TIPS FOR MAKING TOURNEY TOSS-UP PICKS
When you sit down to fill out your bracket after Selection Sunday, you’ll need to predict the outcome of three types of games—pushovers, mismatches and toss-ups.
Pushovers are the easy games to pick. They’re the 1v16 and 2v15 match-ups in the first round that are no-brainers to predict. They effectively give everyone an 8-0 gift to kick-start their bracket. The high seeds are a near-perfect 180-4 in these match-ups, for a 98 percent success rate. Too bad only about one in eight tourney games of the 23-year 64/65-team era (184 of 1449) are this easy to predict.
The second and biggest class of games—the mismatches—comprise 54 percent of tourney contests since 1985 (783 of 1449). In these match-ups, which pit teams with a seed difference of four or more positions, the higher seed prevails against the longshot 75.6 percent (592 of 783) of the time. That’s a decent success rate, and you wouldn’t wind up with an embarrassing bracket if you slotted the high seed to win every mismatch. Odds are, though, you wouldn’t win your pool. That’s why we’ll give you some tell-tale signs of Cinderellas in an upcoming article. Being able to identify the right upsets is a big part of building a better bracket. Just ask all those lucky souls who picked George Mason in 2006. Of course, last year, having an affinity for Cinderellas would’ve broken your bracket, since favored seeds dominated, 28-3.
Even with a normal year of upsets, sniffing out a handful of key upsets won’t necessarily secure a tourney pool win. That’s because: a) the most reliable traits of Cinderellas usually apply to just a handful of games each year, and b) those games almost always occur in the first three rounds of the tourney. The fact is, the number of mismatch games drops off considerably from the Elite Eight on—when accurate tourney prognostication is at its most critical for pool success. Only 40 of the 161 games (24.8 percent) over the last three rounds have been mismatches.
This is why the last class of games—the toss-ups—is the most important type of match-up to predict correctly in your bracket. Toss-up games pit teams within three seed positions against each other. About one-third of all tourney games in the 64/65-team era (482 of 1449) involve toss-up pairings. The higher seed tends to prevail in these match-ups, compiling a 259-208 record for a 55.5 percent success rate (15 games involved same-seeded teams). However, that percentage isn’t nearly high enough to bank on. More importantly, higher-seeded toss-up teams struggle more with their lower-seeded foes in the later rounds of the tourney—right when the percentage of toss-up games increases…as does the point value of correct predictions in most bracket pools.
The chart below shows how toss-up pairings become …