Tournament Index: Why the preseason AP Poll is one of the most important March Madness stats

The preseason AP poll is one of the most important things to consider when filling out your March Madness bracket. Find out why right here.

This time of year, everyone is looking for ways to find the upper hand in their March Madness bracket pools.

While there are 9.2 quintillion (yes, quintillion) ways to fill out a bracket, there are certainly proven methods and vital statistics worth considering.

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To the surprise of many, the preseason AP poll is one of the best indicators of NCAA Tournament success. It’s a pivotal component in Heat Check CBB’s Tournament Index model, which predicts March Madness results.

Even though preseason ballots are cast in October, many tournament upsets and Final Four runs can be tied back to these oft-forgotten votes.

For starters, let’s take a look at the previous NCAA Tournament champions and their preseason AP voting results.

YearTeam (Seed)Preseason AP votesPreseason AP rank
2021Baylor (1)1,5402
2019Virginia (1)1,2865
2018Villanova (1)1,2846
2017North Carolina (1)1,3146
2016Villanova (2)1,01311
2015Duke (1)1,4154
2014UConn (7)44818
2013Louisville (1)1,5682

While none of the preseason No. 1 teams have won it all since 2013, each of the champions have ranked 18th or better and six of the eight were 6th or higher in the preseason AP poll.

Now, this is where things get interesting. Let’s check out the average preseason AP votes by seed. Once again, all of the data is from the past eight NCAA Tournaments.

SeedAverage preseason AP votes
11,115
2873
3389
4707
5400
6326
7237
8262
9148
1026
11164
1222
133
140
150
160

First off, let’s check out how 1-seeds have fared based on preseason AP votes.

No. 1 seeds

Preseason AP votesAverage NCAA Tournament wins
1,500 or more4.67
1,300 to 1,4993.64
600 to 1,2993.38
599 or fewer1.57

We already have a noteworthy takeaway. No. 1 seeds that recorded at least 1,500 preseason votes won an average of 4.67 tournament games while No. 1 seeds that had 599 or fewer votes next to their name won just 1.57 tournament games, an alarming difference. Some of these early exit teams include 2018 Virginia (57 votes; lost in first round), 2013 Gonzaga (384 votes; lost in second round), 2014 Wichita State (512 votes; lost in second round) and 2018 Xavier (544 votes; lost in second round)

Now, let’s expand this data out to all top 4 seeds. The subcategories are split to include as close to an equal number of teams as possible.

Top 4 seeds

Preseason AP votesAverage NCAA Tournament wins
1,400 or more2.96
1,000 to 1,3992.70
100 to 9991.76
99 or fewer1.63

Let’s now jump down to teams placed between the 7- and 12-seed lines.

Seeds 7-12

Preseason AP votesAverage NCAA Tournament wins
400 or more1.39
1 to 3990.73
00.61

Total preseason AP votes by the top 4 seed lines can often tell us how the NCAA Tournament will unfold. Check it out:

YearTotal preseason AP votes by top 4 seedsTotal NCAA Tournament wins by top 4 seedsAdvanced to Sweet 16
201513,791369
201913,7044214
201612,9053510
201712,8464012
201811,944317
201411,8503210
201311,3243711
202110,344307

When the top 4 seeds have a combined 12,000 preseason votes or more, they win an average of 38 total games and 70.3 percent reach the Sweet 16.

However, when the top 4 seeds have fewer than 12,000 preseason votes combined, they win an average of 33 total games and 54.6 percent reach the Sweet 16.

Finally, we can rank each of the seeds and their preseason AP voting results by average NCAA Tournament wins, providing a full scope on the overall study.

Seed(s)Preseason AP votesAverage NCAA Tournament wins
11,300 or more4.00
11,299 or fewer2.53
21,000 or more2.50
3-5500 or more1.67
2999 or fewer1.64
3-5499 or fewer1.32
6-8300 or more1.32
9-111 or more0.80
9-11Zero0.67
6-8299 or fewer0.65

It’s difficult to fully explain why the preseason poll is such an informative March Madness predictor. One of the possible reasons, however, is the AP poll is one of the few tools that can quantify intangibles.

The preseason poll serves as a much-needed “intangible rating” that combines aspects such as coaching, roster talent, program success and other factors. While we all know that these factors are hugely important in March, they are especially difficult to put into numbers.

Clearly, the preseason AP poll is worth a glance or two when it comes time to filling out your March Madness bracket.