2023 March Madness Bracket Strategy
March Madness is one of the best times of the year. Brackets, bets, buzzer-beaters, and so much more. Last year’s March Madness bracket strategy column featured both Gonzaga and Houston as potential winners, and both teams made the final four! This year I’ll review basic bracket strategy and dive into the makeup of former champions from a statistical perspective and advanced strategies for picking a winner.
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2023 March Madness Bracket Strategy
Pick All the 1-Seeds Over 16-Seeds
No. 1 seeds are 147-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament — Virginia was the only loss as a No. 1 seed (2018 against UMBC). Ignore that outlier and pick all the No. 1 seeds to win their first game. Simple as that!
Use Betting Spreads to Make Picks & Choose “Upsets”
Plain and simple, the betting market is much more efficient than bracket seeding. For example, in 2019, Wisconsin (5) vs. Oregon (12) was a No. 5 seed vs. a No. 12 matchup, but Wisconsin was only a one-point favorite. If we compare this to another No. 5 seed vs. No. 12 seed matchup between Auburn and New Mexico State, Auburn was a 7.5-point favorite.
If you want to pick a No. 12 seed to win, you are much better off taking Oregon than New Mexico State. A normal person filling out a bracket sees two No. 12 vs. No. 5 matchups. Looking at the spread tells a different story, though, as Wisconsin and Oregon are essentially 50/50 to win. Oregon won by nearly 20 points while Auburn escaped with a narrow victory, but the point remains true.
The same thought process should be applied to every game you pick, especially between No. 8 vs. No. 9, No. 7 vs. No. 10, and No. 6 vs. No. 11 seeded matchups where most bracket entries will likely choose randomly. Early betting lines are out now and some similar lower-seeded teams are already the favorites.
Choosing a 2023 March Madness Bracket Winner
Even if you pick nearly everything right in the first few rounds, you will still likely need to pick the winner in order to take home the money from your pool. Leveraging historical data from KenPom.com to analyze past winners can help guide us in what to look for. This isn’t an end-all-be-all but can help us identify the profile of which teams traditionally take home the hardware.
Before we dive in, below are the key metrics to understand:
- Adjusted Efficiency Margin: How efficient a team is on offense and defense, adjusted for how good their opponents were.
- Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: How efficient a team is on offense, adjusted for how good their opponents were.
- Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: How efficient a team is on defense, adjusted for how good their opponents were.
Balance is Key
Seventeen of the past 20 winners ranked in the top six in adjusted efficiency margin heading into the tournament.
For all the notoriety of upsets and “madness,” in the tournament, winners are almost always well-balanced teams heading into the tournament.
This year the top-six teams in adjusted efficiency margin are:
Offense Wins Championships
Nineteen of the past 20 winners have ranked inside the top 21 in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Neither Tennessee (49th) nor UCLA (25th) qualifies here as they fall below the threshold of top-21 in adjusted offensive efficiency. That being said, UCLA is close enough that I’m willing to make an exception given how good they are defensively and subjectively balanced enough to make a deep run. However, they are dealing with some injuries that could impact them.
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