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The history of March Madness: What the numbers tell us about this year

We are deep in that time of the year again — March Madness.

This has been my favorite sporting event since high school and every single year, with crazy postseason stories and heroic players, it feels special.

The infamous NCAA tournament has been a huge part of popular culture for decades now with everyone from your grandmother to your little brother making brackets trying to predict the winners of each exciting game.

March Madness got its nickname because no matter the seed, you never really know what team will come out on top and spoil a powerhouse school’s postseason dreams.

There is plenty of debate behind the reason why these games are so unpredictable.

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The best answer perhaps is a mixture of the simple fact that 1) These players are too young and frankly, still not fully polished. 2) Many of the teams don’t play each other frequently so seeding is not always accurate. 3) Teams only play one game as opposed to the NBA in which they play a seven-game series. This lets teams have more of a chance to have catch a good team on a bad day.

There are just so many variables that affect one game and it’s unimaginable for anyone to realistically correctly guess all 63 games. But what about this year? Was this year especially “mad?”

How many upsets exactly were there and what is even considered an upset? Comparing this year and past years, we may find out what’s so unique about March 2018.

Before we can discuss upsets, we need to determine what can be considered one. An upset in March Madness is when a low seeded team, I consider that being 11 and lower, being matched up with a higher seed.

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This excludes the #7 v.s #10 and the #8 v.s #9. We will also only look at years after the expansion to the field of 64. With this criteria, the years with the most upsets are 2013, 2011, 2006, 2001 all with ten.

This year with that same criteria we are currently at eight. Looking at all the years in total, you can see that the range is from 7-10 with some outliers. So the amount of upsets this year isn’t what particularly makes this year shocking. There seems to be an illusion here and what really affects this statistic is where the upsets happen.

Sometimes a seed will make a particularly deep run and that racks up the numbers. Historically, #11 seeds become the “Cinderella Story” and make a deep run. Even then, all have been stopped short at the Final Four. While getting there is an accomplishment in itself, other lower seeds hardly ever actually make those types of long runs.

What’s really shaking people’s brackets up now is that these 13, 14, 15, and now thanks to UMBC, 16 seeds are knocking out top seeds who are expected to make a deep run. This ultimately ruins all future picks and busts bets after the first two days.

This is where the madness lies. You know there will be a certain amount of upsets every year but picking where they land pretty much determines your entire bracket. What top school is going to take a fall to some heroic mid-major school? Who knows? Take this year so far as a great example.

Virginia was seen as the strongest team by far coming into the tournament, probably had the best defense in the entire country as well and was coming hot off winning the ACC tournament, the best basketball conference in the NCAA.

Somehow THAT team ended up giving up 74 points and taking a 20 point fall to UMBC, the 16 seed who are only in through an auto-bid after winning their conference tournament through a BUZZER BEATER.

That’s unbelievable, who can plan for that? I don’t think you can in good faith go in and pick the 16 seed to ever beat the 1 seed and this year is obvious proof that it can definitely happen and end your March Madness run very short. So what about schools like Syracuse who are historically known to be a top basketball school and can make deep runs under the great Jim Boeheim, the second most winningest active coach?

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In this years case, Syracuse was the very LAST team in. Hell, they were one of the first four who had to play to even get into the tournament.

Surely, this makes them a Cinderella for dancing themselves all the way into the Sweet 16? Well, if you look back you can see that for the past couple years, the “first four,” one of the #11 seeds always becomes an upset and wins at least one more game after. They have this underdog feel every single game yet also had history giving them some hope.

These patterns don’t make much sense but somehow work out every March Madness. In conclusion, the Cinderella Stories that are made every year are greatest and are the bracket breakers, but trying to predict too many seems to be the trap some fall into every year. In truth, no one ever really knows what Cinderella’s will come out to dance.

So, we know why March is so unpredictable and how many upsets you can kind of expect to happen. Not knowing where the upsets land is really what makes March so “maddening.” But this year has been special in another way.

Virginia being the number one overall seed and losing to the #16 was unprecedented. If #11 Loyola-Chicago moves forward in the Final Four, then history will once be made again.

It would be the first time a #11 seed has made it all the way to the Finals. So while this year isn’t particularly loaded with a lot of Cinderellas, the length and significance of these upsets has really made this year a historic one.

I know I will be more cautious selecting my #1 seeds from here on out, granted I still think you should never bet against one in the round of 64.