The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 16, 2021

2021 Bracketnomics Report

For many of you, this is the only time of the year you visit the PiRate Ratings, as March Madness is your real holiday season.  If this is your first visit here, please be advised that we actively participate in rating college and NFL football as well as college basketball.  And, if you are a fan of tabletop baseball games, our Sabertooth Baseball Game is available for the low price of $7 while it is still on sale, when it will go back to $8.  If you have the dice and the playing surface, we send you all the cards, charts, and rules in a zip file for you to print.  Serious gamers tell us that they think our game is one of the most advanced strategic baseball games on the market with unique playing styles.  If we piqued your interest, check us out at , or our blog at 

Now that we’ve heard from our sponsor, let’s get right to it.  First, what are Bracketnomics?  That’s our term we coined to describe how we use analytical data that has been backtested to try to determine which teams have the best set of statistical fingerprints when compared to national champions of the past.

The tutorial is quite easy to read, and if you haven’t read it, you can check it out here:

If you have already read this or just want to go straight to picking your bracket, then here’s what you have been waiting for.

First, let’s start with a few bracket-picking strategies. It is obvious that picking a perfect bracket is about as likely as winning the Powerball and Megamillion lotteries in the same week where lightning strikes your air conditioner compressor and you find a four-leaf clover when you go outside to see why your A/C isn’t working.

It is, however, possible to win whatever bracket-picking contest you enter. We here have received dozens of comments through the years from readers telling us they won their office pools, and we have also heard from people that won pools from supermarket contests, radio station contests, and even one from a woman that won $1,000 from a modified Calcutta contest.

There are a few general keys to scoring high enough to win your bracket pool. First, you need to start by picking your national champion, Final Four, and Elite 8 in that order. Do not start with the opening round and just predict the winners. You will likely eliminate yourself before the Sweet 16 by picking a bunch of upset winners and arrive at the Sweet 16 with less than a half-dozen teams still alive.

Next, once you have your Elite 8, go into each sub-bracket that those 8 teams emerged and pick the best team that would give the Elite 8 team a tough Sweet 16 game. Now, you have your Sweet 16.

At this point, you need to pick most of the rest of the games by “the chalk.” Obviously, your Sweet 16 will have to win in the Rounds of 64 and 32. You can then maybe pick a couple upset winners in the first round and maybe one or two of your Sweet 16 teams will be a dark horse. However, as we see it, the teams considered dark horses really looked like the favorites in our method of picking games. In the past, we were all in on a George Mason team that ambushed the field to the Final Four. We said that Virginia Commonwealth was better than 20 seeds and did not deserve to be in the First Four, and the Rams went to the Final Four. We had Wichita State as a Final Four possible the year they went to the Final Four. And, we showed that Butler had a lot of the needed criteria to get deep into their tournaments. It isn’t fail-safe; we did not see Loyola making the Final Four, and we twice struck out with Connecticut teams that won their championships.

Our criteria relies on the percentages and uses past events to predict future possibilities. Math is not perfect in this respect. Think of it this way: Would you rather have Ty Cobb at bat with runners on second and third base and two outs in the last of the ninth, trailing by one run, or would you rather have Mario Mendoza at bat? The odds greatly favor the best hitter of all time, but there are some instances where Cobb might make an out on a hard line drive, while Mendoza delivers the game-winning hit on a bloop pop fly that finds grass between the infielder and outfielder. We’ll still go with Cobb, and that’s what our Bracketnomics attempt to be–the Ty Cobb of bracket-picking.

A lot of gurus will tell you how the #12 seed is the best upset spot, and they point to how many times the #12 seed has upset the #5 seed. Why does this happen? It is because the #12 seeds are often the best automatic qualifiers from mid-major conferences, and the Selection Committee did a poor job placing these teams this low. It is not a jinx, so don’t automatically advance a 12-seed unless you can see they were placed in the wrong seed line.

The same thing can be said about the 11-seeds. In recent years, the Committee was a little more accurate placing powerful mid-major champions one seed higher than past years. A lot of these former superior 12-seeds are now superior 11-seeds. And, instead of playing 5-seeds, they are playing weaker 6-seeds. The plan stays the same–look at the criteria and let the criteria show you when the lower seeds are superior and actually the better team, meaning it won’t really be an upset at all.

The Best Criteria

As we looked at all the data, three teams emerged from the pack of 68 that have national championship looking criteria stats.  However, one of the teams is missing a key ingredient and will have to be discounted some for the loss of a key player.e

The overall best resumes belong to two #1 seeds, Gonzaga and Illinois.  The third team that has the look of a national champion is Michigan, but the Wolverines fall out of this category if Isaiah Livers cannot return by the Sweet 16 and play at somewhat close to 100% efficiency.

There is another group of teams that fall just short of national champion appearance.  These teams are below the championship line in one basic criterion or multiple smaller criteria.  These teams in alphabetical order are: Colorado, Houston, Texas, and Virginia.  We expect that maybe one of these four will sneak into the Final Four.

The next group back, the teams that are just behind the above group and have solid Sweet 16 appearance criteria with possible Elite 8 criteria are: Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor, Saint Bonaventure, San Diego St., USC, and Wisconsin.  We expect at least one of these six to make the Elite 8.

Then, there is a group of teams with considerable positive criteria along with a major negative criterion. These teams are also Sweet 16 worthy, and two could advance to the Elite 8 with one even sneaking into the Final Four. These teams may benefit from ideal brackets more than criteria, as you read the previews.

This year’s criteria was hard to calculate because of the lack of non-conference games.  Schedule strength had to be stressed even more than usual, or else we would have Colgate picked to go to the Final 4.  The Raiders are 14-1, and all of their games were against fellow Patriot League members; additionally, Colgate never played the other quality team in the league in Navy.

There was a slight issue with Gonzaga’s strength of schedule.  The Bulldogs’ total SOS was brought down due to the bottom teams in their conference.  However, they have wins over Iowa and West Virginia out of conference, and that allows us to accept Gonzaga’s schedule strength as the minimum needed to be considered for the national championship, and adequate for the Final Four.  They were supposed to play Baylor, but the Bears opted out of that game due to the virus.

Now, we will review each of the Round of 64 games using our criteria to pick the winner.  Note that we will have regular PiRate Rating spreads for these games on the day of the games.  Our PiRate Ratings are not used when picking winners in Bracketnomics.

First Four

If you are picking brackets, you can usually wait until these games have been played before picking your brackets.  The 16-seed winners will not really matter, as none of them stand a chance to knock off a 1-seed this year.  The 11-seed games will be important, so if you can, wait until those games have been played before submitting your brackets wherever you do.

16 Texas Southern vs. 16 Mount St. Mary’s: Mount St. Mary’s defense will keep Texas Southern from getting a lot of good looks, and the Mount doesn’t foul a lot, so TSU will have a hard time scoring.  MSM’s R+T is a tad better too.

Prediction: Mount St. Mary’s

11 Drake vs. 11 Wichita St.: This should be a close game, as both teams have strengths that can be used to exploit the other team’s weaknesses.  Drake is clearly the better offensive team, while Wichita State has a smaller advantage on defense but considerable advantage on schedule strength.  Drake’s R+T rating is quite better, good enough that they might enjoy the game-clinching spurt in this one.

Prediction: Drake

16 Appalachian St. vs. 16 Norfolk St.: These are two teams that will be fighting tooth and nail for their chance to shine for one night, and this looks like a close one.  To select a winner here, we basically have to go with the team with fewer negatives.  Both are ripe with negatives, but in the end, Norfolk St. has the capability of speeding up the tempo and getting Appy State players in foul trouble.

Prediction: Norfolk St.

11 Michigan St. vs. 11 UCLA:  This is a Michigan State squad lacking its typical inside dominance, while UCLA has very little inside game.  So, it’s more likely that this game will be decided on the perimeter.  UCLA is clearly superior from behind the arc, and Michigan State’s biggest issue this year has been with perimeter players that can take the three or drive quickly to the key.

Prediction: UCLA


1 Baylor vs. 16 Hartford: There’s nothing at all that shows us that Hartford has a chance in this game.  Baylor is superior across the board, so forget this being a UMBC-Virginia moment.  Baylor should lead by more than 30 when Scott Drew removes his starters.

Prediction: Baylor

8 North Carolina vs. 9 Wisconsin: Normally, we would find some fact or statistic to show the Tar Heels being superior to an opening round opponent, but this time, we cannot rationalize doing so.  Both teams are about equal defensively in preventing good shots by their opponents.  Wisconsin is clearly more efficient on offense.  Wisconsin is one of the most experienced teams in the field with six seniors among their top eight players, while UNC is one of the greenest with just one senior and one junior among their top eight.  Carolina has the power advantage in this game, but the Badgers will limit possessions, and they have the outside shooting advantage.  Carolina’s only hope is to get the pace up to more than 70 possessions per side, but we think the veteran Badger team will control the pace and have the advantage.

Prediction: Wisconsin

5 Villanova vs. 12 Winthrop: This is one of those momentum games by a lot of pundits.  They believe that with Villanova’s multiple injuries, this will be another #12 seed upset.  Are they correct?  Let’s take a look.

First, we have to discount Villanova due to their missing senior guard Collin Gillespie.  Additionally, guard Justin Moore will still be somewhat below par due to his severe ankle sprain.  Add to that fact that Winthrop has one of the most unique point forwards in the nation in Chandler Vaudrin.  Now, let’s look at the data.  Villanova enjoys an enormous inside advantage in this game, and their schedule strength is in a different time zone compared to Winthrop’s.  Wins over Southern Conference contenders UNC-Greensboro and Furman were nice, but they were 0-0 against power conference teams.  We expect VU’s two inside forces to get their share of points and force Winthrop to bring an extra defender into the paint, where ‘Nova’s third and fourth options on the perimeter should be good enough to knock down a few.

Prediction: Villanova

4 Purdue vs. 13 North Texas: This game could be close, for a half.  North Texas has the ability to stay within single digits for most of the day, but in the end, Purdue has a wide advantage in both schedule strength and R+T.  That almost always leads to a team going on a big run to put a game away.

Prediction: Purdue

6 Texas Tech vs. 11 Utah St.: Texas Tech is noted for their tough defense, but guess what?  Utah State’s defense is even better this year.  Utah State also has a supreme inside game and isn’t too shabby on the perimeter.  Texas Tech has issues scoring on offense, and we expect the Red Raiders will have foul trouble inside the paint.  Here is our first lower seed upset pick.

Prediction: Utah St.

3 Arkansas vs. 14 Colgate:  Here is where schedule strength is as important as class is in handicap horse races.  Arkansas is a Grade I champion, while Colgate is still eligible for non-winner’s of two allowance races.  The schedule strength favors Arkansas by more than a dozen points before looking at any other stats.  Arkansas’s offense is not superior, but it is very good.  Their defense is close to superior.  Colgate’s offense is good, but in the end, their defense isn’t going to slow down the Razorbacks enough times to keep this game close.  There are no criteria that show us that Colgate has a chance to find something to exploit in this game.  Add to the load our personal belief that Eric Musselman is one of the A++ basketball coaches, and this looks like a double-digit win.

Prediction: Arkansas

7 Florida vs. 10 Virginia Tech:  This game looks more like an 8-9 game than a 7-10 game, because it is close to dead even when looking at all the criteria.  Florida has a slight advantage with offensive and defensive efficiency and schedule strength, but VT rates better in R+T, which can override small schedule strength advantages.  Additionally, both schools have swooned in recent weeks, so what we are looking at here is who will be fodder in the next round?  We honestly say to pick the team you like in this one, because it is a 50-50 matchup.  When it’s 50-50, we look at the coaches.  Michael White has an Elite 8 appearance at Florida.  Mike Young had an incredible Wofford team in the Dance that beat Seton Hall and took Kentucky to the buzzer in the Round of 32.  

Prediction: Virginia Tech

2 Ohio St. vs. 15 Oral Roberts: Oral Roberts is the only one of the 68 teams in this field with a negative R+T rating.  Our prime rule is to immediately eliminate any NCAA Tournament team with a negative R+T rating.  There are no exceptions to this rule, so even if ORU was playing one of the 16-seeds in this round, we would be selecting the opponent.  As Royal Rooter King Michael McGreevy would have replied, “‘Nuf ced.”

Prediction: Ohio St. has the potential to win by 35 points.


1 Illinois vs. 16 Drexel: You know the answer here, so let’s break down the Illini a little to show you why they have the criteria of a national champion.

National champions come from power conferences–ACC, Big 12, SEC, Big East, Pac-12, and Big Ten.  The last team not in one of these leagues to win the title was UNLV in 1990.

National champions tend to have double digit scoring margins.  Since 1990, 28 of 30 national champions had double-digit scoring margins.  The other two times, it was Connecticut both years.  Illinois’s scoring margin is 12.2 in a year where the Big Ten was the top-ranked overall league.

National champions tend to have offenses ranked in the top 10 in efficiency and defenses ranked in the top 20 in efficiency.  Illinois is 7th offensively and 5th defensively.

National champions tend to have four or more upperclassmen on their top eight.  Illinois has two seniors and three juniors in their top eight.

Add to this a team with a +37% 3-point accuracy; two inside players that combine for more than 20 points and 12 rebounds per game; an offense that forces defenses to foul too much; a defense that does not foul too much; a top-10 schedule strength, and one of the few 20+ R+T Ratings in this tournament.  

10 out of the last 13 years, a #1 seed won the national title, and Illinois is a #1 seed playing just one state away from home.  Other than having a coach that has not been past the Round of 32, and a slightly under the championship norm offensive rebounding rate, this team looks like past national champions.

Prediction: Illinois by whatever spread they want to name.

8 Loyola (Chi.) vs. 9 Georgia Tech: Oh, this one should be a grand one to watch!  Not only is it an evenly-matched game, it is evenly matched with both teams having decided advantages over the other in various criteria.  That usually leads to an exciting 40 minutes with lots of plot twists.  In other words, plan on watching this game.  Let’s break this one down.  Georgia Tech has the definite offensive efficiency advantage, but Loyola has the number one defensive efficiency in the entire nation!  Loyola is one of a very few teams to have a double-digit true shooting percentage margin.  The Rambler TS% is 59.8% and they allow 48.7%.  

Georgia Tech has three players that can put away an opponent, while Loyola is more of a team approach type of winner.  In the clutch, go with a team with three potential dagger-makers.  Georgia Tech has a slightly stronger schedule, but Loyola has superior R+T numbers, and for that reason, the scales slightly tip past balanced.

Prediction: Loyola (Chi.)

5 Tennessee vs. 12 Oregon St.: We expect the winner of this game to have a tough time advancing to the Sweet 16 for multiple reasons.  Tennessee is one of the most Jekyll and Hyde teams in the field, if not the most.  An excellent defensive effort will give the Vols a big win, and then an egg-laying offensive effort will get them beat the next game.  The problem is that the players seem to lack direction against changing defenses.

Oregon St. was a model of excellent consistency for 120 minutes at the Pac-12 Tournament, holding the pace to less than 65 possessions per game, and winning by making very few mistakes.  By mistakes, we don’t refer to turnovers, but more to smart shot selection and excellent team defense.  That team defense thing is kryptonite to Tennessee.

The question is which Vols team shows up?  Will it be the team that disposed of Kansas like they were a division 2 team, or will it be the team that acted like it didn’t know the object of the game in the second half of the SEC Tournament semifinals?  We’ll say that for one game, UT will play up to their potential.

Prediction: Tennessee

4 Oklahoma St. vs. 13 Liberty: Liberty was a real victim of Covid-19 in 2020.  The Flames were good enough to make the Sweet 16 last year.  This year’s team is not on that same level of competence.  The biggest factor in this game is the humongous schedule strength advantage the Cowboys have.  On that alone, OSU is 18 points better before the opening tip.  They also have the top clutch player in the Dance in Cade Cunningham, who is better than Kemba Walker, who took Connecticut to the national title when the Huskies did not have national title criteria.

Prediction: Oklahoma St.

6 San Diego St. vs. 11 Syracuse: Syracuse has been in this situation before where they were on the Bubble getting into the field and then won a game or two.  They made the Final Four as a 10-seed.  Their matchup zone defense can be trouble for teams that have not seen it live, and most teams that play the ‘Cuse in the Rounds of 64 and 32 have not seen another team use it.  That can make a difference in closely-matched teams.

San Diego State’s man-to-man defense is not something Syracuse has seen either.  It is nothing like Virginia’s or other ACC defenses.  In a normal year, Duke’s defense might look something like that, but the Orangemen will be just as unsure attacking the Aztecs as SDSU is attacking the zone.  Syracuse has a stronger schedule strength, but not that much stronger, while SDSU has the better R+T Rating, enough to make the difference.

Prediction: San Diego St.

3 West Virginia vs. 14 Morehead St.: In recent years, Belmont and Murray St. have pulled off big upsets from the Ohio Valley Conference.  Ten years ago, this team knocked off Louisville in the opening round.  Can lightning strike twice?  About as often as it does, so don’t expect the Eagles to soar over the Mountaineers.  The schedule strength advantage is considerable at 13+ points.  The inside advantage will be almost as strong, and WVU will get many extra opportunities to score in this game.  Unless Morehead shoots lights out from three, this will be a mismatch.

Prediction: West Virginia

7 Clemson vs. 10 Rutgers:   These are very similar teams when looking at their criteria.  There isn’t much to separate them.  Rutgers has a slightly better offensive efficiency rating.  They are basically equal defensively.  Clemson has the better frontcourt and more likely to get more first chance points in the paint.  Neither team is adequate enough to get to the Sweet 16 with their R+T Ratings.  In the end, we go with the better offense in this one.

Prediction: Rutgers

2 Houston vs. 15 Cleveland St.: This is the best Houston team since Phi Slama Jama made it to consecutive national title games in 1983 and 1984.  Two years ago, a #3-seed Houston team easily advanced to the Sweet 16 and then took Kentucky to the final horn.  This team is a tad better overall, but more importantly, this regional is lacking in teams that excel where Houston is vulnerable.  Houston could win this game by 30-35 points, but Kelvin Sampson will probably empty his bench earlier than normal, allowing Cleveland State to make the final score look less embarrassing.  Only if CSU can get three or four Cougar players in early foul trouble can they keep this one close.

Prediction: Houston

West Regional

1 Gonzaga vs. 16 Norfolk St.: Rather than show you how Gonzaga could win this game by 40 or more, let’s show you their criteria so you can compare it to Illinois.  

A.  National champions come from power conferences–ACC, Big 12, SEC, Big East, Pac-12, and Big Ten.  The last team not in one of these leagues to win the title was UNLV in 1990.  Gonzaga would have to break a 31-year trend.

B.  National champions tend to have double digit scoring margins.  Since 1990, 28 of 30 national champions had double-digit scoring margins.  The other two times, it was Connecticut both years.  Gonzaga’s scoring margin is 23.0, which is far and away the best in the nation.  UNLV’s was 15 when they won the 1990 title.

C.  National champions tend to have offenses ranked in the top 10 in efficiency and defenses ranked in the top 20 in efficiency.  Gonzaga is number one on offense and number 10 on defense, a definite look of a national champion.

D.  National champions tend to have four or more upperclassmen on their top eight.  Gonzaga has two seniors and two juniors in their top eight.

E.  Gonzaga’s 3-point percentage is 36.5%, which is a fraction under the 37% floor most champions have had.  They have three players that can be counted on to win a game on the final possession.  They have two inside stars that can dominate a game in the paint.  While the Bulldogs’ schedule is a tad weaker than a typical national champion schedule, they did beat Iowa and West Virginia on the road, and a cancelled game against Baylor would have given them a championship worthy schedule.

Prediction: Gonzaga by a very large margin

8 Oklahoma vs. 9 Missouri: These former Big 8/Big 12 rivals used to have some great conference games, and this one should be a lot like those great ones from the past.  Oklahoma has the better offensive efficiency, while defensive efficiency is about equal.  Missouri has the advantage inside and a slightly better strength of schedule.  There isn’t much difference when looking at the rest, but Missouri is one of the few teams that has a +37% free throw rate; however, their defensive FT rate is too high.

Prediction: Oklahoma

5 Creighton vs. 12 UCSB: On the surface, this looks like a potential double-digit win for the higher seed, even when considering the high number of 12-seed upsets in the past.  Crieghton’s offensive efficiency rating is high enough to consider the Blue Jays an Elite 8 contender, and their defensive efficiency rating is strong enough to move Creighton into the next round.  However, there has been an issue with the head coach, and Creighton did not look like the same team after the dissension between players and coach came to a head.  

UCSB is not an easy mark.  The Gauchos have an inside presence typical of a first round winner.  They are a senior-laden squad, and their R+T rating is almost 20, which is another sign of a potential upset winner in the Round of 64.  When a team has a huge R+T rating advantage over their opponent, the next thing to compare are the two schedule strengths.  In this case, Creighton has a modestly better SOS, not enough to overcome a large R+T disadvantage. Remember that UC-Irvine from the same Big West Conference beat a 4-seed in the 2019 Dance.

Prediction: UCSB gets the upset

4 Virginia vs. 13 Ohio U: Ohio has a top 40 offense, but their defense is too weak to stop an ACC team like Virginia.  This will be more of a half-court game, where the fast break is an afterthought.  Virginia will win more than half of the possessions, probably something like 55% of them, and in a 62 possession game for both teams, that comes out to 68 possessions for the Cavs and 56 possessions for the Bobcats.  A 12-possession win with about 1.1 points per possession means a 13-point win.

Prediction: Virginia

6 USC vs. 11 Drake: This game could be a faster-paced replica of the UVa-Ohio game.  USC and Drake both have very strong offensive efficiency ratings, but Drake’s defensive efficiency is below the threshold of a winning tournament team.  USC will dominate inside in this game, and Drake will have to hit close to half their three-point shots to keep this one close.  USC has one of the highest foul-drawing offenses, and the Trojans should get a lot of “and 1’s” in this game.

Prediction: USC

3 Kansas vs, 14 Eastern Washington: This Kansas team does not have the overall offense to advance to the Final Four, and they may struggle making the Sweet 16.  KU’s offensive efficiency is vulnerable against a quality defensive team.  Eastern Washington is not that team with a porous defense compared to this field.  Superior schedule strength and a somewhat better R+T makes this game a solid one in the Big 12 team’s favor.

Prediction: Kansas

7 Oregon vs. 10 VCU: This should be an interesting game.  Oregon’s exceptional offensive efficiency faces VCU’s exceptional defensive efficiency.  The schedule strength is dead even, so we look at the R+T ratings, and it favors the Ducks by one scoring spurt.

Prediction: Oregon

2 Iowa vs. 15 Grand Canyon: Iowa is oh so close to having Final Four criteria.  Their offense trails only Gonzaga, but their defensive efficiency is #50, just outside the threshold for national champion qualification.  Grand Canyon actually holds a substantial R+T Rating advantage, so we must look at the schedule strength to see if it can be sustained.  It cannot in this case, as Iowa’s schedule is almost 15 points stronger per game.

Prediction: Iowa


1 Michigan vs. 16 Mount St. Mary’s:  Even at less than full strength, Michigan is much too strong for a Northeast Conference opponent.  The Wolverines’ have top 10 offense and defense efficiency ratings, while the Mount has the lowest offensive efficiency in the tournament.  Their defensive efficiency is the ninth lowest in the field.  If the Wolverines can get through this first weekend, there is a chance that Isaiah Livers can return and contribute.

Prediction: Michigan

8 LSU vs. 9 Saint Bonaventure:  LSU has a top five offensive efficiency rating, but their defense is below par for any more than a win or two at best.  St. Bonaventure could be a surprise winner, and they could give Michigan a run for their money in a Round of 32 game if they can get past LSU.

This game should stay close like an 8-9 game should, and it is almost a 50-50 guess when applying our criteria.  LSU’s schedule strength is slightly stronger, but The Bonnies have a clear R+T advantage.

Prediction: Saint Bonaventure

5 Colorado vs. 12 Georgetown: It was the worst of times early in the year at 5-10 and the best of times late in the year at 8-2 for the Georgetown Hoyas.  If GU is going to continue to play like they did in the latter part of the schedule, their overall criteria must be looked at in a different light.  The trouble here for Patrick Ewing is the opponent in this game.  Colorado is very close to being considered an Elite 8 dark horse.  The Buffs have an offensive efficiency rating in the top 20, and their defensive efficiency rating is in the top 30.  CU also has the R+T Ratings advantage.

Prediction: Colorado

4 Florida St. vs. 13 UNC-Greensboro: Florida State is another team just shy of the typical criteria of a Final Four team.  The Seminoles are a worthy Sweet 16 team with an offensive efficiency rating in the top 10.  Their defensive efficiency rating is in the top 50, which is just outside of Final 4 worthy. The Seminoles could beat a Michigan team without Livers.

UNCG would be totally outmanned in this game if it wasn’t for a very good R+T rating, and even though FSU’s schedule strength is better, it is not enough to make this game a slam dunk runaway win.  UNCG could keep this close for more minutes than the Seminoles like.

Prediction: Florida St.

6 BYU vs. 11 UCLA: A lot of national talk show hosts and guests believe BYU was given a higher seed than they deserved.  Some people believe that they should have been a 9, 10, or even an 11 seed.  We don’t share that opinion.  BYU actually has the stronger schedule strength, as they have played the number one team three times and won at Utah State and San Diego State.  BYU has the better R+T Rating in this game as well, and the Cougars are substantially better defensively than the Bruins.

Prediction: BYU

3 Texas vs. 14 Abilene Christian: Abilene Christian will be playing for more than a spot in the Round of 32.  Beating Texas would be as special as Texas making the Final Four.  However, this Longhorns squad is tough, tough enough to become Shaka Smart’s second Final Four team, even though it would require one big upset and maybe one minor upset.

Texas has an offensive efficiency rating just outside the top 20 and a defensive efficiency rating in the 30’s.  With a schedule strength that is 16 points stronger than ACU’s, the slight R+T Rating advantage of the Wildcats is nullified.

Prediction: Texas

7 Connecticut vs. 10 Maryland: As hot as Georgetown was at the end of the season, they did lose twice to Connecticut.  The Huskies are another team with efficiency ratings and schedule strength strong enough to be considered a dark horse for advancing to the Sweet 16 and possibly the Elite 8.

Maryland will not be an automatic win for UConn.  In fact, this game is barely past toss-up.  UConn’s offensive efficiency is 24 and their defensive efficiency is 25, but Maryland’s offensive efficiency is just a little lower at 42 with a defensive efficiency almost exactly the same as the Huskies.  Connecticut’s biggest advantage in this game is the R+T Rating, which is slightly offset by Maryland’s somewhat stronger schedule strength.

Prediction: Connecticut

2 Alabama vs. 15 Iona: Can Rick Pitino work his magic and pull of a major upset?  Don’t bet on it.  His Iona Gaels have the sixth weakest offensive efficiency rating and eighth weakest defensive efficiency rating in the tournament.  Meanwhile, Alabama has more than enough superior criteria numbers to win this game with ease, even if their three-point shots don’t fall.  Iona will have a tough time scoring points in this game.

Prediction: Alabama

Those are our Round of 64 picks.  Now, we will finish it up by picking the rest of the bracket using Bracketnomics.

Round of 32

Baylor over Wisconsin

Purdue over Villanova

Arkansas over Utah St.

Ohio St. over Virginia Tech

Illinois over Loyola (Chi.)

Oklahoma St. over Tennessee

West Virginia over San Diego St.

Houston over Rutgers

Gonzaga over Oklahoma

Virginia over UCSB

USC over Kansas

Iowa over Oregon

Michigan over Saint Bonaventure

Florida St. over Colorado

Texas over BYU

Alabama over Connecticut

Sweet 16

Baylor over Purdue

Ohio St. over Arkansas

Illinois over Oklahoma St.

Houston over West Virginia

Gonzaga over Virginia

Iowa over USC

Michigan over Florida St. (if Livers returns)

Texas over Alabama

Elite 8

Ohio St. over Baylor

Illinois over Houston

Gonzaga over Iowa

Texas over Michigan

National Semifinals

Illinois over Ohio St.

Gonzaga over Texas

National Championship

Illinois over Gonzaga *

Note: If Gonzaga defeats Oklahoma, Virginia, and Iowa to get to the Final 4, their Strength of Schedule will then be above the minimum threshold needed to win all the marbles.

Here is a look at each team’s criteria. Maybe you can see something we didn’t see!

Criteria A: The Biggies

TeamO-EffD-EffSOSR + T
Abilene Christian1573044.115.8
Appalachian St.22720547.75.2
Cleveland St.19912148.93.7
E. Washington8615247.95.0
Florida St.104859.011.3
Georgia Tech275258.82.8
Grand Canyon1427446.921.2
Loyola (Chi)49153.016.2
Michigan St.983261.35.9
Morehead St.2147248.77.5
Mount St. Mary’s28713646.214.8
Norfolk St.20421943.48.0
North Carolina531560.421.5
North Texas1194253.89.2
Ohio St.47958.48.7
Ohio U2917457.58.4
Oklahoma St.542262.06.1
Oral Roberts7428548.5-2.3
Oregon St.6511757.96.0
San Diego St.441155.917.3
St. Bonaventure381756.814.1
Texas Southern23623643.313.9
Texas Tech332459.713.2
Utah St.112854.623.7
Virginia Tech555456.58.8
West Virginia116562.111.4
Wichita St.5610356.62.3


O-Eff: Offensive efficiency ranking. Almost all national champions were top 20 and most top 10

D-Eff: Defensive efficiency ranking. Almost all national champions were top 20 and all top 50

SOS: The PiRate Ratings Strength of Schedule. All past national champions were higher than 56.0, and most were 60.0 and higher. Usually, one Final Four team has an SOS between 50 and 56.

R+T Rating: The PiRate Ratings estimate of “spurtability.” The higher the number, the more likely a team will enjoy the better scoring spurt. However, this rating goes hand-in-hand with SOS, so it must be handicapped on a per game basis while comparing schedule strengths. All national champions have had R+T ratings above 12.0, and most were over 15.0. A team with an R+T rating above 15.0 and SOS above 60.0 is tournament tough. If in turn, this team has a top 10 O-Eff and top 20 D-Eff, they are going to advance very far into the Dance. Teams with R+T ratings under 5.00 are in trouble after the first round.

Criteria B

TeamSeniors 8Juniors 81/3 Clutch?37+ 3ptF/C 12+ ppg2 F/C 20/12?
Abilene Christian23035.3YesNo
Appalachian St.22331.7NoNo
Cleveland St.33131.9NoNo
E. Washington23135.4YesYes
Florida St.24139.0YesYes
Georgia Tech42334.9YesNo
Grand Canyon50033.2YesYes
Loyola (Chi)50No36.8YesNo
Michigan St.13032.0YesNo
Morehead St.14No35.1YesYes
Mount St. Mary’s15133.7NoNo
Norfolk St.41136.8NoNo
North Carolina11No31.7YesYes
North Texas32137.6NoYes
Ohio St.24136.5YesYes
Ohio U13334.4YesYes
Oklahoma St.11133.8NoNo
Oral Roberts22139.0YesYes
Oregon St.32133.0NoNo
San Diego St.52139.5YesNo
St. Bonaventure07037.5NoNo
Texas Southern35129.6NoYes
Texas Tech13134.6NoNo
Utah St.14133.6YesYes
Virginia Tech21134.5YesYes
West Virginia14138.7YesYes
Wichita St.23134.9NoNo


Seniors 8 & Juniors 8: These are the numbers of seniors and juniors in each teams’ top 8 players. Typically, the more experienced teams have the maturity to win close games in high leverage situations. Many times, these players have “been there” before. The best example of this is Georgetown’s Fred Brown. As a sophomore in the 1982 National Championship Game against North Carolina, the last possession of the game was too high leverage for an underclassman to handle. He made a serous unforced gaffe, and Carolina won. Two years later, the senior Brown was like a coach on the floor, as he helped the Hoyas win their lone national championship.

1/3 Clutch?: Successful tournament teams need an anchor that can pick up the tough points at crunch time or steal a pass on defense and key a spurt. If there isn’t one star, a team can get by with a trio of semi-clutch players. Either one is fine, so you want to see a “1” or “3” here and not a “0.” A team with a “0” doesn’t mean that they don’t have a player that can hit the last-second winning shot. Think of two pinch-hitters in baseball. Our clutch player is the PH that hits .300, and not .250 like the “0” clutch team PH.

37+ 3pt: In recent years with Four Factors’ data driving the way teams play, 3-point percentages have mattered more and more. It’s not the number of treys knocked down that matter; it’s the percentage that counts. If a team hits 37% or better from behind the arc, it forces defenses to stop them, and it opens up the middle. A 40% 3-point shooter is as effective as a 60% 2-point shooter.

F/C 12+ ppg / 2 F/C 20/12?: This can be an either or thing but if both criteria are met, it strengthens the deal. National championship and Final 4 teams can be perimeter-oriented, but they still need to have at least one inside player that scored 12 or more points per game, or two frontcourt players that combine for 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. The deeper the tournament progresses, the better the team defenses get. Teams that live by the jump shot and have no inside options tend to die by the jump shot before the Final 4. Teams that are dominant in the paint tend to be more consistent.

Criteria C

TeamTS MargDbl Fig#OReb%-45% vs. 2ptFT Rate 37DFT Rat <31
Abilene Christian55.2-49.5331.745.035.039.4
Appalachian St.52.5-50.9429.948.134.324.3
Cleveland St.53.3-53.0330.950.832.037.1
E. Washington57.4-50.2523.447.230.327.3
Florida St.57.5-51.1335.544.232.736.3
Georgia Tech56.6-54.9424.750.829.028.9
Grand Canyon57.4-47.4332.
Loyola (Chi)59.8-48.7125.344.731.421.7
Michigan St.51.5-52.0130.448.231.437.1
Morehead St.55.1-49.2324.447.336.023.1
Mount St. Mary’s51.5-49.4231.645.629.724.6
Norfolk St.53.9-51.4228.947.438.540.7
North Carolina51.6-51.4341.246.834.827.1
North Texas57.2-50.3428.345.327.431.4
Ohio St.57.3-52.4329.150.535.034.0
Ohio U58.1-54.7528.851.229.830.2
Oklahoma St.55.5-50.6231.946.736.330.5
Oral Roberts58.2-52.1223.847.227.332.3
Oregon St.53.9-53.8230.151.934.037.7
San Diego St.56.2-50.2229.043.734.531.9
St. Bonaventure53.6-48.2533.645.127.928.3
Texas Southern52.6-49.5332.745.338.332.9
Texas Tech53.7-51.3333.644.839.236.5
Utah St.53.3-49.2335.742.930.125.7
Virginia Tech55.3-51.6228.447.633.230.9
West Virginia53.0-53.0435.551.328.319.8
Wichita St.51.4-49.0230.647.136.528.4


TS Marg.: True shooting % margin. The numbers shown are the offensive TS% followed by the defensive TS%. This is a secondary criterion already factored in the efficiency numbers but can be used to look at when efficiency numbers are close to even. A good margin is 6% or more.

Dbl Fig #: The number of players averaging double figure scoring. If a team has four players that score 10-20 points per game, it is seldom that all four can be shut down in a game. If they have three players, they are still okay. Two or less usually indicates a bit of trouble to get to the Final 4.

-45% vs. 2: This criterion looks for teams that hold opponents under 45% on 2-point shots. While 3-point percentage is a key offensive stat, stopping two-point shots is the defensive key. Most national champions met this criterion, and almost every Final 4 team that did not meet this criterion lost if their opponent did meet it. It is still important in earlier rounds.

FT Rate 37 & DFT Rat <31: Making a lot of free throws is nice and can secure a small lead late in a game. However, there are two much more important foul stats. A team that gets to the foul line a lot prior to the final two minutes of games gets there because they have a superior offense that is hard to defend and thus is fouled more than average. Additionally, more fouls lead to foul trouble and automatic bench time for key players. Likewise, a team with a low defensive FT rate is a sign of a strong team defense. FT Rate 37 means a team with an offensive FT Rate (FTA/FGA) of 37.0 or better, while DFT Rat <31 means a team with a defensive FT rate under 31.0.

There is a caveat here: As the game becomes more and more of a three-point shooting game, fouling drops. That happened this year, as total fouls called has dropped. For this season, look at teams with 33.3% or better FT Rates and 28% or lower defensive FT Rates.

Criteria D

TeamChampionsCoach Exp.Score MargFG% DiffWin Strk
Abilene ChristianYes6417.16.08
Appalachian St.Yes996.4-0.64
Cleveland St.Yes990.92.99
E. WashingtonYes998.65.39
Florida St.No88.67.65
Georgia TechYes325.51.58
Grand CanyonYes6414.511.59
Loyola (Chi)Yes416.09.811
Michigan St.No1-1.6-0.16
Morehead St.Yes995.45.712
Mount St. Mary’sYes991.42.14
Norfolk St.Yes996.03.26
North CarolinaNo16.32.03
North TexasYes998.66.64
Ohio St.No166.33.67
Ohio UYes997.64.56
Oklahoma St.No994.25.56
Oral RobertsYes996.02.24
Oregon St.Yes642.4-0.43
San Diego St.Yes6413.56.814
St. BonaventureYes6410.16.17
Texas SouthernYes645.15.29
Texas TechNo29.63.34
Utah St.No6411.05.711
Virginia TechNo326.63.34
West VirginiaNo45.2-1.44
Wichita St.Yes995.00.58


Champions: This refers to a team that won either their regular season conference championship or their postseason conference tournament. Since 1990, 29 of 30 national champions met this criterion.

Coach Exp.: How far has the head coach advanced in the past? When looking at fairly evenly matched teams, a coach with more Dance experience can be the difference. A first-timer may make that crucial mistake that allows the opponent to have that brief scoring run.

Score Marg.: Something like 95% of all national champions had double digit scoring margins. This goes back to the very beginning of the tournament in the 1930s. 98% had scoring margins in excess of 7.5 points per game. Teams with scoring margins in excess of 15 points that come from a power conference are 100% legit powers, so keep that in mind. Mid-majors with 15+ point scoring margins have to be carefully scrutinized. If their power conference opponent played other mid-majors and did not win by an average as high as the Mid-major in the tournament, that means something.

FG% Diff: In the eight-decade history of the tournament, more Final 4 teams had FG% differences in excess of 7.5% than not and a great number had double-digit margins. If a team shot 48% from the field and gave up 38% from the field and played in a power conference, they are truly tough. A team with a double digit FG% difference that played a tough schedule can overcome a lower than average R+T rating, but usually they will run into a team with a superior R+T rating also with a tough SOS, and that’s the end for the lower R+T team.

Win Strk: Should we expect a team to win six straight tournament games if they did not win six straight regular season games? Most of the past champions actually had 10 or more game winning streaks or multiple streaks of 6 or more. Above, where you see numbers in bold, the teams had a second winning streak of 6 or more games in addition to the number shown.

March 1, 2021

PiRate Ratings Conference Tournament Preview

Some conference tournaments are already in progress, but no multi-bid conference tournaments have tipped off yet.  In the past, we tried to show you where to watch the conference tournaments, but it is quite easy to find that information on the Internet.  Starting this season, we will tell you the things you won’t easily find until the tournaments actually commence.  This year, not all conferences are holding their usual formats.  Some leagues are going with fewer teams and fewer days.  

We will tell you when and where each tournament will be played along with a bracket if the tournament is set.  Then, we will tell you the better “Bracketnomics” data.  We will explain our 2021 Bracketnomics criteria just before the NCAA Tournament begins play in a couple weeks. So without further adieu, let’s start the previews.

American Athletic Conference

Dates: March 11-14

Site: Fort Worth, TX

Teams participating: 11 in a regular format where 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10, and 8 plays 9 in the first round and then the three winners play the top 3 seeds in the quarterfinals (3 vs. 6 or 11, 2 vs. 7 or 10, and 1 vs. 8 or 9).

Houston is the only team guaranteed a spot in the field, but Wichita St. has been moving up on the better side of the Bubble in recent weeks.  Memphis is making a late charge to get into consideration, but the Tigers don’t have enough games to impress the Selection Committee.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Houston has  many of the basic data needed to advance to the Elite 8.  Their schedule is a tad weak, so calling the Cougars a Final Four contender is a bit hard.  Maybe their schedule strength will improve enough if they can beat Wichita St. in the AAC Tournament and then beat a couple of tough teams in the Big Dance.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Dates: March 9-13

Site: Greensboro, NC

Teams participating: All 15 in a regular format with teams 10-15 playing in the opening round (10-15, 11-14, 12-13), and teams 5 through 9 plus the three winners in round one playing in the second round, while teams 1-4 receive double byes.

A four game winning streak has moved Georgia Tech up onto the good side of the Bubble, while a tough overtime loss to Louisville, has moved Duke down into a situation Mike Krzyzewski has not dealt with before–looking at the Dance from outside the ballroom window.  A late surge by North Carolina St. has given Kevin Keatts’ Wolf Pack a puncher’s chance if they can win their final three games against beatable opposition.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Believe it or not, but as of today, no ACC teams have bracketnomic criteria tailor-made to advance to the Final  4.  Florida St. has a great offense but not great defense.  Virginia is very good offensively and good defensively but not exactly good enough at either.  Virginia Tech looks like a team that will not get to the Sweet 16.  Louisville and Clemson lack the offensive firepower.  North Carolina’s offense is better than UL and CU, but not Final 4 worthy.  Duke isn’t playing defense this year.

America East Conference

Dates: February 27 – March 13

Site: Higher Seed for remainder of tournament

Teams participating: There are 4 teams left.  UMass Lowell has eliminated Stony Brook and New Hampshire to advance to the semifinals as the #7 seed.  They now face #1 seed UMBC in Baltimore this Saturday.  On the other side of the bracket, #4-seed Hartford topped Binghamton and Albany and will venture to Vermont on Saturday.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Vermont has much better credentials than UMBC, but the Catamounts are not talented enough to make it to the Sweet 16.  One win would still be remarkable.

Atlantic 10 Conference

Dates: March 3-6, 14

Site: Richmond, VA with championship game in Dayton, OH

Teams participating: All 14 teams will play in a regularly-seeded tournament with the 11 & 14 and 12 & 13 seeds playing in the first round, and seeds 5-10 plus the two first round winners playing in the second round, while seeds 1-4 receive double byes.

Both Richmond and VCU will be hosting the early rounds, and each will play on the other’s home court.  Because there are games tonight just 48 hours before the A-10 Tourney tips off, the brackets are still not set.  

Favorable Bracketnomics: St. Bonaventure, Richmond,  and Saint Louis have stats typical of teams that can win an opening round and possible second game.  Schedule strength is weak for both teams, but this is a weird year with Covid, so schedule strength may be out of whack until the Sweet 16.

Atlantic Sun Conference

Dates: March 3-7

Site: Jacksonville (at North Florida and Jacksonville)

Teams participating: 9 in a regular seeding with #8 & 9 playing to get to the quarterfinals.  Bellarmine, not eligible for the NCAA Tournament as a first-year Division 1 team, is eligible for the A-Sun Tournament, and they might be considered the co-favorite with Liberty.  LU has about a 90% chance of getting the league’s automatic bid.

Favorable Bracketnomics:  None this year.  This is not a strong enough Liberty team to compete for an opening round upset.  Bellarmine might have had a slightly better chance had they been eligible.

Big 12 Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Kansas City

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format with teams 7-10 playing in the first round and teams 1-6 receiving byes to the semifinals.

Favorable Bracketnomics: First, and most importantly, Baylor does not have a grand resume of bracketnomically-favorable data.  The Bears give up points in the paint too easily, and their long layoff has removed a lot of the polish from this team.  Unless something changes between today and Selection Sunday, we will be looking at other teams that can knock out BU as early as the Round of 32 or Sweet 16.

West Virginia, Texas Tech, and Texas have resumes that shout Sweet 16 with a chance to make it to the Elite 8 and even sneak into the Final 4, but none of the three have championship resumes as of today.  Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. are a tad weaker in criteria.

As for Kansas, watch out!  The Jayhawks’ offense is inconsistent.  If the wrong offense shows up, the Jayhawks could be upset early in the tournament.  The win over Baylor shows the nation that this team has talent enough to beat anybody at the Phog, but away from home like in the blowout loss to Tennessee, KU may be more chalk than rock.

Big East

Dates: March 10-13

Site: New York City (Madison Square Garden)

Teams participating: 11 teams in a regular format where 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10, and 8 plays 9 in the first round and then the three winners play the top 3 seeds in the quarterfinals (3 vs. 6 or 11, 2 vs. 7 or 10, and 1 vs. 8 or 9).

Villanova, Creighton, and Seton Hall have seen their best games appear farther and farther away from the present.  UConn is looking better and better as each week passes.  Xavier is on the Bubble and may have a chance to earn a spot in the Dance after other bubblers have lost recently.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Villanova’s offense is stellar, but they play matador defense a bit too much.  Rarely does a team with their defensive efficiency make it to the Final 4, and it is less than 50-50 that playing the same way will get the Wildcats past the Sweet 16.

Creighton doesn’t have enough muscle inside to advance past the Sweet 16.  They give up too many easy inside baskets and cannot rebound well enough to compete against power opposition like what is played in the Big Ten and Big 12.

UConn doesn’t have a terrific resume either, but the Huskies can score cheap baskets in low possession games.

Big Sky Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Boise, ID

Teams participating: 11 teams in a regular bracket with teams 1-5 receiving byes to the quarterfinals and teams 6-11 playing in an opening round.

Eastern Washington, Southern Utah, and Weber St. have been dominating the rest of the league in the last five weeks.  One of these three should win the automatic bid in Boise.  None of the three have enough defensive mite to win a game in the Big Dance.

Favorable Bracketnomics: None

Big South Conference

Dates: February 27-March 7

Sites: Higher seed home courts

Teams participating: This tournament has already begun, and they are down to 8.  The top 8 seeds remain with Hampton and High Point winning opening round games.  Top seed Winthrop is a prohibitive favorite.  4-seed UNC-Asheville is the team that beat Winthrop this year, but we don’t see a semifinal repeat if the two meet.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Winthrop could be a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but their criteria is hard to judge  as their only quality wins came against UNC-Greensboro and Furman, neither of which can be confused for Virginia or Florida.  The Eagles could actually be an easy win for a 4-seed opponent.

Big Ten Conference

Dates: March 10-14

Site: Indianapolis

Teams participating: 14 in a regular format with #11 & #14 and #12 & #13 playing in the opening round, seeds 5-10 plus the two opening round winners playing in the second round, and then the top 4 seeds receiving double byes.

Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Ohio St., Wisconsin, and Maryland have made it to the safe status for the Big Dance.  Rutgers is close to earning its way in.  Indiana and Minnesota have fallen off the dance floor; both could be looking for new coaches in March.  Michigan St. has work to do to get in after falling to Maryland yesterday.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Michigan has a close to perfect resume as of today.  If the tournament began today, the Wolverines would be our favorite to win the National Championship.  In fact, looking at their data, it resembles that of past champions like North Carolina, Duke, and UCLA.

Illinois also has a Final 4 worthy resume as of today.  Purdue and Maryland have resumes that look like potential Elite 8 teams.  On the other hand, Iowa, Ohio St., and Wisconsin have chinks in their armors and are upset prone prior to the Elite 8 as of today.

Big West Conference

Dates: March 9-13

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format with #7 & 10 and #8 & 9 playing in the opening round, while teams 1-6 receive byes in one of 5 tournaments to be held in Vegas.

In the past, this has been the UC-Irvine Invitational, but this tournament is open for new championship blood this year.  UCSB was cruising along with a long winning streak until UC-Riverside broke it with a win Saturday after almost doing the trick the night before.  UC-Davis is the hot team at this point, but the Aggies lost almost as many games to Covid as they played.

Favorable Bracketnomics: UCSB actually has decent enough data to contend for a first round upset bid against the right #2 or #3 seed.

Colonial Athletic Association

Dates: March 6-9

Site: Harrisonburg, VA (James Madison)

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format.  This tournament is now set.  In round 1, #7 William & Mary faces #10 UNC-Wilmington, and #8 Elon faces #9 Towson.  The 7-10 winner will play #2 Northeastern and the 8-9 winner will play top-seed and host James Madison in the quarterfinals.

Favorable Bracketnomics: #6 Drexel is our dark horse to sneak into the CAA Finals against JMU, but nobody has a worthy set of statistical data to win a game in the Big Dance.

Conference USA

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Frisco, TX (Cowboys’ practice field with two adjacent gyms)

Teams participating: 14 divided into two divisions.  The opening round will see seeds 6 & 7 from the same divisions playing each other.  The winners will play the #3 seeds from the opposite divisions.  4 N will play 5 S with the winner playing 1 S, and 4 S will play 5 N with the winner playing 1 N.  2 S will play 3 N and 2 N will play 3 S.

This is a wide open tournament.  In the North Division, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion are 1 & 2 with back to back games still to be played at Western.  Louisiana Tech, North Texas, and UAB are alive for the top South Division seed.  Marshall is #3 in the North, but the Thundering Herd are a force to be reckoned with and could sneak into the CUSA Championship Game.

Favorable Bracketnomics: North Texas and La. Tech have talented defenses.  Marshall has a fantastic offense.  Western Kentucky is solid but not spectacular on both sides of the court.  The league champion could foreseeably win one game in the Big Dance, but this isn’t a Sweet 16 year for this league.

Horizon League

Dates: February 25-March 9

Sites: Quarterfinals at Higher Seeds Then Indianapolis

Teams Participating: This tournament began last Thursday with Detroit beating Robert Morris, Youngstown St. beating Illinois-Chicago, Purdue Fort Wayne beating Green Bay, and Milwaukee beating IUPUI. 

The quarterfinals commence tomorrow with #1 Cleveland St. hosting Purdue Fort Wayne. #2 Wright St. hosting Milwaukee, #3 Oakland hosting Youngstown St., and #4 Northern Kentucky hosting Detroit.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Wright St. has the clear-cut best potential data for the NCAA Tournament, but the Raiders will not get an at-large bid if they don’t win the Horizon Tournament.  Cleveland St. and Detroit have just enough talent to upset the Raiders in this tournament, but neither has the criteria to make any damage in the Big Dance.  Wright St. just barely qualifies as a potential first round upset winner.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Dates: March 8-13

Site: Atlantic City, NJ

Teams participating: 11 teams in a regular seeding with the top 5 seeds receiving byes and teams 6-11 playing in an opening round.

Siena, Iona, and Monmouth have been pacing this race for most of the year, but there is no clear-cut favorite in this tournament.  Rick Pitino’s Iona Gaels might have the best chance of pulling off a first round upset in the Big Dance, but the MAAC is not likely to produce a winner in the Round of 64.

Favorable Bracketnomics: None

Mid-American Conference

Dates: March 11-13

Site: Cleveland

Teams participating: The top 8 in a regular seed format.

Toledo, Akron, Kent St., Buffalo, Ohio, Bowling Green, Miami (O), and Ball St. will be the 8 teams getting into the tournament, and probably 6 of the 8 could win this tournament.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Toledo has a potent offense, but their defense isn’t quite tournament tough.  The Rockets might be a 12-seed and no worse than a 13-seed, and they would be a scary first round opponent for a 4 or 5.

Buffalo can get the ball up the court and score quickly, and their defense is better overall than Toledo.  The Bulls are not as potent overall, but if they were to get in as a probable 13 or 14 seed, they could give the favored opponent a good game in the Round of 64.

Mideastern Athletic Conference

Dates: March 7-13

Site: Norfolk, VA (round 1 at higher seed)

Teams participating: The MEAC Tournament has been modified with three teams not playing due to Covid opt-outs.  The MEAC split into North and South Divisions to minimize travel, and the tournament will keep the divisional seeding.  The first round game, to be played at the higher-seed’s home court will pit the #4 South seed playing the #3 South seed.  In the quarterfinals, 3N plays 2S, and 1N plays the winner of the first round game.  In the semifinals, 1 N plays the winner of the 3N/2S game, while 1S plays the winner of the other quarterfinal (2N, 3S, or 4N).

While North Carolina A&T has had the best overall record all year, Norfolk St. is the host team for this tournament, and the Spartans will be the team to beat.  Morgan St. may be the best overall team, but unless the Bears can move up to the North 1-seed, they will have to win an extra game that the top two seeds won’t in order to get the automatic bid.

Favorable Bracketnomics: There is no such thing as a favorable bracketnomic for this conference, as the best this league can hope for is an avoidance of the dreaded 16-seed play-in game.  Norfolk St. and Morgan St., in theory, have slim chances to avoid the bottom four seeds and become a regular 16-seed or even 15-seed, if they win out in the regular season and take the automatic bid at the conference tournament.  They would then need help from other low-major conferences with tournament winners from back in the pack.

Missouri Valley Conference

Dates: March 4-7

Site: Saint Louis (Arch Madness)

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format with 7 & 10 and 8 & 9 playing in the first round, while the top 6 receive byes to the quarterfinals.

This is an important tournament.  The Valley currently has two teams that look like near safe locks to get into the Big Dance.  Loyola of Chicago and Drake both have the needed resumes to receive at-large bids.  In recent years, a regular season also-ran has pulled off the upset in Saint Louis, and if one of the co-favorites fails to make the Championship Game, while an also-ran wins the automatic bid, that upset loser will be in jeopardy of missing out on getting into the field.

3-seed Missouri St. looks like the team with the best chance to sneak into the finals, but the Bears would have to beat a 24-3 Drake team to do it.  If you are looking for a surprise team, then take a gander at 8-seed Bradley.  The Braves would have to win four games in four days to pull off the trick, and it would include a quarterfinal upset of Loyola.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Loyola has the most efficient defense in college basketball this year, and their offense is strong but not strong enough to be considered a real contender for the Final 4.  However, their criteria at the moment is better than the criteria of their actual Final 4 surprise team of a few years back.

That said, Drake has a much better offense than Loyola, while their defense is a tad suspect.  The Bulldogs don’t look like a Final 4 team either, but in the early rounds, the strong offense tends to top a team with a strong defense, if the weak defense matches up against a weak offense.

Mountain West Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 11 teams in a standard format with the top five seeds receiving first round byes, while the 6-11 seeds play (6-11, 7-10, 8-9)

Brian Dutcher deserves some national coach of the year votes this year, after losing the best players off last year’s team and then after starting slowly, coming on strong with a 10-game winning streak that propelled the Aztecs from middle of the pack to the top of the MWC.  SDSU will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

How many teams get in the Big Dance from this league is a mystery.  Colorado St. and Boise St. are deserving.  On paper, Utah St. looks to be a tad better overall than CSU and BSU, but their overall resume isn’t as impressive.  The Aggies have work to do in this tournament in order to impress the Selection Committee, and at a minimum, USU may need to make it to the Championship Game and definitely must win its final two regular season games.

Favorable Bracketnomics: All four of the top teams have the bracketnomic criteria to advance to the Sweet 16 under the right circumstances, but none of the four have strong enough offenses to advance past that round.  Additionally, SDSU, CSU, and BSU lack the inside muscle to win against power conference teams that get to the Sweet 16.  Utah St. actually has the best Bracketnomic resume today, and they may not even get an invitation.

Northeast Conference

Dates: March 6 & 9

Sites: Higher seed

Teams participating: just the top 4 this year.  The NEC greatly truncated their conference tournament, limiting it to the top four seeds.  Bryant had clinched a top 2 seed and home game in the semifinals, but the Bulldogs’ season is now in jeopardy after positive Covid tests.  Wagner, Mount St. Mary’s, and Sacred Heart have clinched spots in the tournament, so the league must now make a determination on whether its best team can participate.

Favorable Bracketnomics: While no team comes close to having the right stuff to advance in the Dance, Bryant’s fast pace could have made an opening round game interesting and given the Bulldogs the favorite status if forced to play in the 16-seed play-in game.  Without Bryant, the automatic qualified can almost be guaranteed a spot in that play-in game as the underdog.

Ohio Valley Conference

Dates: March 3-6

Site: Evansville, IN

Teams participating: The top 8 only in a standard format with 1-8, 4-5, 3-6, and 2-7 in the quarterfinals.

Belmont looked like the sure winner and possible #12 seed in the Field of 68 until closing with a lost weekend in the Kentucky mountains, as top contenders Eastern Kentucky and Morehead St. trounced the Bruins.

For years, this tournament was held in Nashville, where the hometown Bruins had the edge.  Now, that it has moved to Evansville, the Kentucky teams have had the edge, but obviously this year it will be purely neutral.

Favorable Bracketnomics:  Belmont does not have the criteria to pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament.  Morehead St. has slightly better criteria at the moment, while Eastern Kentucky is the potentially most dangerous team in a round of 64 game thanks to their unorthodox style of play.  However, Jacksonville St. and Murray St. cannot be counted out to pull off an upset or two and make it to the finals of the OVC Tournament.  This tournament should be one of the most exciting to watch, but it doesn’t look like the year that an OVC team advances to the Round of 32.

Pacific 12 Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 11 (Arizona ineligible) in a regular format with the top five teams receiving first round byes, while the 6-11 seeds play an opening round game (6-11. 7-10, 8-9)

The Pac-12 has been down for a generation, mostly because UCLA is no longer the UCLA of the 20th Century.  Oregon is the only league team to advance to the Final four in a dozen years.

UCLA, Oregon, and USC are still contending for the regular season title, while Colorado is mathematically alive.  Stanford has lost three games in a row to fall off the Bubble and will now have to earn the automatic bid to make the Field.

Favorable Bracketnomics: UCLA, USC, Oregon, and Colorado all have criteria favorable of making the Sweet 16, but none of the quartet looks like a Final 4 team.  UCLA, Colorado, and Oregon are too generous in the paint, while USC has begun to swoon at the wrong time.

Patriot League

Dates: March 3-6-10-14

Sites: Higher Seed Home Floors

Teams participating: 10 teams in a regular format where the top 6 receive byes to the quarterfinals while 7 plays 10 and 8 plays 9 in the first round.

What are we to make of Colgate?  The Raiders, winners of 10 consecutive games and mostly by lopsided scores, are in the top 10 of the very important Net Ratings, made more important this year with the limited interconference play.  On Net Ratings alone, Colgate would be deserving of the highest seed ever given to a Patriot League team, maybe a 6 or 7 seed!  There is no way the Committee can do this, considering that the Raiders have played no non-conference games, and the Patriot isn’t the Big Ten.  Navy has a win over Georgetown, but beating GU doesn’t move the needle much these days.  Army pinned the only league losses on the Raiders and Midshipmen, and the Black Knights would be the serious spoiler in the conference tournament.

Favorable Bracketnomics:  Not a chance to make the Sweet 16.  If Colgate wins the bid, the Raiders might have a good showing and keep an opening round game close enough to pull out an upset, but they won’t be in the Sweet 16.  Nobody else in this league can win anything more than a possible play-in game, but the Patriot League should avoid the 16-seed line, unless a bottom-seed like Lehigh or Holy Cross pulls off a huge upset.

Southeastern Conference

Dates: March 10-14

Site: Nashville

Teams participating: 13 (Auburn ineligible) in a regular format where #12 & 13 play on opening night, with the winner facing #5 the next day, while 6 plays 11, 7 plays 10, and 8 plays 9.  The top 4 seeds receive double byes.

Alabama clinched the top seed, but the Crimson Tide are starting to look like a somewhat fatigued team.  Arkansas and Florida are close to securing double byes, while the last double bye is still up for grabs between LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Missouri.

You haven’t seen Kentucky in this group, and the Wildcats will have to win four games in four days to earn an automatic bid.  This team lacks the consistency to do this, and the Blue Mist will have to wait a year to make its next appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Tennessee and Missouri, two teams that looked like locks in early February, now find themselves needing to do a little work to guarantee dance tickets.  Ole Miss took a crucial bad loss over the weekend and will have to win their final two regular season games and then make it to the SEC Tournament finals to have a chance at an at-large bid.

Favorable Bracketnomics: When Alabama’s three-point shots are falling, they can play Michigan and Gonzaga to a close and competitive game.  When their shots aren’t falling, they can lose at home to Vanderbilt.  Don’t expect the Tide’s shots to fall for four games in a row against NCAA-level defenses.  Additionally, Alabama gives up too much inside defensively, and they cannot rebound well enough to make up for poor shooting games.  Count the Tide out at the Sweet 16.

Arkansas has what Alabama lacks, but Arkansas lacks what Alabama has.  The Razorbacks could also make it to the Sweet 16 this year, but that’s as far as we can see them progressing.

Florida is on the periphery in a lot of criteria, but the Gators come up short in most of them.  A big stretch finish with a conference tournament win could move the Gators’ data into the Elite 8 status, but as of now, we don’t even show them as a strong Sweet 16 candidate.

LSU and Tennessee have been much too inconsistent, and both teams are below .500 in recent weeks.  This looks like a wait-until-next-year scenario for this league.

Southern Conference

Dates: March 5-8

Site: Asheville, NC

Teams participating: 10 in a regular format with teams 1-6 receiving byes to the quarterfinals and teams 7-10 playing a first round.

This race was nip and tuck for weeks with multiple teams holding the top spot at times. UNCG finally won the regular conference championship in the final weekend, while Wofford came on strong to sneak into the number two slot.  UNCG definitely has the easier pass to the title game than Furman and Wofford.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Not this year.  None of the teams in the SoCon have favorable resumes at this time.  It’s not likely the league will produce a tournament win.

Southland Conference

Dates: March 10-14

Site: Katy, TX  (greater Houston)

Teams participating: The top 8 (Stephen F. Austin ineligible) in a ladder system, where the #5 & 8 and the #6 & 7 play in the opening round; the #5/8 winner faces #4 and the #6/7 winner plays #3 in the next round, and the #1 and 2 teams receive byes to the semifinals.

With Stephen F. Austin becoming ineligible 10 days ago, it threw a giant wrench into the workings of the potentially best conference tournament.  Four teams clearly separated from the pack, and a final four of SFA, Abilene Christian, Sam Houston, and Nicholls would have been the best this tournament has ever seen.  

Favorable Bracketnomics: Abilene Christian’s defense is no piece of cake to attack, but the Wildcats lack the offensive firepower to be anything more than a game first round loser.  Sam Houston and Nicholls most likely would go down much easier in a Round of 64 game.

Southwestern Athletic Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Birmingham

Teams participating: The top 8 seeds in a standard 1-8, 4-5, 3-6, 2-7 format

Covid may turn out to help the SWAC, because there is a chance that two league teams will finish conference play undefeated.  If Prairie View and Jackson St. keep winning, and the two teams meet for the automatic bid, there’s even a chance that the winner could become the first SWAC team in years to avoid that play-in game.

Favorable Bracketnomics: The bad news is that not playing in a play-in game would eliminate this league’s chances to at least see their representative win a tournament game.  The two top contenders are fairly adequate defensively, but neither has the offensive efficiency to score 65 points against a 1-seed much less compete.

Summit League

Dates: March 6-9

Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Teams participating: 8 in a regular 1-8, 4-5, 3-6, 2-7 format

South Dakota St. won its final two regular season games to sneak past #2 South Dakota and #3 North Dakota St.  Oral Roberts had a strong final close to earn the #4 seed.  One of these four teams should cut the nets at the Falls.

Favorable Bracketnomics: South Dakota St. and Oral Roberts have just enough offensive efficiency to make an opening round game as a #14 seed interesting versus a #3 seed.  Neither look strong enough to pull off the upset, but a respectable 10-15 point loss wouldn’t be out of the question.

Sun Belt Conference

Dates: March 5-8

Site: Pensacola, FL

Teams participating: 12 in a divisional setting.  Games will be played in two arenas.  The top two teams in both divisions receive first round byes.  In the opening round, 4W Arkansas St. plays 5E Georgia Southern, with the winner playing 1E Georgia St.  4E Appalachian St. plays 5W Little Rock with the winner playing 1W Texas St.  3E South Alabama plays 6W UL-Monroe, with the winner playing 2W Louisiana, and 3W UT-Arlington plays 6E Troy with the winner playing 2E Coastal Carolina.

Favorable Bracketnomics: The only favorable possibility here is avoiding a 16-seed, especially a play-in game.  Texas St. and Coastal Carolina have the most favorable data, but neither can challenge a Michigan, Gonzaga, Baylor, Ohio St., Illinois, or Iowa.

West Coast Conference

Dates: March 4-9

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 10 but seeded totally different from any other conference tournament ever.  The league is going to seed its teams in the order that basketball analytics’ Einstein Ken Pomeroy rates them by adjusted win percentage.  It doesn’t take an Einstein to know that Gonzaga and BYU will be the top two seeds.

Favorable Bracketnomics:  It is no surprise that Gonzaga has one of the three best overall bracketnomics criteria today.  They have the look of an all-time great team not much different than the 1991 UNLV team that ran the table to the Final 4 before losing to eventual champion Duke in a major upset.

BYU also has a favorable criteria.  The Cougars are not Final 4 worthy, but they have a Sweet 16 criteria and even a potential Elite 8 set of data.

Western Athletic Conference

Dates: March 10-13

Site: Las Vegas

Teams participating: 6 (all that are eligible)  The number 3 team will play the number 6 team, with the winner advancing to play the number 2 team.  The number 4 team will play the number 5 team, with the winner facing the number 1 team.

This league has been hit hard by Covid cancellations, and multiple teams are not yet eligible to go to the NCAA Tournament, so this once proud league that had the likes of Arizona, Arizona St, Utah, and BYU has been reduced to Grand Canyon, Utah Valley, California Baptist, and UT Rio Grande Valley.  Still, there are two schools with Final Four banners in their gyms in Seattle and New Mexico St.

Favorable Bracketnomics: Nobody this year has a resume anything close to what New Mexico St. had last year when the tournament was cancelled.  The Aggies had a Sweet 16 resume in 2020, but they will have to come up with a monumental performance from one of the bottom four seeds to win the WAC Tournament.  If anybody other than GCU wins the tournament, they are looking at a 16-seed play-in game.

Create a free website or blog at