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The Market Research Guide to Winning Your NCAA Bracket

Here at W5 we love basketball, especially college basketball. We’re situated right in the middle of Tobacco Road in Durham, North Carolina about five minutes from Duke University.

Chances are if you work at W5 you have strong loyalties to one of three teams, the NC State Wolfpack (better luck next year!), the North Carolina Tar Heels, or the Duke Blue Devils. We’ve been following our teams throughout the season, through the ups and downs, the big wins and the tough losses (for the sake of office politics I’ll forgo any jabs here), and it’s all been building to March.

While we wouldn’t call ourselves basketball experts we do know a thing or two about market research, and we’re going to use our knowledge to understand how to dominate our March Madness Brackets this year.

  • Follow the Stories: There’s plenty of stories circulating prior to March Madness, and our work at W5 always highlights the importance of stories. Make sure to do your research about what’s happening in each team’s locker room to understand what’s going on prior to tip-off. Here’s a few stories you should know before making your bracket:
    • Murray State rolled through its conference tournament and is going to face Marquette, a team that lost its last four conference games before losing in its conference semi-finals. Murray State has a sensational sophomore guard in Ja Morant, the type of player who can seriously take over a game.
    • LSU is embroiled in scandal as its coach is currently suspended for recruiting violations and will have a tough time against a solid Yale team.
    • Anyone who’s been watching college basketball can see that Florida State has been playing great. They finished with a 27-7 record in the heavy-hitting ACC and then continued on to defeat Virginia and make the ACC Finals against Duke. The eye test holds with Florida State and the narrative fits, this team is ready to make a run.
  • Trust the Data: Everybody loves a good tournament upset. That’s half the reason we tune in. But as much as we love these upsets, the data tells us they’re rare. W5 loves studying behavioral science, and research shows us that outstanding, historic moments like Virginia’s loss to UMBC or Duke’s loss to Mercer are overemphasized in our memories and in reality games like these rarely happen. One seeds win first-round matchups 99.3% of the time and number 2 seeds win them 94.1%. You can safely advance these teams with confidence they’ll be playing in the second round.
  • Blend the Approach: W5 specializes in combining quantitative and qualitative data to produce insights and results, and it’s important to do the same when creating your bracket. Quantitative analysis doesn’t always tell the whole story and qualitative research alone can miss the statistical reliability that underscores quantitative studies.
    • Look For: Teams showing strong qualitative and quantitative results such as Texas Tech who tout America’s best defense, per ESPN Analytics, and sport a national Coach of the Year contender in Chris Beard, a man who will have the strategy and knowledge needed to lead his team.
    • Watch Out For: Teams such as Wofford who have the 12th best offense in the country, per KenPom rankings, but the 63rd best defense. One off night of shooting could end a tournament run for them quickly.
  • Leverage Past Insights: Past tournament history can tell us a lot about how we should expect teams to perform this year. W5 knows if we ignore past research we build an incomplete picture of the future. That’s why it’s important we reference past tournament results to find patterns and trends. Looking at records from 1985-2018 we see a few conferences stand out right away, namely the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, and SEC, all with over 50% win rates across hundreds of games. Teams from these conferences are playing against strong competition throughout the season, and their conference tournaments are a high-pressure practice round for the Big Dance.
    • Look For: Top teams from these conferences, including Virginia, Kansas State, Purdue, and Tennessee to handily win in the opening rounds.
    • Watch Out For: High-ranked teams in less competitive conferences that won’t stand up to the challenge of playing in later rounds. Teams such as Nevada who play in the Mountain West Conference (33.3% historical win rate) and Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference (also 33.3% historical win rate) have great records and high seeds but have historically done poorly once reaching the tournament.
  • Pick a team: Just a disclaimer this probably isn’t your best strategy if you’re purely focused on winning, but fun is a big deal here at W5 and nothing is more fun than picking a team and letting it ride. Every year I pick my alma mater to go all the way. It’s only worked for me once, but man what a year it was. Pick a team, go all in on them, and act like life and death depended on every one of their games and it’ll make for a memorable March Madness.

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