Analysis of key performance indicators coming for Insiders

If it seems like the Bracket Science blog has gone a little quiet lately, it’s because I’ve spent the last week crunching serious numbers to find the factors that correlate most to tourney overachievement.  This involved nearly a thousand queries to my Filemaker database on 36 different attributes.

I didn’t just find the top factors for all seeds either; I’ve broken my analysis down into four classes of seeds. The fact is, the conditions that lead a top seed to make an overachieving run to the Final Four are very different from the factors that point to a 12 seed springing a first-round upset. So in addition to ranking the top PASE factors for 1-12 seeds overall, you’ll get top 10 lists for favored seeds (1-2), contender seeds (3-6), toss-up seeds (7-10) and Cinderella seeds (11-14).

The full report will be available to Insiders under the “Tips” section. But I figured I’d give everyone a taste of the analysis by posting the top 15 overachievement factors for 1-12 seeds. To qualify for the rankings, there had to be at least 100 teams possessing a given attribute. Some of the leading attributes made perfect sense to me; others were surprises. Feast your eyes on the numbers—and keep this post in mind come Selection Sunday:


It’s no great shock that scoring margin is the leading indicator of tourney overachievement. I’ve been talking about the magic of margin for years now. Of the 120 teams that came into the dance with a scoring margin higher than 15 points, 45 of them reached the Final Four—and 15 cut down the nets. The +.412 PASE of high-margin teams is markedly better than the next best factor. Just look at how this attribute towers over the rest top 15 in the chart above. (Ignore the blue bars for now; we’ll talk about them in a moment.) Odds are, about four or five teams will come to the dance meeting the 15-point margin threshold. Right now, the most likely candidates are Indiana, Florida, Michigan, Gonzaga and Syracuse.

The second highest overachievement factor isn’t much of a surprise either. It’s coaching success—not just experience. Coaches who have made more than four Elite Eight runs are +.242 PASE overperformers. Right now, only eight coaches meet this criterion: Coach K, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Bill Self, Billy Donovan and Jim Boeheim.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that the third biggest sign of overperformance is turnover margin. Teams that win the turnover battle by more than two possessions on average are +.186 PASE performers. Which teams figure to be high turnover generators come tourney time? Right now, Virginia Commonwealth and Louisville force the highest percentage of turnovers in D-1. Wisconsin, Michigan and Duke are among the leaders in protecting the ball.

Here are some comments on the rest of the top ten factors:

  • Free throw percentage greater than .728 – Amazing that free throw shooting has a stronger correlation to overperformance than any of the other shooting metrics I analyzed, better than overall field goal percentage or three accuracy. Davidson is the nation’s best free throw shooting team. But Arizona, Creighton and Indiana are the strong of the AP top 20 teams.
  • Starters percentage of scoring less than 72.5% – This is a confirmation of the power of a deep bench.
  • At least one All-American – More than half the Final Four teams and 22 of 28 champions have had an All-American on their squad. Right after Selection Sunday, the US Basketball Writer’s Association announces their top 10 players. That’s the list I always use.
  • Frontcourt percentage of scoring more than 62% – So much for the myth that you need a great guard to go far in the dance. It’s the teams with dominant frontcourts that defy seed expectations in the dance. Twelve champs have relied on centers and forwards for more than 62% of their points. Only two champs have relied on guards for that much scoring.
  • Rebounding margin better than 5.4 possessions – I’m not surprised that rebounding makes the top ten list, but I thought it would’ve been higher.
  • At least one freshman and fewer than two senior starters – If you’re tempted to pick a team just because they’ve got an experienced starting five, resist the urge. Teams with younger starters actually outperform older squads, more so since the NBA one-and-done rule.
  • Defensive efficiency of fewer than 90 points in 100 possessions – The KenPom stats were reliable signs of overachievement across all the various studies I did. Only defensive efficiency, however, made the top ten.

Now, about those blue bars in the chart above. In addition to tracking the top factors by PASE, I also analyzed them by SOAR, or seed overachievement rate. That’s the stat that measures the frequency of overachievement as opposed to the degree. By SOAR, the top factor is turnover margin (see the “1” at the base of the blue bar?) Over 56% of the squads that win the turnover battle by more than two possessions wind up beating expectations. The high-margin attribute comes in second, with 52% of teams exceeding seed-projected win totals. Then the rest of the top five—frontcourt scoring, bench play and free throws—all weigh in just a shade under 50%.

These are the top overachievement factors for all the 1-12 seeds. But, as we said at the beginning of this post, not all seeds are created equal. If you’re interested, I’ll have a complete breakdown of the top overachievement factors for four classes of seeds in the Insider section by next week. Here’s a preview of the top factors for each of the seed classes I’ll report on:

  • Favored seeds (1-2) – Rebounding margin greater than 5.6 (+.485 PASE, 58.1% SOAR)
  • Contender seeds (3-6) – Free throw percentage greater than .725 (+.413 PASE, 56.3% SOAR)
  • Toss-up seeds (7-10) – 3-point field goal percentage greater than .358 (+.245 PASE, 57.5% SOAR)
  • Cinderella seeds (11-14) – 3-point field percentage allowed less than .324 (+.229 PASE, 41.9% SOAR)
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2 Responses to Analysis of key performance indicators coming for Insiders

  1. Jay says:

    Great analysis.
    What is R+TO Margin ?

    • ptiernan says:

      Rebound plus turnover margin. I just add together the two margins. For example, if Florida outrebounds teams by 4 per game and causes 2 more turnovers per game than they get, their R+TO rate is 6.

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