We all want to nail the big upset when filling out our brackets.  Picking the 3-seed to go down in the first round, or picking the trendy 2-seed to lose to a 15 feels so good when it hits.  For the most part, it doesn’t though.  A gutsy call goes unrewarded a majority of the time.  But I wanted to try and find out if there is any inkling that can help us predict the big upsets.  And I mean BIG upsets.  This isn’t a chance to get the 10-seed right, this is searching for the bracket buster that leads many to declare the entire tournament a farce.

So what statistic or magical formula can lead us to pluck out these upsets?  Well, luckily it’s rather easy to do in Bet Labs.  I started with filters that only look at 14 and 15-seeds in the first round of the tournament. Remember, we’re thinking BIG.

Since the tournament in 2005, 1 out of 8 of these teams has been able to play the part of David and slayed Goliath.  Not a great percentage if you are just blindly picking teams but maybe higher than you originally thought.  Next, I went through each statistical filter to see if there was any sort of correlation to be found.  We have filters like points per game, 3-point percentage, pace of play, and many others.  The one that caught my eye was the offensive efficiency of the opponent.

You don’t have to have the cartography skills of Buster Bluth to realize the green on the far right end is good.  What this means is that these big moneyline upsets have come against teams with a really high offensive efficiency throughout the season.  By clicking on the past matches, we can see the exact games that fit this scenario:

By focusing on going against these high scoring teams, we have the two largest moneyline upsets we have seen and three of the top five when you include Mercer.  Why would really high scoring teams be more susceptible to an upset?  Perhaps shooting streaks grow cold when players are out of their comfort zone playing in strange places at strange times of the day.  Maybe it’s just random because after all, it’s only four freaking games we’re talking about.  But the two biggest upsets and three of the top five?  That can’t all be coincidence.

So which team fits this criteria this year and should be put on high alert?  That would be UCLA.  The 3-seed with one of the best offenses in the country fits the bill of a team that could destroy your bracket early on.  That being said, our bracket simulator currently gives their opponent Kent State a 3.6% chance of beating the Bruins.  So while it’s highly unlikely, if you want to be the hero that picks the massive upset then picking UCLA to lose in the first round is for you.


2017 NCAA Tournament

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