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The Method to March’s Madness: A look at the preseason polls and what it means in March

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Chris Flanagan 
Special to

Every year, college basketball writers, magazines and coaches make a prediction about the upcoming basketball season. Although it’s tough to predict how a long college basketball season will end, these prognosticators have perfected the method of how to determine the top college teams and the top conference in college basketball. These methods will let you know what you can utilize preseason polls when filling out your bracket in March.

Look for the highest mid-major ranked to make some noise in March

Every college basketball fan loves watching a Cinderella team make it deep in the NCAA Tournament, with the occasional team making it as far as the Elight Eight or, in the case of George Mason in 2005, all the way to the Final Four. But for most mid-major or small conference schools , the reality is that they’ll probably be out by the first or second round.  

But as the talent gap in Division 1 basketball continues to thin out, recent years have shown that at least one mid-major school will make it deep into the tournament, even if they’re not considered a Cinderalla team.  For example, in the past six seasons the highest ranked mid-major team made it at least to the Sweet 16, if not higher. Two of the six made it to the Final Four--Louisville in 2004 as a member of Conference USA and Memphis in 2008, not to mention George Mason in 2005, although there’s was considered one of the greatest Cinderella runs in NCAA history.

So if you’re looking for that bracket buster, look no further than the top preseason ranked mid major team, with Butler holding that honor for the 2009-2010 season.

If you can’t choose a national champ, take a look at the preseason top five.

When fans are filling out the bracket, they worry too much and get upset  for not properly picking the Final Four or the National Champion teams. Even more, nobody likes it when their pick for the national championship is knocked out in the second round. When filling out your bracket, make sure to look at the preseason top 5. In five of the last six seasons, at least two of the preseason top five went to the final four. Also in that same time period, five of the last six national champions were ranked in the top five of the preseason poll. When looking who might be the other teams in the final four, look at the preseason top 10. Since 2003, four of out the six seasons, three of the four teams in the final four were ranked in the preseason top 10. 

Just because a conference is perceived to be the best doesn’t mean it will get the most NCAA bids.

One of the biggest excitements going into Selection Sunday is where bubble teams will get seeded or if they’ll even make the tournament. Many fans believe that since they’re team played in a stronger conference, the NCAA Selection Committee would give them greater preference because their conference schedule is usually much tougher than a mid-major team’s conference schedule. This is not always the case. In the past four seasons, only twice has the conference with the most teams in the preseason top 25 had the most teams in the tournament.

Another myth during March Madness is that the best team from the conference with the most bids will win the national title. Since 2003, only once has a team from once of those conferences won the national title. (UConn in 2004.)

One positive is that since 2003, the conference with the most bids in the tournament on three occasions had the most teams in the Elite Eight (2004, 2007, 2009) and four times had the most teams in the Sweet Sixteen (2004, 2006, 2008, 2009). When it comes to filling out your bracket, take the teams from the best conference to go to the sweet sixteen, but don’t pick them to win it all. 

Kansas will be the national champion

In the 28 years preceding the 2003 college basketball preseason poll, only five times did the #1 preseason ranked team go on to win the national championship. Since then, three of the preseason number one’s have finished as the national champion, a 50% success rate for these polls.

Is this a statistical anomaly? Maybe, but with more games being broadcast, along with access to the internet, i the job of selecting the national champion before the season begins has been made much easier.

Kansas does have some comparisons to teams that were ranked atop the preseason polls, then went on to win the national championship (2004 UConn, 2007 Florida, 2009 North Carolina). All three of those teams returned all five starters from the previous year’s squad.

Kansas has all five returning starters in this year’s squad and they finished at #10 last year in the final coaches poll. All three of those teams finished in the top 11 in the previous year’s final coach’s poll. If there is one negative to the Jayhawks’ chance of winning the title in April, it’s that each of the three teams above went at the least to the Elite Eight in the previous year’s tournament. Kansas only went to the Sweet Sixteen. 

Follow these four methods to March Madness according to the preseason poll, and you’ll have a great chance at becoming the smartest guy in the room at the end of the tournament in April.