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Sports predictions & data

NCAA Tournament Picks & Predictions 2016

Yes, the NCAA tournament has arrived. So it’s time to make your 2016 NCAA predictions. We have been churning out data-driven NCAA predictions for more than ten years, and in that time we’ve learned a few things about what factors everyone uses for picking their NCAA brackets, and actually leads to better NCAA predictions. Here are 9 things you’ll want to keep in mind when making 2016 predictions for the NCAA tournament.

1. NCAA Predictions based on Overall Team Performance

There are lots of ways to measure the performance of a team when preparing to make your 2016 NCAA predictions. Some examples, moving from least useful to most, are won-loss record, RPI rating, average margin of victory, NCAA tournament seed, and predictive power ratings. Yes, that's correct: won-loss record is at the bottom of the list when it comes to making your NCAA predictions. Luck plays a large role in wins and losses, so margin of victory is a better predictor to use when making predictions for the 2016 NCAA tournament. Our power ratings combine margin of victory with information about who a team played, where they played them, and when they played the game. These are the most important factors when rating a team; they make our power ratings very useful when making NCAA predictions.

2. NCAA Predictions for 2016 based on Home-Away-Neutral Performance

Some teams in your 2016 NCAA predictions may have played very well at home, but poorly on the road. Other NCAA predictions seem to perform well at neutral sites. Conventional wisdom says that playing much better at home is a bad sign, and should be avoided for your NCAA predictions, but the data don't agree. People like to say there are no home games during the NCAA tournament, and that's true. But... there are also no true road games. For a recent example of a good NCAA pick that played better at home, look at the Duke Blue Devils in 2010. They were the best home team in the country, but much worse on the road. However, they cut down the nets in April, and our NCAA prediction that they would win the tournament was correct.

3. NCAA Predictions based on Team's Recent Play

Some teams you're considering for your 2016 NCAA predictions were lousy in November but great in February. Other teams were very good in November but no good in February. If your picks for the 2016 NCAA tournament have a team going far, the former is more likely better than the latter. But don't assign too much importance in your 2016 NCAA predictions to the last two or three games of the regular season. From a predictive perspective, being great in December and very good in February is better than playing poorly in December and great in February. As the Selection Committee rightly says, the full body of work matters. Recent performance should be a tiny factor in your NCAA predictions.

4. NCAA Predictions for 2016 based on Performance Consistency

Some NCAA tournament teams beat the teams they're supposed to beat, and lose to the teams they're supposed to lose to. Other NCAA teams in 2016 have beaten some better teams, but have lost to some real stinkers. If your 2016 NCAA predictions have a high consistency, they are less likely to knock off a much better opponent, but are also less likely to get upset by a tournament underdog. Our Consistency ratings can help you make your NCAA predictions in 2016 by identify which teams fit the above descriptions. You may want to select double digit seeds ranked low in Consistency to knock off favorites ranked low in Consistency in the first round of your NCAA predictions. It's better if your prediction for the 2016 NCAA champion is a team ranked high in Consistency, since they need to play six straight good games.

5. 2016 NCAA Predictions based on Overall Odds

Many people follow NCAA prediction rules like "always pick a 5 seed to beat a 12 seed in the first round." The value of that NCAA pick strategy is debatable, but they don't help matters by picking the 12 seed based on gut instinct. Our data-driven survival odds help you be smarter about your 2016 NCAA predictions by comparing the odds of similar seeds in different regions. Team Rankings' survival odds can also help you manage risk in your 2016 NCAA bracket prediction, by not picking Final Four teams that are too unlikely, and by focusing your first round NCAA predictions on teams that actually have a decent shot at winning.

6. 2016 NCAA Predictions based on Record in Close Games

All win-loss records are not created equal. You shouldn't treat them that way when making your predictions for NCAA 2016. Some teams dominate their competition and end up with a high average margin of victory; others squeak by a lot of opponents, without suffering many close losses. Including teams like the latter in your NCAA picks may lead you to a rude awakening in the NCAA tournament. Luck and variation play a large role in close games. Remember this when making your NCAA prediction in 2016: teams that have won a lot of one possession games tend to get over-seeded in the NCAA Tournament. These are exactly the types of teams that are prime candidates for suffering a first round upset, and getting knocked out a round or two earlier than expected. Counter-intuitively, you may want to fade them in your NCAA predictions.

7. NCAA Predictions based on Good Ws and Bad Ls

Some potential NCAA predictions can't seem to break through against good opponents, but they handle mediocre opponents with ease. Other teams under consideration in your NCAA predictions rack up good wins, but also suffer bad losses. This is related to the Consistency ratings we discussed earlier. When making your 2016 NCAA predictions, you may want to focus your first round upset NCAA predictions on low seeds that have shown they have the ability to pull off a good win, and high seeds that may have taken a bad loss or two.

8. 2016 NCAA predictions based on Individual Game Probabilities

When making your NCAA predictions in 2016, an important consideration when choosing your NCAA predictions for the latter rounds is a team's overall odds of making that round. But another factor is the odds of winning any individual game. We publish individual game NCAA predictions for every single first round matchup. Okay, that's not unusual. We also publish individual game odds for every single hypothetical NCAA tournament matchup. Using our Matchup Predictor you can see NCAA predictions from six different computer models for any pair of teams. That can be very helpful when filling in the later rounds of your 2016 NCAA predictions.

9. 2016 NCAA Predictions based on Fudge Factors + Intangibles

We think our team stats, ratings, computer models, and NCAA predictions are great, and they are incredibly valuable for making your 2016 NCAA predictions. But even we have to admit that sometimes there are important factors influencing NCAA predictions that our models can't account for. One large factor is injuries. If a team loses their star player just before the tournament starts, there's no way to accurately measure what impact that will have on their NCAA prediction. Our models all take Vegas lines into account, which will certainly help, but you also need to throw a dose of subjectivity into the numbers, making mental adjustments to your NCAA picks for extenuating circumstances.

NCAA Predictions Advice to Ignore

There are a few factors that people tend to overrate when making NCAA predictions. Here's a short list, along with why you should ignore these factors when making your NCAA predictions.

  • RPI Rating - The RPI rating was not designed to pick NCAA games. It was designed to help decide which teams should get into the field, which is why it totally ignores margin of victory. Because of that, it's completely useless for making NCAA predictions. If you're looking for a team rating to rely on when making your 2016 NCAA predictions, use our Predictive Power Rating.
  • Conference Tournament Winners - The media likes to make a big deal about NCAA conference champions being "hot" going into the tournament, but in most cases, that doesn't make those teams good winners for your NCAA predictions. A three game winning streak does not make a dominant team, so be wary of basing your 2016 NCAA predictions solely on conference tournament play. Connecticut last season is obviously a counterexample of a hot team that was a god NCAA pick, but remember that the Huskies were fantastic in their nonconference schedule, and their Big East tournament run featured five games, not just three. Advancing them far could have been a decent NCAA prediction, because they had a significant body of work in which they played excellent.
  • NCAA Tournament Seed - #1 seeds are indeed much better teams than #16 seeds. That said, the NCAA uses an imperfect seeding system to pick the NCAA field. For instance, a #7 seed is not always better than a #10 seed, so don't automatically pick #7 seeds in your 2016 NCAA prediction. In fact, over the past decade, #7 seeds have a winning percentage barely above 0.500 in the first round. Here's a good rule for making 2016 NCAA predictions: scratch out all the seed numbers on your NCAA picks sheet and use our web site as a basis for your NCAA predictions instead!