ESPN Preps Bracket-Hungry Viewers With 24-Hour Tournament Challenge Marathon

In the days between Selection Sunday and the start of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, there’s a window when sports fans are hungry to learn as much as they can about college basketball before sitting down to fill out a bracket. ESPN was there to feed that hunger with a 24-hour marathon of live coverage and analysis of the tournament designed to educate fans on the matchups and promote participation in the network’s online Tournament Challenge contests.

“This is one of the true elements of sports Americana,” says Tom Archer, who, along with Kate Leonard, served as coordinating producer on the project. “Everybody fills out a bracket, and you don’t need to be an expert in college basketball to have fun picking your teams and picking a national champion. Our goal is to surround the 24 hours of coverage with fun and some degree of differentiating brackets and Tournament Challenge content both in the linear presentation and in our digital and social platforms. We want to make it as easy as possible for viewers to know how to sign up, how to enter, how many ways you can play. It’s up to us to give you information on how to win.”

The Tournament Challenge marathon began on ESPN with the NCAA Women’s Selection Special at 7 p.m. ET on Monday and ran through to a special edition of Tournament Challenge at 4:30-7 p.m. on ESPN2 on Tuesday.

The lineup of programming was produced out of three studios in Bristol, CT; one in Los Angeles; and a remote set at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. It features Tournament Challenge-themed editions of popular shows, including Mike & Mike, First Take, Outside the Lines, Jalen & Jacoby, The Jump, and SportsNation, plus live cut-ins from SportsCenter.

Archer and Leonard worked closely with Creative Services and Studio teams to make the best use of technology throughout the shows, including virtual graphics from Vizrt and telestration technology for analyst breakdowns. Much of the footage and content that was run through the shows was pulled together by Managing Producer Dave Arnold. Building relevant clips that could be shared among all the shows was made simpler through the network’s Quantel (now Snell Advanced Media) media-management system.

“If there has ever been a greater example of cooperation across the campus to make sure all of our bases are covered, this is definitely a project that has done that,” says Archer. “It’s taken a lot of people and departments working together over the past six to eight weeks, fine-tuning the shifts and needs of the various shows.”

David J. Phillip/AP

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has a methodical strategy for picking the winner of the NCAA Tournament

Filling out a NCAA Tournament bracket and predicting winners, upsets, and the ultimate champion has become a passion for college basketball fans and non-fans alike.

While nobody has ever picked a perfect bracket before, ESPN’s college basketball analyst Jay Bilas has an interesting strategy for picking a winner that could help dictate your picks.

In a video for ESPN, Bilas broke down how he chooses the ultimate tournament winner.

First, though it’s fun to pick upsets or a Cinderella team, according to Bilas, no team with a seed line of nine or higher has ever won the NCAA Tournament. You can cross off 36 teams immediately.

Next, Bilas says, the last 13 winners of the tournament have had 25 wins or more when entering the tournament. This year, you can cross off 12 more teams to get down to 20.

From here, it gets a bit more stat-heavy. Bilas likes to look at Rating Percentage Index (RPI), a stat that measures teams’ strength of schedule and how they do against that schedule. While it’s not a perfect stat, according to Bilas, since 1994, 22 of the last 23 national champions have had an RPI of 17 or better. We’re down to 14 teams.

Basketball is obviously a two-way game — teams have to play good offense and defense to win games. Bilas looks at teams who have ranked in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency and top 15 in adjusted defensive efficiency — points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for strength of opponent. By filtering out those teams, this year, we’re left with just three contenders: Villanova, Kentucky, and Gonzaga.

Bilas then uses one more criterion to pick a winner: offensive rebounding. As Bilas puts it, “It helps to have a safety net in case shots aren’t falling.” Bilas looks to see which teams have an offensive rebounding rate above 30%. This year, that leaves just one team:


It’s an imperfect strategy, but it’s methodical and finely tuned and could bear results if you’re looking to win a pool amongst friends, family, or co-workers.

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