Upsets during March Madness

We have spent the last several days filling out our NCAA tournament brackets (as most of you probably have as well). This post looks at which teams have played competitively versus higher ranked foes, and which teams played poorly versus lower ranked opponents.

We investigated the number of times a given team has lost or won in an upset. Upsets were defined as whenever a lower seeded defeated a team with a higher seed. While it is very possible that a 1 seed might lose to a 2 seed, an 8 seed to a 9 seed, we took into account both the seed differential during the contest as well as the point differential. Compiling data from the past 5 years of tournament play, as well as using our handy Matlab tool kit, we came up with the following “biggest losers” and “biggest winners”.

NCAA basketball March Madness Upsets - losing teams

As you can see, big name schools such as Duke, Connecticut and Pittsburgh, have often lost to lower seeded teams. While in the case of the former two, championships have been won very recently, it also makes a case for the teams “choking” or receiving a higher seed than they deserve. In the case of Duke, during their four losses, the average seed deferential was 3.5 between themselves and their opponent, with losses coming at an average of 9.75 points. As a side note, teams that are continually ranked high, will of course have more opportunities to fall to lower seeds.

As for the upset winners?
NCAA basketball March Madness Upsets - winning teams
George Mason had their Cinderella run in 2006, where they reached the final four as an 11 seed which propels them to the top of the upset winners. Michigan State which has also enjoyed several runs to the final four has defeated higher ranked opponents four times over the past 5 years, though their seed differential in their four “upset” wins is not significant.

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