March Madness: This obscure stat is a huge help to picking 8 vs 9 games
Flip a coin. Choose two No. 8 seeds and two No. 9 seeds. Pick all four No. 8 seeds because "Hey, they're slightly better, right?"
Everyone has a different strategy for picking those tricky 8/9 games in the NCAA tournament and none of them seem to work as well as you'd like. We're here to make your life easier and your picks more successful. We hope.
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We examined the 8/9 matchups in the last 10 NCAA tournaments (a 40-game sample size) and compared the winning and losing teams' offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage, among other statistics, to see if there were any trends. It turns out the statistic you should've been using to pick these games was offensive turnover percentage.
The team with the lower turnover percentage in the 8/9 game in the last 10 years is 28-12, a 70 percent winning percentage.
Why might a lower turnover percentage lead to more wins? Well, committing fewer turnovers means more of a team's possessions end in shots, which can lead to three good outcomes – a made basket (the best option, obviously), an offensive rebound that leads to another scoring opportunity, or a foul committed by the defense.
Plus, if a team does a good job taking care of the ball on offense, it bodes well for its defense as well. Turnovers lead to transition offense for the opponent against a defense that's not yet set. So fewer turnovers mean fewer chances for the opponent to score easily in transition.
For the sake of comparison, here are several other stats, courtesy of KenPom.com, that have largely proven to be less-than-effective predictors of success in the 8/9 game in the last decade. The adjusted efficiency margins, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency numbers come from KenPom.com's pre-tournament data, so it reflects where teams stood entering March Madness.
Better adjusted efficiency margin: 23-17
More efficient offense: 23-17
More efficient defense: 16-24
Higher team 3-point percentage: 23-17
Higher free throw percentage: 21-19
Higher defensive turnover percentage: 17-23
More difficult strength of schedule: 20-20
More experienced team: 25-15
Taller average height: 13-27
If you're looking for a secondary metric to help you pick this year's 8/9 games, it wouldn't hurt to go with the more experienced team. The more experienced team has won the 8/9 matchup at better than a 62 percent rate in the last 10 years. Weirdly, the team with the shorter average height is 27-13 in the last 40 8/9 matchups, which might hint at modern basketball's shift to small ball lineups that can space the floor and switch defensively on screens.
Here's the full list of the 8/9 matchups in the last 10 years, along with each team's offensive turnover percentage.
|Year||Winning Team||Winning Team's TO%||Losing Team||Losing Team's TO%|
|2017||No. 8 Wisconsin||17.0%||No. 9 Virginia Tech||17.2%|
|2017||No. 8 Northwestern||16.0%||No. 9 Vanderbilt||18.2%|
|2017||No. 9 Michigan State||20.5%||No. 8 Miami (FL)||19.5%|
|2017||No. 8 Arkansas||16.6%||No. 9 Seton Hall||19.5%|
|2016||No. 9 UConn||16.3%||No. 8 Colorado||18.8%|
|2016||No. 8 Saint Joseph's||14.3%||No. 9 Cincinnati||16.3%|
|2016||No. 9 Providence||16.1%||No. 8 USC||16.6%|
|2016||No. 9 Butler||14.5%||No. 8 Texas Tech||17.8%|
|2015||No. 8 Cincinnati||21.0%||No. 9 Purdue||19.9%|
|2015||No. 8 Oregon||16.9%||No. 9 Oklahoma State||18.5%|
|2015||No. 8 NC State||16.0%||No. 9 LSU||20.3%|
|2015||No. 8 San Diego State||18.6%||No. 9 St. John's||15.7%|
|2014||No. 9 Pittsburgh||16.3%||No. 8 Colorado||19.7%|
|2014||No. 8 Memphis||18.6%||No. 9 George Washington||19.0%|
|2014||No. 8 Gonzaga||17.4%||No. 9 Oklahoma State||14.7%|
|2014||No. 8 Kentucky||18.1%||No. 9 Kansas State||18.5%|
|2013||No. 8 Colorado State||17.2%||No. 9 Missouri||19.0%|
|2013||No. 9 Wichita State||19.4%||No. 8 Pittsburgh||18.1%|
|2013||No. 8 North Carolina||17.2%||No. 9 Villanova||22.9%|
|2013||No. 9 Temple||15.9%||No. 8 NC State||18.0%|
|2012||No. 8 Iowa State||18.2%||No. 9 UConn||18.7%|
|2012||No. 9 Saint Louis||17.7%||No. 8 Memphis||18.5%|
|2012||No. 8 Kansas State||21.0%||No. 9 Southern Miss||16.2%|
|2012||No. 8 Creighton||17.7%||No. 9 Alabama||20.1%|
|2011||No. 8 George Mason||16.9%||No. 9 Villanova||17.9%|
|2011||No. 8 Michigan||16.6%||No. 9 Tennessee||19.8%|
|2011||No. 9 Illinois||19.4%||No. 8 UNLV||18.6%|
|2011||No. 8 Butler||17.0%||No. 9 Old Dominion||20.7%|
|2010||No. 9 Northern Iowa||17.9%||No. 8 UNLV||17.4%|
|2010||No. 8 Gonzaga||18.6%||No. 9 Florida State||24.3%|
|2010||No. 9 Wake Forest||21.1%||No. 8 Texas||18.2%|
|2010||No. 8 California||17.6%||No. 9 Louisville||19.8%|
|2009||No. 9 Siena||18.1%||No. 8 Ohio State||20.9%|
|2009||No. 9 Texas A&M||18.9%||No. 8 BYU||16.5%|
|2009||No. 8 Oklahoma State||16.7%||No. 9 Tennessee||18.3%|
|2009||No. 8 LSU||17.5%||No. 9 Butler||20.0%|
|2008||No. 9 Arkansas||21.7%||No. 8 Indiana||19.8%|
|2008||No. 8 UNLV||16.1%||No. 9 Kent State||22.3%|
|2008||No. 8 Mississippi State||21.1%||No. 9 Oregon||18.3%|
|2008||No. 9 Texas A&M||19.0%||No. 8 BYU||20.1%|