March Madness gets under way on Thursday after the First Four games lock in the bracket for the round of 64. Until the first game tips off, everyone from experts to complete novices will put on their prediction hats and take shots at how the college basketball tournament will play out. One tool that can help: advanced college basketball metrics. TheLines.com decided to put four different analytics sites to the test, using each one’s rankings to reveal their best bracket picks.
We’ll take a look at how filling out a bracket based purely on KenPom, Bart Torvik, Haslametrics and ShotQuality would look. Then, we’ll dive into some notes on what stands out as far as agreements and disagreements between the various systems.
March Madness: Best National Title Odds For Each Team
KenPom Bracket Picks
Bart Torvik T-Rank Bracket Picks
Haslametrics Bracket Picks
ShotQuality Bracket Picks
NCAA Tournament Breakdown, Picks With Haslametrics
Comparing And Contrasting The Major College Basketball Metrics
Let’s run through a few major themes we’re seeing in these metric-based bracket picks.
Consensus-ish Final Four
Four teams emerge as clear Final Four favorites, selected by at least three of the analytics sites. Here they are with their Final Four odds.
Alabama was the only consensus Final Four selection. They got drawn into a region with a slightly weak No. 2 seed in Arizona, according to the metrics — none of the systems ranked the Wildcats in the top eight. Three of the sites like San Diego State to give them a stern test, though, ranking the Aztecs in the top 15 as an under-seeded squad.
Taking things a step further, the metrics largely concur with the markets on the champ. Three of the systems peg Houston as the eventual winner. Each has them defeating Alabama in the final, albeit with roughly a one-point difference between the two. Not coincidentally, Houston () and Alabama () are the only two teams with consensus single-digit championship odds in the market.
Kansas And Purdue The Weakest Top Seeds
While the metrics have plenty of respect for those two No. 1 seeds, they have largely lower opinions on the other two top seeds. Forecasts largely call for Kansas and Purdue to fall without even making the Elite Eight.
UConn and Tennessee both rated out quite strongly, each in the top eight of every single system and often the top five.
By contrast, Kansas barely made the top 10 of several systems, with a notably low No. 12 tanking by T-Rank. ShotQuality likes Purdue quite a bit (we’ll get to that), but also identifies Kansas a weak No. 1, rating them seventh.
If you’re in agreement with the metrics, look for upset picks against these high seeds early.
Dark Horses To Watch: Iowa State, Creighton, Saint Mary’s
Three teams stood out as lower seeds with real shots of deep runs, according to the metrics.
Iowa State ( Final Four odds) rates out top 20 by T-Rank and ShotQuality. KenPom and Haslametrics are a bit less impressed, and they have Xavier as a borderline top-15 team. But, the Cyclones (seeded sixth in the Midwest Region) may be primed for a run. Note that they also split their season series with Texas, should that matchup come to pass in the Elite Eight.
The metrics like Creighton () even more. The Bluejays, seen by some as a top-10 team entering the season, rated out top 20 by every system and top 15 by all but ShotQuality. Baylor stands in their way, but the analytics were quite low on the Bears. Even the numbers that liked them more have them over-seeded as a No. 3.
It doesn’t show up in the brackets above, but note that Saint Mary’s () garnered a ton of respect from the metrics sites. They have an average ranking of 11th and didn’t come in any lower than 13th. Only the strong support for UConn prevented them from making deep runs in the prognostications. But, should they upset UConn, all of the systems believe they have a real chance to run deep.
ShotQuality On Island With Purdue, Iowa
Whereas the more efficiency-based sites had little respect for Purdue, ShotQuality is quite enamored with the Boilermakers. ShotQuality has them No. 1 with a bullet, notably above UCLA in second. Purdue has championship odds.
The disagreement seems to come at the defensive end. KenPom and T-Rank have them solid but outside the top 20. ShotQuality was considerably more impressed, rating the defense No. 3 in the nation. Opponents did not shoot the ball particularly well from the field or behind the arc against the Boilermakers, as they ranked top 40 in opponent eFG%, which awards extra credit for made 3s. However, it does appear Purdue ran below expectation on free throws, where opponents shot a sizzling 73.6%, 285th in the nation.
ShotQuality was also a rather big fan of another Big Ten team. Their numbers like Iowa to make a shocking Final Four run (). The Hawkeyes rated out sixth in Adjusted Shot Quality.
Again, it comes down to defense. KenPom and T-Rank have the Hawkeyes way down at 167th or worse. The raw stats back this one up. Opponents hit a scorching 36.6% of their 3s and 74.4% of their free throws on Iowa. Both marks ranked bottom 50 or so, and both are subject to a large amount of variance.