Anatomy of the March Madness Upset

I wanted to take a quick look today at all the NCAA tournament “upsets” dating back to 2012.  Note the air quotes around upset, because what we will see from the data is a lot of the 11-6 seed match-ups are not upsets at all.  It has become apparent the tournament selection committee has not been staying up to date with modern stats to help aide their decision, but rather rely on their old faithful RPI.  Although I know they are looking to change that this year, it will be a while before that process takes hold.

For my classification of an upset I am loosely using any 11 seed or higher winning in the opening round.  The data below is limited to the first round of the tournament (ignore whatever the NCAA is calling their playin-game round these days, that does not count as the first round).  The data is compiled dating back to 2002.  Without further adieu, I have compiled all the March Madness upsets below, along with their expected adjusted efficiency margins (Adj EM – the difference in average points scored per vs allowed per 100 possessions adjusted to their competition they played throughout season) coalesced from Ken Pomeroy’s pre-tourney statistics.

Year Lower Seed Higher Seed Score Seed Lower Seed AdjEM Higher Seed AdjEM AdjEM Diff
2016 Middle Tennessee Michigan State 90–81 15-2 3.90 29.58 -25.68
2016 Stephen F. Austin West Virginia 70–56 14-3 14.43 25.81 -11.38
2016 Hawaii California 77–66 13-4 11.73 19.63 -7.90
2016 Arkansas-Little Rock Purdue 85–83 (2 OT) 12-5 12.48 24.66 -12.18
2016 Yale Baylor 79–75 12-5 13.83 19.90 -6.07
2016 Northern Iowa Texas 75–72 11-6 10.11 17.08 -6.97
2016 Gonzaga Seton Hall 68–52 11-6 19.28 17.67 1.61
2016 Wichita State Arizona 65–55 11-6 21.17 21.85 -0.68
2015 Georgia State Baylor 57–56 14-3 9.89 23.44 -13.56
2015 UAB Iowa State 60–59 14-3 2.83 23.00 -20.17
2015 Dayton Providence 66–53 11-6 14.14 17.56 -3.43
2015 UCLA SMU 60–59 11-6 14.17 17.54 -3.37
2014 Mercer Duke 78–71 14-3 7.50 25.84 -18.34
2014 Stephen F. Austin VCU 77–75 (OT) 12-5 10.80 20.71 -9.91
2014 North Dakota State Oklahoma 80–75 (OT) 12-5 12.57 21.47 -8.89
2014 Harvard Cincinnati 61–57 12-5 17.30 19.07 -1.77
2014 Tennessee Massachusetts 86–67 11-6 21.71 14.14 7.57
2014 Dayton Ohio State 60–59 11-6 12.94 21.70 -8.76
2013 Florida Gulf Coast Georgetown 78–68 15-2 3.34 22.12 -18.78
2013 Harvard New Mexico 68–62 14-3 6.93 20.68 -13.76
2013 LaSalle Kansas State 63–61 13-4 13.24 18.22 -4.97
2013 Ole Miss Wisconsin 57–46 12-5 16.53 22.95 -6.42
2013 California UNLV 64–61 12-5 12.68 17.20 -4.53
2013 Oregon Oklahoma State 68–55 12-5 14.82 19.39 -4.56
2013 Minnesota UCLA 83–63 11-6 19.11 15.13 3.98
2012 Lehigh Duke 75–70 15-2 8.95 20.83 -11.88
2012 Norfolk State Missouri 86–84 15-2 -2.43 26.67 -29.10
2012 Ohio Michigan 65–60 13-4 10.77 18.07 -7.30
2012 South Florida Temple 58–44 12-5 11.47 15.52 -4.05
2012 VCU Wichita State 62–59 12-5 12.67 23.24 -10.57
2012 Colorado UNLV 68–64 11-6 8.26 16.05 -7.79
2012 North Carolina State San Diego State 79–65 11-6 13.11 12.45 0.65
2011 Morehead State Louisville 62–61 13-4 6.64 22.44 -15.80
2011 Richmond Vanderbilt 69–66 12-5 14.89 17.05 -2.16
2011 Marquette Xavier 66–55 11-6 17.66 16.23 1.43
2011 VCU Georgetown 74–56 11-6 8.63 18.59 -9.96
2011 Gonzaga St. John’s 86–71 11-6 16.15 16.44 -0.29
2010 Ohio Georgetown 97–83 14-3 7.17 23.67 -16.50
2010 Murray State Vanderbilt 66–65 13-4 14.11 17.19 -3.08
2010 Cornell Temple 78–65 12-5 13.27 20.50 -7.23
2010 Washington Marquette 80–78 11-6 17.46 20.11 -2.65
2010 Old Dominion Notre Dame 51–50 11-6 17.24 17.95 -0.71
2009 Cleveland State Wake Forest 84–69 13-4 11.40 19.94 -8.54
2009 Wisconsin Florida State 61–59 (OT) 12-5 17.58 15.54 2.04
2009 Arizona Utah 84–71 12-5 15.63 18.64 -3.01
2009 Western Kentucky Illinois 76–72 12-5 6.91 18.70 -11.79
2009 Dayton West Virginia 68–62 11-6 9.28 24.45 -15.17
2008 Siena Vanderbilt 83–62 13-4 6.67 13.17 -6.49
2008 San Diego Connecticut 70–69 (OT) 13-4 4.41 18.62 -14.22
2008 Villanova Clemson 75–69 12-5 12.62 21.93 -9.31
2008 Western Kentucky Drake 101–99 (OT) 12-5 13.88 21.69 -7.81
2008 Kansas State Southern California 80–67 11-6 18.51 19.48 -0.97
2007 Winthrop Notre Dame 76–64 11-6 14.26 20.30 -6.04
2007 VCU Duke 79–77 11-6 13.91 23.11 -9.20
2006 Northwestern State Iowa 64–63 14-3 7.04 18.91 -11.87
2006 Bradley Kansas 77–73 13-4 16.01 23.57 -7.56
2006 Montana Nevada 87–79 12-5 8.70 15.84 -7.13
2006 Texas A&M Syracuse 66–58 12-5 15.44 12.99 2.44
2006 Milwaukee Oklahoma 82–74 11-6 11.86 14.54 -2.68
2006 George Mason Michigan State 75–65 11-6 16.24 16.68 -0.44
2005 Bucknell Kansas 64–63 14-3 5.73 23.48 -17.76
2005 Vermont Syracuse 60–57 (OT) 13-4 13.39 20.83 -7.43
2005 Milwaukee Alabama 83–73 12-5 12.70 20.99 -8.29
2005 UAB Louisiana State 82–68 11-6 12.10 14.25 -2.15
2004 Manhattan Florida 75–60 12-5 11.42 20.01 -8.59
2004 Pacific Providence 66–58 12-5 8.61 18.32 -9.71
2003 Tulsa Dayton 84–71 13-4 11.17 15.59 -4.42
2003 Butler Mississippi State 47–46 12-5 15.04 22.06 -7.01
2003 Central Michigan Creighton 79–73 11-6 10.18 18.01 -7.84
2002 UNC-Wilmington Southern California 93–89 (OT) 13-4 10.76 20.98 -10.22
2002 Creighton Florida 83–82 (OT) 12-5 11.31 26.53 -15.22
2002 Tulsa Marquette 71–69 12-5 15.78 22.45 -6.67
2002 Missouri Miami (Florida) 93–80 12-5 14.51 15.95 -1.44
2002 Wyoming Gonzaga 73–68 11-6 11.43 19.83 -8.41
2002 Southern Illinois Texas Tech 76–68 11-6 12.69 17.50 -4.81

Some observations on the March Madness Upset:

As I mentioned before there are a number of 11-6 upsets with an Adj EM Diff either really small or in the favor of the lower seed.

Even large differences between talent can have upsets, we all remember Middle Tennessee destroying a lot of brackets last year by defeating Michigan St. in the opening round.  While many argue they should have been ranked higher than a 15 seed, they still overcame a huge efficiency discrepancy.

What was the biggest upset in March Madness history?   Some contenders from recent memory include the before mentioned Middle Tennessee over Michigan St, Lehigh upsetting Duke in 2012, Mercer upsetting Duke two years later, or going back a few years Dunk City Florida Gulf Coast upsetting Georgetown.  However strictly based on adjusted efficiency differential we can see the biggest upset was Norfolk State knocking off Missouri in 2012.

The average of the adjusted efficiency differential of the upset is -7.51.  Note this means nothing statistically, I was curious so I calculated it.

Anyways chew on that for a bit, we will try to dive in to some other factors that caused these upsets in upcoming posts.

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2 thoughts on “Anatomy of the March Madness Upset

  1. Pingback: Anatomy of the March Madness Upset Part 2 | Predict Basketball

  2. Pingback: Anatomy of the March Madness Upset – 2017 Picks | Predict Basketball

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