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2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Cheat Sheet

Do you want to be successful? Do you yearn for the adulation?

It’s time for March Madness – the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. And you aren’t entering the office pool for fun. You want to win. Or, at least, not lose to the know-it-all three cubes down. Or to your wife. Or, worse, lose to your father-in-law. Actually, even worse, your mother-in-law.

The NCAA tournament bracket uploaded on the evening of Selection Sunday is a blank canvas. Should you roll up your sleeves and start painting? Should you grab a blindfold and wing it? Or should you do your research, crunch all the numbers and apply careful consideration? Of course not. Who has time to do that?

I guess I do. I did your homework for you. I analyzed round-by-round March Madness data since the field was first expanded to 64 teams for the 1985 tournament and answered the nine questions you need to know to fill out your brackets

Do you ever look at the back of the crossword puzzle book for the answers? Think of your blank canvas as the crossword puzzle and this cheat sheet as the “back of the book”. So, if you trust me, I mean really, really trust me, you could proceed with reading my cheat sheet below, fill out your brackets and thank me later. If you want the gory details, take a read through my March Madness Q&A.

Before I get into the results of my analysis, I have provided some information and data below to help you make your picks. I have listed every team that has qualified for the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, their seed, their coach, their conference, whether they represent a major or mid-major conference, their coach’s past tournament track record and the program’s tournament win-total during the past three seasons.



1Previous NCAA tournament champion.
2Won or shared their 2014-15 regular season conference title.
3Won their conference tournament in 2015.



1Previous NCAA tournament champion.
2Won or shared their 2014-15 regular season conference title.
3Won their conference tournament in 2015.



1Previous NCAA tournament champion.
2Won or shared their 2014-15 regular season conference title.
3Won their conference tournament in 2015.



1Previous NCAA tournament champion.
2Won or shared their 2014-15 regular season conference title.
3Won their conference tournament in 2015.


Before penciling teams in, you should make some notes about a school’s coach or whether they are coming off a high from winning their conference regular season and/or tournament titles. 

1. Make note of teams coached by men with consistent past tournament successes. The following teams have coaches with 30+ games of tournament experience over their career with a .600+ winning percentage since 2005: Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisville, Kansas, Michigan State, Ohio State, Duke and Wisconsin. 

2. There are coaches with fewer tournament games under their belt that have demonstrated consistent success (and lack of success) as well. SMU, Arizona, Baylor, Virginia Commonwealth, St. John’s and Indiana have coaches with above average tournament success. On the other hand, coaches from Davidson, Oregon, Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Wichita State and North Carolina State have had some success but underachieved more often than not.

3. Conference tournament champions from the following seeds historically have success in comparison to other teams: 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10. Likewise, conference tournament champions who wind up as 6-seeds or an 11-seed or higher have lower performance than others teams who did not claim a conference tourney crown. Could this mean choosing 5-seed Northern Iowa to advance in the Round of 64 instead of 6-seed SMU?

4. 5. 9 and 10-seeds that are conference regular season champs have demonstrated above average success in the tournament. Regular season title holders to avoid are limited to those programs at a 12-seed or higher. Davidson and SMU fall under this category. So, now you might have a dilemma. 


1. 1-seeds are virtual locks to advance to the next round. 

2. The 2, 3 and 4-seeds are all above a .750 winning percentage. But some will lose. You will want to choose 2 schools among these 12 teams to be an unexpected miss – a possible sign of experienced coaches looking ahead. 

3. Two 5-seeds will likely be upset. Selecting two 12-seeds wouldn’t be unreasonable. You should expect at least one 6-seed to be upset, but you may want to make it two 6-seeds based on historical tournament data from the past five years.  

4. A 7 and 8-seed will be upset two times out of every five. Therefore, it might be prudent to select one or two 10-seeds and one or two 9-seeds. 

5. If you can’t decide between two teams, lean towards schools with more tournament victories over the past three years.  


1. I wouldn’t be giving up on any 1-seeds yet. 

2. You can start crossing off any seeds 13 and higher.

3. In the Round of 32, 2-seeds have won between 2/3 and 3/4 of their games. The numbers seem to lean towards advancing a 10-seed (not a 7-seed) if you are going to take a chance with an upset of a 2-seed in this round. 

4. 3-seeds win about 2/3 of their games versus 6-seeds; whereas, 4 and 5-seeds generally split their matchups. 

5. Focus on the 10 through 12-seeds if advancing a high seed to the Sweet 16. For every four high seeds you advance, approximately three should either be a 10, 11 or 12-seed.

6. Of those high seeds advancing, mid-major programs have had better success (34.0%) in the Round of 32 compared to the majors (26.3%). 

7. If you can’t decide between two teams, lean toward taking coaches with a higher tournament winning percentage.  


1. Historically, 1-seeds beat 4-seeds and 2-seeds beat 3-seeds in approximately 60% of tournament games. 

2. Put an end to the Cinderella discussion. Over the previous ten tournaments, 9-seeds or higher are 5-21 in the Sweet 16.

3. You should expect about six 1 through 3-seeds to advance and the remaining be filled out by the field.

4. The success of 3 and 4-seeds depend on the level of their opponent. Not surprisingly, 3 and 4-seeds are far more likely to advance versus a higher seed. 

5. Very little disparity between the success of 4 and 6-seeds and that of 10 and 11-seeds. The key determining factor is the likelihood of the higher seeds moving on even further and 4 through 6-seeds advancing into The Final Four much more often.

6. If you can’t decide between two teams, lean again towards schools with more tournament victories over the past three years.


1. Over the last 10 years, 1-seeds have only won 1/3 of their Elite 8 battles against the region’s 2-seed. However, 1-seeds are far more successful versus a 3-seed – winning 78% of matchups since 2005.

2. Starting in the Elite 8, you can no longer rely on schools with more tournament victories over the past three years to have a distinct advantage.

3. There is very little trend toward mid-majors increasing their presence in the Final Four. Only 10-20% of Final Four teams come from mid-majors. You will likely want to pencil in three schools from major*conferences and then decide whether the fourth should or shouldn’t be. 

*I define today’s majors as the following seven conferences: the Atlantic Coast, American Athletic, the Big 10 and the Big 12, the Big East, the Pac-12 and the SEC. All other conferences are considered mid-majors. 


1. The composition of the Final is typically made up of 1, 2 or 3-seeds that belong to a major conference.

2. 1-seeds are more susceptible to being upset by a 5-seed or higher than by a 2 through 4-seed. 5-seeds or higher have beaten 1-seeds in 25% of their matchups since 2005 compared to a 10% success rate for 2 through 4-seeds.

3. 2 through 4-seeds win approximately 2/3 of their games versus a 5-seed or higher.

4. 26 of the past 30 National Champions have either been a 1 or a 2-seed

5. Since 1985, only ten schools out of the 30 champions had never hoisted the trophy before. A first time champion has occurred only five times over the past 20 seasons and only once in the past ten. 

6. Resist the temptation to go with the higher seed. Since 1985, a higher seed has beaten a lower seed in only six Finals and, of those six, only three games pitted teams with more than a one-seed disparity. 


1. Most March Madness pools have a tie breaker for total points in the championship game. Since 1985, The Final’s average is 145. The average points in the past ten Finals are 135.

2. The average points in all NCAA tournament games since 1985 are 142. The average points in all NCAA tournament games over the past ten years are 137. 

Good luck everyone!


You can find my 2015 in-depth NCAA tournament historical trend analysis in the following article:

You may also want to refer to my analysis from last year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for which I studied the impact of a school’s seeding, their conference, and the experience of their head basketball coach in the following articles:

Bob Sullivan writes periodically for and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.


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