With the NCAA Tournament bracket officially out and March Madness betting promos available with exclusive NY promo codes for the NCAA Tournament, public attention shifts toward breaking down the field and dissecting the matchups. In order to help people handicap this year’s tournament, EmpireStakes.com examined 5 trends across the event’s history and then attempted to see how they might apply to 2023.
Using information collected from Sports-Reference.com/CBB and KenPom.com, EmpireStakes.com set over/under lines based on these historical precedents, which then served as the mechanism for analysis. Most lines include statistics dating back to 1985 when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, although several will incorporate fewer years due to a lack of data and/or era considerations.
Without further ado, let’s dive in, but don't forget we're also home to the best NY betting apps ahead of March Madness.
O/U 11.4 Combined Seeds of the Final Four Teams
It takes a lot to reach the Final Four (no kidding).
While the top seeds hold an advantage, chaos ultimately comes to all tournaments in some form or another. The four number one seeds have all advanced to the last weekend together just once (2008) and only nine of the 37 post-expansion Final Fours featured an average seed of two or better. And the chaos has only gotten worse lately for operators like BetMGM NY.
The collective sum of the seeds at the Final Four has eclipsed 10 every year since 2010, except for 2012 (9), with a team seeded seventh or worse appearing in every Final Four since 2013 except for 2019. Outlier seasons like 2000 (22), 2006 (20), and 2011 (26) further fuel the surprisingly high average.
With around 1.6 one seeds advancing to the Final Four annually, that leaves plenty of room for outsiders, including one that typically is seeded fourth or below. This season, Houston and Alabama lead the way in terms of Final Four probability, but there is a large cluster of teams in the tier behind them. Three seed Gonzaga and four seeds Connecticut and Tennessee all grade out with better Final Four probabilities per the metrics than their seeds suggest, while the other three and four seeds rate much weaker, giving advantages to other teams in their regions.
Add in the injury concerns facing several top teams and the field looks even more wide open. However, do not be surprised when this year’s Final Four once again follows the familiar formula of one or two No. 1 seeds, one or two No. 2/3 seeds and a lower seeded team that got hot.
O/U 2.9 Freshmen Starters in the Final Four
The rise of the transfer portal and the fifth year COVID exception has turned college basketball back into an older game, but elite freshmen still find ways to impact the tournament and garner tourney MVP odds at FanDuel NY.
Although much has been made about 2012 Kentucky and 2015 Duke being the only freshmen driven squads to win a national title under the current landscape, every Final Four since the NBA instituted the “one and done” rule (prior to the 2006-07 season) has seen at least one team with a freshman starter compete (this over/under was only built on data back to then in recognition of its impact on the sport. Apologies to Pervis Ellison, Carmelo Anthony and the Fab Five).
Overall, 44 freshmen have taken the court as starters since then, with a maximum of six freshmen starters appearing at both the 2011 and 2015 Final Fours (lost in the collective memory, 2011 Connecticut started three freshmen next to Kemba Walker, and one of them was not even Shabazz Napier, who came off the bench as sixth man).
Some have been headliners like Greg Oden, Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis, but others were but humble role players like Lourawls Nairn, Tyler Olander and DJ Haley. However, the three freshman that started in the only two post-pandemic Final Fours were all future top 20 NBA Draft picks (Jalen Suggs in 2021, Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin last year).
Many of this year’s top contenders rely on at least one key first year player, which should raise some eyes at a time when experience has been revalued nationally. All four number one seeds start a freshman, with Purdue starting two in the backcourt and Alabama sometimes running out three freshmen at the beginning of games.
Additionally, freshmen play critical roles on teams like UCLA, Baylor and Saint Mary’s, while Duke and Arkansas lurk as other dangerous sides dripping with quality first year players.
O/U 130 Points Scored by the Tournament’s Leading Scorer
March is where legacies are made in college basketball and there is no greater way to leave a lasting impression than balling out when the lights are brightest. While the average leading tournament scorer drops 19.2 points per game for the entire season, that number jumps to 22.3 points per game during tournament time.
Although just 20 of the last 37 champions have included the overall tournament scoring leader on their roster, that player must typically appear in the championship game. Only nine leading tournament scorers since 1985 failed to play for a title, with Carsen Edwards in 2019 the only one to miss the Final Four all together.
Interestingly though, Shabazz Napier in 2014 is the last leading tournament scorer from a championship team and five of the nine leading scorers who missed the title game have occurred since then.
Among players on top four seeds in this year’s field, six currently average over the 19.2 points per game threshold classically achieved by leading tournament scorers throughout the season. Purdue’s Zach Edey leads all players in the field at 22.3 ppg, but Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, Kansas’s Jalen Wilson, Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis and Alabama’s Brandon Miller all clear the benchmark as well and have paths for potential deep runs given their team’s positioning. Each player's team also has somewhat decent title odds at PointsBet New York.
Houston’s Marcus Sasser (17.1 ppg) and UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez (17.3 ppg) are two other names to watch on contenders, as both carry the heaviest offensive load on their team and have demonstrated their ability to explode at any moment.
O/U 63.3 Combined Wins on Championship Monday
Teams that play for championships typically win a ton of games. Even without accounting for the 5 tournament wins each participant must earn to reach the title game, the average champion/national runner up since 1985 has won over 26 games before the NCAA Tournament even started.
This frequently leads to battles between 30-win teams in April, as last season’s 29-win North Carolina team was the first team to reach the final game of the season with less than 30 wins in a non-pandemic affected year since 2014 Kentucky. Those Wildcats too won 29 games, while 2021 Baylor won 27 prior to the title game but only played 29 times due to the season’s delayed start and a mid-year COVID shutdown.
Intuitively, teams that make it this far are also adept at avoiding losses. Just four sides, 1985 Villanova, 1988 Kansas, 2002 Indiana and the aforementioned 2014 Kentucky squad, have entered the championship game with double-digit losses in the modern era.
That spells trouble for teams like Baylor (+3000 to win the title at WynnBet App New York), Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky and Creighton this year, as they all have already racked up at least 10 losses going into the tournament.
On the flip side, Houston is the only top eight seed with at least 30 wins so far this season, though every top two seed hits the 26 win mark. Kansas and Memphis’s record of 74 combined wins going into the championship game in 2008 will not be threatened, but a number in the mid-60s is a strong possibility. This one will be tight.
Verdict: Over (barely)
O/U +28.07 Pre-Tournament Adjusted Efficiency Margin for Eventual National Champion
Although KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin rankings only date back to 2002, they offer one of the best tools for determining historical team strength. Teams that ultimately cut down the nets often excel in these metrics, with only three eventual champions, 2003 Syracuse and 2011 and 2014 Connecticut, ranking outside the top 6 going into tournament since data is available.
While 2008 Kansas, 2012 Kentucky and 2019 Virginia are the only title winners that led the nation in pre-tournament adjusted efficiency margin, it is evident that ranking near the top holds significant weight. Seven of the past twenty champions entered the field with an adjusted efficiency margin of above +30.00, while only four came in under +25.00.
Overall, adjusted efficiency margin is down across college basketball at the top this season. More balance exists than in years past, with a record low 14 teams above +20.00 adjusted efficiency margin right now but an unusually large group of 25 schools rating between +15.00 and +20.00 in the metric. Only top ranked Houston currently exceeds the +28.07 average of past champions, with UCLA, Alabama and Connecticut the only other teams above +25.00.
Tennessee and Texas round out the top six, but every team down to 17th ranked West Virginia clears the +19.12 mark registered by 2014 Connecticut. On average, the eventual champion raises their adjusted efficiency margin by +2.23 points per 100 possessions during their tournament run, with the mean title team finishing at +30.30.
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