Alternative Statistics: A Guide to Picking the March Madness Champion

March Madness is upon us, and with it, the Sisyphean quest to pick the winner of the tournament. With 68 teams entering the tourney, and only one being crowned champion, figuring out who that team will be could be the difference between bracket glory and a busted bracket. Statistics have come a long way since Dick Vitale was himself a diaper dandy, but if one isn’t careful, they might drown in a sea of numbers. Thankfully, there are alternative statistics: numbers that aren’t exactly crunched but sifted through with great care and prejudice, like tea leaves. What follows is a foolproof guide to picking the March Madness champion. You can’t argue with tea leaves.

Take, for example, the fact that Duke is currently the favorite to win the tournament, with 6:1 odds. Careful students of history will know that Duke has absolutely no chance at winning the tournament. Duke has won five NCAA championships. The sites of those victories? Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Indianapolis. Duke only wins in cities that end in -polis! The site of this year’s Final Four? Phoenix. Cross Duke off. That leaves 67 teams.

When the NCAA tournament began way back in 1954, the first five coaches to win had at least six letters in their first name. However, since 1985, when Rollie Massimino won with Villanova, every winning March Madness coach has had either three, four, or five letters in his first name. Goodbye Providence (Ed Cooley), Mount St. Mary’s (Jamion Christian), Minnesota (Richard Pitino), Dayton (Archie Miller), Wichita St. (Gregg Marshall – bummer about that extra “G”), Middle Tennessee (Kermit Davis), Florida St. (Leonard Hamilton), Bucknell (Nathan Davis), South Dakota St. (TJ Otzelberger), and North Carolina Central (LeVelle Moton). That leaves 57 teams.

Now for a big one. Since the Millennium, in every March Madness the year following an election, the winning team has come from a region that prefers waffles to pancakes:

march madness

So long Villanova, Wisconsin, Florida, SMU, USC, Baylor, New Mexico St., Marquette, Gonzaga, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Princeton, Maryland, FGCU, St. Mary’s, VCU, Arizona, North Dakota, UC Davis, Miami, Michigan St., Iowa St., Nevada, Purdue, Vermont, Creighton, Rhode Island, Oregon, Iona, Michigan, Oklahoma St., Texas Southern, Seton Hall, and UCLA. Only 22 teams remaining!

No tourney winner has ever had Tech, South, or East in their college name. See ya Virginia Tech., South Carolina, and East Tennessee.

No team higher than an 8 seed has ever won the tournament. Adios UNC-Wlimington, Troy, Vanderbilt, Xavier, Jacksonville State, Winthrop, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Kent St., and Northern Kentucky. 9 teams left!

When the NCAA expanded to a 64 team tournament in 1985, the Villanova Wildcats won the championship. Last year, the Villanova Wildcats won again. Since 1985, following a championship by a team with a Wildcat mascot, only a team with a bird, dog, or cat mascot has won the tournament. Later Virginia Cavaliers, West Virginia Mountaineers, North Carolina Tar Heels, and Arkansas Razorbacks.

That narrows it down to five teams: the Kansas Jayhawks, Louisville Cardinals, Butler Bulldogs, Cincinnati Bearcats, and Kentucky Wildcats.

Which brings us, finally, to our last alternative statistic. 2017 is a prime number. March Madness has occurred on the year of a prime number a total of ten times. Of the five remaining teams, only one of them has won in a year that was a prime number, and they’ve done it twice.

Presenting your 2017 national champion: the Kentucky Wildcats! The tea leaves are never wrong.


Featured image by LUIS BLANCO via Flickr.