When I started building my database of NCAA tourney stats way back in 1990, my goal was to track every conceivable factor that might help me get an edge in filling out a better bracket. In the pre-Internet era, that meant doing a lot of legwork, sifting through team programs, pouring through newspapers, even consulting record books—yes books! I looked into everything—conference affiliation, coaching experience, offensive and defensive scoring, pre-tourney momentum, playing proximity, on and on.


Then the internet came along, stats got more plentiful…and the questions came rolling in. People were grateful to learn that factors like victory margin, star power and frontcourt dominance matter. But they wanted to know more: one email would ask about rebounding margin, one about turnovers, another about shooting percentage…and more recently I’ve gotten questions about the value of arcane stats like possession-based efficiency.


Every season, I realize—and lament—that I could’ve captured more statistics 17 years ago when I had my hands on all this hard-to-find, paper-based information. I’ve been trying to make amends in recent years by tracking more game-play statistics, but so far I only have three or four years of data. As I mentioned in a previous article analyzing Ken Pomeroy’s tempo-free stats, the fewer the years, the smaller the sample size—and less definitive the findings.


Nonetheless, it’s worth getting a sense of which on-the-court, game-situation statistics have mattered most to tourney overachievement, if for no other reason than to spark debate. With that in mind, I evaluated 13 new game-play statistics—everything from shooting accuracy, three-point production and free throws to rebounding, turnovers and assists—over the last three tournaments. I only considered the first-through-eighth seeded teams because they’re the ones most likely to advance in the tourney.


What I discovered, not only surprised me, but forced me to rethink what is truly important to achieving success in college basketball. For each of …


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