the winner in your bracket.

Let's take a look at some of the biggest trends to look out for in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

No. 1 overall seed

The NCAA began determining a "No. 1 overall seed" in brackets in 2004, to further recognize the regular season's best team. This year, the No. 1 overall seed is again the Gonzaga Bulldogs, for a second-straight year.

Since 2004, three times has the No. 1 overall seed won the NCAA Tournament. But, none since Louisville in 2013. Gonzaga made it all the way to the National Championship as the No. 1 overall seed last season, but fell to Baylor.

Gonzaga has also never won the NCAA Tournament despite being a No. 1 seed four times since 2013. Could this finally be their year?

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Beware of teams with losing conference records

Three teams this year received at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament despite having losing regular season conference records. 

Indiana, Iowa State and TCU received those bids. While it's already unlikely you would choose one of them to win it all, be wary of having them go deep. 

Sine 1985, 47 teams have received at-large bids despite losing conference records. Of the 47, 24 actually won their first round game, but only six of the 47 reached the Sweet Sixteen.

Early conference tournament exits

Each conference plays a year-end conference tournament prior to the NCAA Tournament. One of the crazier trends shows that no team that lost their first conference tournament game went on to win the NCAA Tournament. 

This year, that trend would eliminate some really good teams including No. 1 seed Baylor, No. 2 seed Auburn, No. 3 seed Wisconsin and No. 4 seed Illinois. All four of those teams lost the first game of their conference tournament. 

The other teams this applies to includes No. 6 seed Texas, No. 6 seed Alabama No. 7 seed Ohio State, No. 8 seed Seton Hall, No. 9 seed Marquette, No. 11 seed Notre Dame and No. 11 seed Iowa State.

The West Coast Curse

Believe it or not, no team from west of the Central Time Zone has won the national championship in TWENTY FIVE (25) years. The last team to do it? The Arizona Wildcats in 1997.

Arizona and Gonzaga are both No. 1 seeds this year hoping to break the West's no-title streak. Other prominent west teams hoping to break that streak include No. 4 seed UCLA, No. 5 seed Saint Mary's, No. 6 seed Colorado State, No. 7 seed USC and No. 8 seed San Diego State.

The KenPom trend

Since Ken Pomeroy began tracking the often-referenced advanced college basketball data on his website in 2002, there have been some notable trends about champions.

Of the 19 national champions since 2022, when KenPom.com began tracking the stats, every champion had an adjusted offensive efficiency rating ranking of 39th or better and every champion had an adjusted defensive efficiency rating ranking of 22nd or better.

Baylor had a defensive efficiency ranking of 22nd in the country going into the 2021 NCAA Tournament and they went on to win. That was the lowest defensive efficiency ranking ever.

Looking at the KenPom ratings, we can find that only EIGHT teams in the NCAA Tournament are both 39th or better in offensive efficiency ranking and 22nd or better in defensive efficiency ranking.

Those teams are:

  • Gonzaga (1st/7th)
  • Arizona (5th/20th)
  • Baylor (9th/14th)
  • Houston (10th/11th)
  • UCLA (15th/12th)
  • Auburn (24th/8th)
  • Texas (32nd/13th)
  • Tennessee (36th/3rd)

So looking at the last 19 NCAA Tournament champions, your winner comes from that pack of eight. If you eliminate Baylor, Auburn and Texas, because they lost their first conference tournament game, you're left with Gonzaga, Arizona, Houston, UCLA and Tennessee.

From there, if you were to eliminate the teams west of Texas, because no team West of Texas has won an NCAA Tournament since 1997, you're left with only Houston and Tennessee. 

Teams that just missed falling into both KenPom categories include Arkansas (40th in offensive, 16th in defensive), Kansas (6th in offensive, 29th in defensive), Kentucky (4th in offensive, 27th in defensive), Villanova (8th in offensive, 28th in defensive), Loyola Chicago (42nd in offensive, 22nd in defensive) and San Francisco (45th in offensive, 19th in defensive).

No. 3 seed Texas Tech is the No. 1 rated in defensive efficiency, but their offensive efficiency rating is 65th.

The top 10 teams overall in Ken Pomeroy's ratings are:

1. Gonzaga
2. Arizona
3. Kentucky
4. Houston
5. Baylor
6. Kansas
7. Tennessee
8. UCLA
9. Texas Tech
10. Auburn

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