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NCAA bracket predictions based on free throw percentage

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Do not read if you hate winners.

Grant Halverson

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SB Nation 2014 NCAA March Madness Coverage

I don't know anything about college basketball, but I do enjoy gambling on as many NCAA Tournament games as I can. Here's a little trick that has helped me: the outcomes against the spread almost always come down to free throws.

College kids can be unbelievably bad free throw shooters due to being college kids and having approximately 3,000 more interesting things to do after practice than shoot foul shots. But coaches love to foul the hell out of their opponents in the NCAA Tournament, which typically leads to the last two minutes of the game taking an hour.

So, I came up with a bracket that is decided by the tremendous young men who stay after practice to work on their details and the ones with better luck playing pickup sticks with their butt cheeks than converting a one-and-one, to quote John Candy.

Now, I'm told that there are other elements to the game of basketball besides FT shooting, so I'll need to weigh the scoring a little bit. It's unlikely that Albany or Mount St. Mary's would ever get close enough to Florida to make free throws meaningful, so even though the Gators will be going up against a team with an 8 percent free throw advantage, I'm not picking a 16 over 1 upset.

Here are the rules:

If two teams' seeds are separated by five spots or less, I'm picking whoever has the best FT percentage, straight up.

If it's between a 6-10 seed separation, there needs to be at least a 5 percent difference in team FT shooting for me to pick the higher seed. An 11-15 seed separation needs a 10 percent difference in FT percentage in order for me to pick the underdog.


I ended up with a very unlikely Final Four of UCLA, Providence, Oregon and Michigan, with Michigan bringing home the title. Noteworthy first-round upsets include three No. 11s over No. 6s in Providence over UNC, Nebraska over Baylor and Iowa/Tennessee over UMass.

A couple things to note about the outcomes:
  • The biggest disparity in any matchup is No. 11 seed Providence taking on No. 6 seed UNC in the "second round." At 78.1 percent, Providence is the second-best free-throw shooting team in Division I, while UNC is ranked No. 338 out of 345 with a dismal 62.5 percent mark. If you're looking for an upset -- or at least a solid bet against the point spread -- this is it.
  • There was only one tie: Florida vs. Colorado in the "third round." I let high seed win out.
  • Providence and UConn are both extremely good foul shooting teams, so a matchup between these two schools would likely come down to other areas.
  • In close contests like Michigan State (69 percent) vs. Cincinnati (70.9 percent), there is something to be said for having a great coach who has been in this position before. So, I would lean towards Michigan State. However, this would be another great opportunity to bet on Cincinnati to cover the spread, since the public would likely be betting heavy on Tom Izzo.
I really don't watch much NCAA basketball until February, so please bear in mind that I am an idiot and you would do better off playing chicken-shit bingo with your bracket or using it to conceal a past-due fantasy football check you keep forgetting to put in the mail.

But if you want to make some money, this can be a helpful tool when it comes to betting against the spread.