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JournalistWe are NCAA.com bracket specialists, back for year two of answering your questions about March Madness history, trivia, and bracket picking advice.

Mar 12th 2018 by NCAAcom • 12 Questions • 3086 Points

ETA 4:09PMEST - Thanks everyone for tuning in today. This has been a blast. Now it’s time to go soak my fingers in epsom salt and have a nice EC Barrel Proof on the rocks!!!

There's nothing I love more than talking about whiskey. If you have questions, I've got answers. Ask away.

Proof: https://twitter.com/HeavenHill1935/status/969574199772745728

Q:

Do y’all think Oklahoma deserved to be in over USC or Notre Dame? Yes OU started off very strong but they’ve been abysmal these past few months where USC and ND have been pretty solid.

Also do you think the “Star-factor” of Trey Young influenced the committee at all?

A:

Asking for a friend. Denny, how’d y’all get that corn so damn mellow?


Q:

Disclaimer: We have absolutely no say in the bracket, but we'll try to answer this.

True, Oklahoma has been bad lately. But it’s about the entire body of work. For the committee, quality wins in November and December are just as valuable as quality wins in January and February. The Sooners have the second-most PPG in the tournament, and hold a 2-1 record against the top 32 teams.

Oklahoma beat USC head-to-head and has wins over Wichita State (on the road), TCU (twice), and Texas Tech. Does OU inspire much confidence right now? No. But the Sooners were a 4-seed in the NCAA’s early bracket reveal on Feb. 11. They’re 2-5 since then and fell six seed lines (that’s a lot!) OU didn’t deserve a high seed, but it had the resume to get in. From everything we know, star power is a non-factor in committee selections.

A:

It’s a combination the high corn recipe and the used barrel. With a lot of the flavor extracted from the barrel in its first use for Bourbon it stays so deliciously mellow!


Q:

How many upsets should I pick?

A:

Hi Denny! I'll start us off simply. Based on all factors including price, what's your favorite whiskey? If it's one you make, what's also your favorite that you don't distill?


Q:

Great question! We define an upset as any game where the winning team was at least two seeds higher than the losing team (i.e., 8-9 games don't count) Since March Madness expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been between 10 and 16 upsets in 26 of the 33 tournaments. The annual average is roughly 12.7. There have been as few as four upsets (2007) and as many as 19 (2014) but the sweet spot is obviously somewhere in between. So, where should you "spend" your upsets? Here's how the average upsets break down by round:

  • First round: 6.1
  • Second round: 3.6
  • Sweet 16: 1.6
  • Elite Eight: 0.9
  • Final Four: 0.3

Most, if not all of your upsets should be in the first two rounds. But which matchups exactly? Here's how each first-round matchup's upset percentage looks:

  • 10 over 7: 38.6%
  • 11 over 6: 37.1%
  • 12 over 5: 35.6%
  • 13 over 4: 19.7
  • 14 over 3: 15.9%
  • 15 over 2: 6.0%
  • 16 over 1: 0.0%

Your 10-12 seeds are the sweet spot for upsets, and the chances of a higher seed winning drop off dramatically once you reach the 13 seed. Finding the exact games to pick is where the magic comes in, but you can read more about it here: https://bracketchallenge.ncaa.com/bracket-iq/article/news/basketball-men/bracketiq/2018-03-07/heres-how-pick-march-madness-upsets-according-data

A:

There’s not one that is my favorite, just depends on the occasion. If I’m sitting at home watching a movie or going to a football tailgate, it changes and that’s the beauty of what we do! There are a lot of different options at a lot of different price points. For example, if I’m going to a tailgate I’m going to bring Larceny - it’s a crowd pleaser and you can enjoy it anyway you want, like neat, on the rocks, classic cocktail. If I’m sitting at home watching a movie, I’m going to have some Elijah Craig Barrel Proof or Henry McKenna BIB. For options I don’t distill, probably Makers where I worked for seven years and was Assistant Master Distiller.


Q:

So a follow up:

When people talk about why there are so many 12 over 5 upsets (or 11 over 6 or 10 over 7) is because the 10-12 seeds are generally the conference champs from weak conferences (or best teams from bad conferences) and the 5-7 seeds are the weaker teams from the power conferences. In other words, you have good teams that have been under seeded (due to limited exposure) playing teams that are overseeded (or should be in the NIT) but benefit from the 'halo' of being in power conferences. At first glance, this theory 1) 'feels' right and kinda makes intuitive sense, and 2) you can go pick out examples of precisely this phenomenon happening.

However, if you dig deeper it becomes a lot less clear that this theory really explains why there are so many mid-seed upsets (eg, is it really small-time conf champs pulling off these upsets?).

1) Have you all ever dug into this phenomenon (why all the mid-seed upsets), 2) do you agree with that theory, and 3) do you have a better theory?

Thanks!

A:

Hey Denny-

big fan of heaven hill brands. elijah craig barrel proof, in particular. i have a few questions:

  1. do you have any favorite independent or small distilleries you think we should be watching? people who are doing it right and not rushing product to market?

  2. any chance of barrel/high proof offerings of other heaven hill labels?

  3. what is heaven hill doing to stymie the oncoming pop to the bourbon bubble? does heaven hill even think this is a bubble or does hh see the current fervor as a sea change for the whiskey world?


Q:

That is a good theory. We haven’t done a deep dive into this, and to fully answer this we’d need to do a lot more research, but we can take a quick look now.

First, let’s look at the records for 12 seeds vs. 5 seeds. Since 1985, the 12 seed has a regular-season winning percentage of 81.7%, while 5 seeds' regular-season win percentage sit at 72.3%. That alone would help prove your theory somewhat.

Going a little deeper, 12 seeds have won 47 of their 132 first-round matchups with 5 seeds (35.6%). So let’s compare performance as a 12-seed by conference.

Major conference teams account for 29 of the 132 total 12 seeds (21.97%), But they have 13 of the 47 12-seed first-round wins (27.66%). They account for 81 of the 132 total 5 seeds (61.4%), but have just 27 of the 47 losses (57.44%).

From just looking at this, despite how strong or weak they may be in a given year, teams from major conferences seem to do better on both sides of the 12-5 game.

In conclusion, we can't say for certain right now, but that would be a great story to look into, so follow BracketIQ for an update. Thanks for the idea!

An interesting fact from the research, the higher seed is 19-27 (41.3%) in games decided by four points or fewer. Two of those close wins came in 2016, as No. 12 Little Rock knocked Purdue out of the first round with a 85-83 win and No. 12 Yale took down Baylor 79-74. In 2017, No. 5 Notre Dame held off No. 12 Princeton, 60-58.

A:

1) do you have any favorite independent or small distilleries you think we should be watching? people who are doing it right and not rushing product to market?

Love what Pat and Shane are doing at Wilderness Trail in Danville KY. Those guys are top notch and true experts. They have not released any of their whiskey yet but it’s coming and it will be good.

2) any chance of barrel/high proof offerings of other heaven hill labels?

Once again, will never say never.

3) what is heaven hill doing to stymie the oncoming pop to the bourbon bubble? does heaven hill even think this is a bubble or does hh see the current fervor as a sea change for the whiskey world?

As I said in a previous answer, everyone has their own perspective on this, but from my position I don’t think Bourbon is going anywhere any time soon. We’re only halfway to where the industry was in its peak in the 1970’s. And we have huge growth potential in the international markets. As the second largest holder of aging American Whiskey, we’re in a better position than most to prepare for the future.


Q:

Penn is one of the highest rated 16 seeds we've had in the past few years and Kansas may be missing (or have limited availability from) one of its best players (Azibuke). Not saying anyone should pick it, but can you see Penn Kansas as being one of the better shots in the last few years at that illusive 16 seed upset?

EDIT: spelling

A:

We have the same last name. You get a lot of Harry Potter references anytime someone notices your name?


Q:

It's definitely one of the most interesting 16-1 matchups in recent memory. Kansas gets 37.4 percent of its points from 3-pointers (a pretty significant amount), and without a healthy Azubuike, they may have to rely on the perimeter game more heavily. But Penn has the second-best 3-point defense in the nation, holding its opponents to just 29.2% of all 3-pointers. Still, don't let this trick you into picking the Quakers. The average margin for a 1-v-16 game is 24.9 points. Only 15 of those games have been decided by less than 10 points, the most recent one in 2014: Arizona’s 68-59 win over Weber State. None have been decided by one possession since 1996. In fact, in the past 11 years, more than three times as many 1 vs. 16 games have been decided by more than 30 points (13) than fewer than 10 points (four). Yes, you'd have bragging right over your friends for eternity if you picked the first-ever 16-seed upset, but the risk of knocking out a 1-seed (and all its potential points) so early just isn't worth it.

A:

Yes, I get that question all the time!


Q:

Which First Four team do you think has the best chance to go the furthest in the tournament?

A:

Hey Denny! Thanks for opening your doors to Heaven for a little bit.

Can you speak on the Bourbon industry and where you think it's going. Everyone claims the bubble is about to burst.

Also, can you explain the farm to distillery relationship and where you might get your corn, wheat and rye from? I've heard that a lot of distilleries, HH included use GMO products to keep up with demand. Any shift towards organic!


Q:

St. Bonaventure. Syracuse and Arizona State are trending downward. UCLA is young and inconsistent. The Bonnies have an outstanding senior backcourt duo in Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley and make 40% of their 3s. It’s hard to trust 3-point shooting, but if St. Bonaventure maintains that clip, it has the potential to advance to the second weekend.

A:

1) Can you speak on the Bourbon industry and where you think it's going. Everyone claims the bubble is about to burst.

Everyone has their own perspective on this, but from my position I don’t think Bourbon is going anywhere any time soon. We’re only halfway to where the industry was in its peak in the 1970’s. And we have huge growth potential in the international markets. As the second largest holder of aging American Whiskey, we’re in a better position than most to prepare for the future.

2) Also, can you explain the farm to distillery relationship and where you might get your corn, wheat and rye from? I've heard that a lot of distilleries, HH included use GMO products to keep up with demand. Any shift towards organic!

All of the corn comes from four local farmers who we have worked with for generations. We typically get our wheat from these same farms since they will grow the wheat on the same property once the corn is harvested. Our rye comes from the Northern US and Canada. We just cannot grow it economically here in KY. As for GMO, we do not dictate to the farmer what they should grow. They know what is best to grow on their land. That being said, no GM material makes it through distillation thus the reason why we do not mandate what the farmer must grow.


Q:

Am I dumb for taking Cincinnati to win it all?

A:

Hi Denny,

Any chance we’ll see a brand extension of Larceny? Maybe a barrel proof someday? Older age stated ones like Elijah Craig 18 year? Thank you for such an amazing portfolio of whiskey.


Q:

Dumb isn’t the right word - but it’s unlikely.

Cincinnati earned its 2-seed by beating the teams it’s supposed to beat. That’s an underrated skill, and it’s why the Bearcats are a sound pick to reach the Elite Eight. But Cincy is 3-4 against top 25 KenPom teams - nothing to scoff at, but also not a mark that screams “future national champion.” Cincinnati has the strongest 1-seed in its region, too, with Final Four contenders like Arizona and Kentucky lurking.

It feels like the Bearcats are a dynamic point guard away from being a true national championship contender.

A:

I’ve been on record saying that I feel Larceny is our next Evan Williams. Evan Williams is the #2 bourbon in the world and Larceny has all the tools to be right there some day. We released Larceny in 2012 in very select markets. This time last year we were only in 19 markets across the U.S. We wanted to grow the brand the right way which was making sure we had enough Wheated Bourbon to support true organic growth. By the end of 2017 we were finally to the point that we could fully distribute nationally. Right now that is our focus. Once we are comfortable with where we are as far as supporting the growth of Larceny we might take a look at some of the things you mentioned. And lets also not forget our announcement of Old Fitz BIB just last month, which is the genesis of Larceny http://blog.heavenhilldistillery.com/old-fitzgerald-bottled-bond-series/


Q:

Who, in your opinion, is the safest final four bet? Not necessarily most likely to win, but most comfortable taking to the final four

A:

Thanks for this AMA! I have a question specifically about the discontinued NAS Old Heaven Hill BiB (red, gold, black label). What was the approximate age of whiskey going into these bottles? I find it quite extraordinary for the price and tastes (certainly noses) well above four years. When I find these I make sure to buy them, as they’re nearly unbeatable for the value. Thanks again!


Q:

To be clear, there’s no such thing as a safe Final Four bet. But this question requires us to look at both the best overall team and the easiest path to the Final Four.

The answer is Villanova - and yes, the fact that the Wildcats are notorious for flaming out of NCAA tournaments early (with the exception of 2016) isn’t lost on us. But these are the biggest non-Villanova threats to win the East: Purdue, Texas Tech, Wichita State, West Virginia. Can you confidently advance any of them to the Final Four in your bracket?

No, and Villanova has been the second-best team in the country this year - its ceiling might be higher than Virginia’s. The Wildcats are legitimately great and have a favorable road to San Antonio.

A:

Old Heaven Hill BIB was 4 year old whiskey. Today, I drink our Evan Williams White label when I’m looking for a 4YO BIB.


Q:

What is the craziest upset in March Madness history?

A:

Do you see the future of American Brandy exploding in popularity much like Bourbon has in the last decade? If so, does Heaven Hill have any plans for this?


Q:

The craziest might have to be 1990's second-round matchup between 11-seed Loyola Marymount and 3-seed Michigan. The Lions won the game 149-115, which is still the record for most combined points in an NCAA tournament game (264). In that game, Loyola Marymount took 89 shots (!), and made 21 3-pointers (!!). For reference, Savannah State leads both categories in DI this year. They average 73.4 shots per game, and 12.2 made 3-pointers. So yeah, Loyola Marymount's box score was absurd. That 1990 Loyola Marymount team was the highest scoring team, and also allowed the most points per game throughout the whole season (and had done so in 1988 and 1989 as well). They averaged 122.4 points per game. But they met their match in the Elite Eight against 1-seed UNLV, who beat them 131-101 — the third-highest scoring game in modern March Madness history. Read more about those records here: https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/bracketiq/2018-02-28/highest-scoring-march-madness-games-ncaa-tournament-history

A:

With the popularity of Bourbon, we continue to see people trying other brown spirits like Brandy. Heaven Hill currently owns the number-two selling Brandy with Christian Brothers. We just launched the first Bottled-In-Bond American Brandy two years ago, Christian Brothers Sacred Bond. I get to work with our distilling partners in California, O’Neill, which is an interesting collaboration as they are managing a different production process using grapes and copper pot stills.


Q:

What popular first round upset pick do you expect not to happen?

A:

My SO has taught me a considerable amount about wine and I've taught her a lot about bourbon. I've really grown to appreciate wine and I feel like my experience with tasting bourbon has made it easier to pick up tasting wine.

Do you find that bourbon has expanded your palate while tasting other things? Other than bourbon, what other types of alcohol do you enjoy in your down time?


Q:

This certainly could happen, but we don’t expect South Dakota State to beat Ohio State in that 12-5 matchup. Chris Holtmann is 3-for-3 in NCAA tournament first round games, and with apologies to Mike Daum, he has the best player on the floor in Keita Bates-Diop. The Jackrabbits are good, but their best win of the season was against South Dakota.

A:

Yes, tasting American Whiskey over the years has certainly helped expand my palate, or at least improved my ability to explain what I’m tasting. As for other types of alcohol, I love aged rum. I actually ran a rum distillery in the Caribbean for 3 years and fell in love with the rum making process and the people that make it happen.


Q:

Names like Tigers, Bulldogs and Wildcats are popular in the college ranks. Can you think of another time when a team like the Wildcats (Davidson) could emerge into the Sweet Sixteen having only beaten other Wildcats, like Kentucky and Arizona? And do you think the Committee has a good sense of humor to go along with their keen sense of irony in thiose Davidson/Kentucky/Arizona possibilities?

A:

What is your absolute favorite part of your job?

What about your favorite part of a day at work?


Q:

That's a fantastic question! Davidson could actually make it to the Elite Eight having only played Wildcats (first round v. Kentucky, second round v. Arizona, Sweet 16 vs. Kansas State). If we want to get a little loose with the rules, they could face another cat in the Elite Eight (Cincinnati Bearcats or Georgia State Panthers). In the Final Four, the Houston Cougars could await, and Davidson could wrap up the tournament with one more Wildcat in the championship game — Villanova.

Has a streak like this been possible before? We’d have to do some deep digging, but we can tell you that teams with cat mascots have played teams with people mascots (Aggies, Musketeers, etc.) the most, and the cats hold a 115-95 advantage. But the age-old rivalry of cats vs. dogs goes the way of the canines in March Madness, as dogs have won 34 of the 59 games between the two.

A:

1) What is your absolute favorite part of your job?

The relationships. Relationships with co-workers, suppliers, consumers…..you name it. The people tied to this industry are fantastic and make this work a ton of fun.

2) What about your favorite part of a day at work?

Hmmm…...I always enjoy the first hour at work. Our distillery runs 24/7 so when I come in in the morning there is usually someone near the coffee pot that can give me the scoop on how things ran during the night and how things are currently going. And that conversation can easily move into discussions about college basketball, crappy winter weather, upcoming vacations, etc. Just love that first hour.


Q:

Thanks for taking the time to do this. What do you think are the actual chances of a Georgia State upset over Cincinnati in the first round? That was one matchup that stood out to me immediately and almost nobody is talking about it.

A:

I love the special releases from HH. I have heard that Parker’s heritage collection may be ending. Is there any truth to that?


Q:

Georgia State is a fan favorite every since Ron Hunter fell out of his chair in 2015, when the 12-seed Panthers knocked off 5-seed Baylor, but we're not sure this team has that same magic. We actually looked into the common traits of a 15-2 upset, and the one thing that stands out is free throw shooting. Only eight 15 seeds have ever won a first-round matchup, but the ones that did shot an average of 27.63 free throws in those games. Georgia State currently averages 12.17 FT/G, putting them at 238th out of 351 DI teams. Also, the Panthers are slightly less experienced than the average 15 seed that pulls off the upset. When giving an experience score to each team (Sum of each player's MPG multiplied by that player's experience), GSU scores a 584.6 on the season, while the eight 15 seeds that won averaged 616.9. But this is March of course, so we're not making any guarantees!

A:

Absolutely false. This has been a rumor that has circulated, but it did not originate with us. Even though Parker is no longer with us, he has had a direct impact on many things that are currently aging and might become a Parkers release. This collection will continue because of that and also because we need to continue to honor him for years to come for what he has done for Heaven Hill and also our industry. It is also important to point out that the Parkers release every year donates a significant amount of proceeds to ALS research and patient care. That is reason enough to keep things going in the future.


Q:

What year was the closest to a "no upset" year? Do you think there will be a year of no upsets?

A:

What's your favorite flavor Gatorade?


Q:

Great question. 2007 was a remarkable year with just two first round upsets (upsets being defined purely by seeding). The whole tournament had only four. 2016 saw the most in the first round with 10 (out of 32 games). 2014 had the most total with 19.

Here's way more on that if you're interested: https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/bracketiq/2018-03-07/heres-how-pick-march-madness-upsets-according-data

A:

I don't drink a lot of Gatorade anymore, but Lemon-Lime is my go-to.


Q:

Thanks for the AMA.

1) How far do you see Michigan going in the tournament?

2) What are some First Round games to keep on Upset Alert?

A:

We can give you our NCAA.com reporter Andy Katz's thoughts on this. Andy has Michigan going to the finals and losing to Villanova there. Not a bad run - he's big on the Wolverines.

Looking at his bracket - Katz has a few moderate upsets. - Loyola-Chicago over Miami - New Mexico State over Clemson Katz also has two First Four winners moving on from the 11 seed: He's picked Arizona State into the second round as well as St. Bonaventure.


Q:

Am I wrong to have Virginia make it to Sweet 16 and lose to Kentucky?

A:

Not at all. Kentucky deserved to be on the 4 or 5-line, but with the way it looks right now, UK could reach the Final Four. However, the Wildcats will have to go through Davidson and (probably) Arizona to reach the Sweet 16, which won’t be easy. We’d have more confidence in Kentucky if its first two games were more favorable, but the Wildcats are certainly talented enough to beat Davidson, Arizona, and Virginia.


Q:

The deepestest

A:

Sure, but there’s no guarantee. Devonte’ Graham is playing the best ball of his college career — considering the career he’s had, that’s saying something. Kansas starts four plus shooters and the center trio of Udoka Azubuike/Mitch Lightfoot/Silvio De Sousa has improved tremendously since Big 12 play began.

But Kansas is in a tough region and has a history of (relatively) early March Madness exits. Duke and Michigan State loom at the bottom of Kansas’ region — probably the scariest 2-3 combo this year. Azubuike’s health is also a question mark.


Q:

Loyola seems to be a trendy pick around these parts. How can Miami erase that in the first round?

A:

Miami quietly closed the regular season on a four-game winning streak before losing to North Carolina in the ACC tournament.

A matchup like this comes down to Lonnie Walker IV. In those four wins, Walker scored double-digit points in each game and made 10 3s. In the ACC tournament? Nine points, 0-for-5 from 3. Loyola and Miami match up fairly evenly when you look at the metrics, but the Ramblers don’t have an athlete of Walker’s caliber. He doesn’t need to go off, but if he’s solid, Miami is in good shape.


Q:

Damn, good point.

A:

Xavier can make it past the Elite Eight - but when comparing the Musketeers to other 1 or 2-seeds, it’s fair to be skeptical.

Xavier has been awesome in close games this year. It’s why the Musketeers are only 14th in KenPom despite being 28-5 and playing in a great conference. Their point differential isn’t great, they're ranked 56th out of the field of 68 in defensive efficiency, and they don't force opposing mistakes (318th out of 351 in turnover rate).

That said, winning close games is a skill — having a senior duo like Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura is an asset. But the Musketeers aren’t going to overwhelm anyone, and that’s a trait you’d want in a Final Four pick.


Q:

Any chance of Buffalo making it out of the first round against Arizona?

A:

Probably a better chance than the public thinks. Yes, Arizona just won the Pac-12 tournament, and Deandre Ayton is a monster. But outside of Arizona, the Pac-12 only sent two teams to the tournament - both in the First Four. It’s fair to be skeptical of the Wildcats’ recent competition.

And the Bulls are smoking hot, having won 19 of their last 22. Buffalo should double or triple team Ayton if it has to - Arizona’s perimeter players can make shots, but they’ve been inconsistent. Make Ayton fight through a forest or arms and pray that the PJC/Alkins/Trier trio struggles from deep. It’s possible. You can score on Arizona.


Q:

Which team from the 5-8 line will make it the furthest?

A:

6 seeds actually have the highest winning percentage out of the 5-8 seeds. The 6 seeds are 144-127 (53.1%) in the tournament, three wins ahead of the 5 seed (52.6%). The 6 seed wins an average of 1.09 games per tournament, while the 5 seed wins 1.07, the 7 seed wins 0.86, and the eight seed wins 0.7.


Q:

[deleted]

A:

You'll get lots of varying odds here. The website 538 has a perfect round at 1 in 3,500, and in 2017 there were more than 200 that did this. One professor we talked to said the formula is essentially like a coin-flip at 70-30 odds (opposed to 50-50), figuring the difference in team ability makes it better than a 50-50 shot. Regardless of that, what you did is impressive and rare. There have been years where it doesn't happen at all.