Since 1985, the NCAA tournament has been structurally consistent—with the same number of teams (okay…so the last few years have had a 65th bid), the same seed match-ups, and even the same days that rounds are played. That consistency is a big reason why historical data has such relevance in predicting future outcomes.


It would be a mistake, however, to think that the dynamics of the 1985 tourney are the same as those of last year’s dance. The tourney has evolved over the last 23 years, becoming lower scoring, more guard-dominant, and ruled by younger teams, to name just a few volatile characteristics. Here are the top 10 trends altering the mechanics of March:


Number of upsets (see below)

Coaching experience (members only)

Team experience (members only)

Class age of starters (members only)

Backcourt/frontcourt balance (members only)

Pre-tourney momentum (members only)

RPI rankings (members only)

Points scored (members only)

Points allowed (members only)

Margin of victory (members only)



Trend #10. Upset frequency is more unpredictable than ever


The 2006 tourney, which featured George Mason’s darkhorse run to the Final Four, was among the most upset-laden of the 23-year, 64/65-team era. Most experts figured 2007 would follow suit.


Shows what they know. Not only did 2007 fail to match the upset frequency of the previous year, it was the most upset-free tourney of the modern era. Only three teams seeded four positions or lowered from their favored opponents pulled off a surprise: No. 11 seeds Virginia Commonwealth and Winthrop beat Duke and Notre Dame in the first round, and No. 7 seed UNLV downed a wounded No. 2 seed Wisconsin. In fact, 2007 saw the biggest single-year drop in upsets from the previous year—an amazing nine games. Heck, that’s more than the average number of upsets per tourney (8.5).


So where does March Madness go from here? Are we in for another disappointingly sane tourney in 2008—or will it lurch back into lunacy? Well, if you look at the 23-year trend, you might conclude that we’re in for a few more “by-the-numbers” tournaments. After four of the five upset-heaviest tourneys, March Madness settled into extended periods of relative predictability. Take a look at the year-by-year upset numbers:


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