March Madness: Cinderella Teams Dominate Social Sentiment

College basketball teams have been giving it their all to advance to the NCAA Finals. And if fans had it their way, we’d see quite a few “Cinderella” teams making hoop history – and actually, some already are!

Bringing You Up To Speed

In case you don’t know what this March Madness business is all about – 2019 marks the 81st annual NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, which is a “single-elimination tournament of 68 teams to determine the men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 college basketball national champion.” It kicks off tomorrow, March 19th and ends on April 8th with a championship game in Minneapolis. It’s a big deal – and that’s underplaying it.

Who is tweeting about it (as the conversation is largely on Twitter)? Mostly older men, but lots of women are chiming in too. It’s good to know your audience:

With 68 teams heading in to the tournament, 32 of those spots are automatically awarded because those teams won their conference’s tournament, and the other 36 are “at-large” and chosen by the NCAA Selection Committee on Sunday, March 17th (yesterday). You can find the final brackets on the NCAA site here.

The predictions and sentiment folks were expressing ahead of the final brackets announcement were all over the map:

And after, we see quite a clear indication of disappointment, calling the NCAA Selection Committee a “joke.”

But before you click through to see what happened and who got in, let’s take a look at some unlikely contenders who had all the feels, thanks to an energetic fanbase rooting for them. Each Cinderella pick below is accompanied by its Net Sentiment score, a measure of negative to positive emotion, from -100 to 100 to give a sense of just how much passion they generated online.

Online Loves an Underdog

It’s always a safe bet to assume most people are rooting for the underdog. And, interestingly, we see college basketball fans, specifically, eating the underdog narrative up year after year! “Every March Madness features all sorts of thrilling upsets. No. 14 seeds knocking off No. 3 seeds. Overmatched teams beating dominant ones. These upsets are why so many sports fans watch and love the NCAA tournament. Unlike other sports’ playoffs, it pits underdog teams from small schools against powerhouse behemoths — and, with surprising frequency, the underdogs win.”

And this season is no exception.

We’ll start with the first-timers. For these two teams, it’s the first time in their respective school’s history that they’ve ever made it to the NCAA Basketball tournament:

Gardner Webb University. Mascot: Bulldogs. Net Sentiment: 92%

Abilene Christian University. Mascot: Wildcats. Net Sentiment: 100%

Then we have a handful of teams who have only made it to the NCAA twice now. They include:

Colgate University. Mascot: Red Raiders. The last time was in 1996. Net Sentiment: 95%

Prairie View A&M University. Mascot: Panthers. Last time was in 1998. Net Sentiment: 77%

Northern Kentucky University. Mascot: Norse. Last time was in 2017. Net Sentiment: 71%

UC Irvine. Mascot: Anteaters. Last time was in 2015. Net Sentiment: 50%

And rounding out our list of hopefuls, we see the much-loved, Liberty University. Mascot: Flames. This is the fourth time they’ve made it to the NCAA Basketball tournament in their school’s history, with the last time happening in 2013. Net Sentiment: 29%

But wait a minute – 50% and 29% aren’t Net Sentiment scores that seem to demonstrate lots of love. What’s going on?

It’s always important to have the ability to explore beyond surface insight, particularly when a result doesn’t seem to make much sense – like what we’re seeing here.

UC Irvine has had some bad press, of late. It’s had some unfortunate events happen on its campus and that flavors what news outlets and other online participants are discussing about the school, beyond its NCAA performance.

And then Liberty University is a conservative college and anything openly partisan is always controversial:

Answers to insight discrepancies aren’t always so easy to sort out though. It’s important to be able to explore your data, down to a granular level to get to the bottom of things that aren’t making sense. And regardless of topic and whether or not the insight you’re gathering seems to make sense, it’s always a good idea to dig deeper, as a regular spot check activity, to make sure your data is sound and that you’re strategizing based on a solid baseline.

And speaking of baseline, there are some teams that typically form one (a baseline, of sorts) in the NCAA tournament. And those teams that always get in, along with their Net Sentiment scores, follow:

Michigan State University. Mascot: Spartans. 33rd NCAA tournament. Net Sentiment: 63%

Villanova University. Mascot: Wildcats. 39th NCAA tournament. Net Sentiment: 60%

Syracuse University. Mascot. Orangemen. 40th NCAA tournament. Net Sentiment: 18%

Duke University. Mascot: Blue Devils. 42nd NCAA tournament. Net Sentiment: 33%

University of Kansas. Mascot: Jayhawks. 47th NCAA tournament. Net Sentiment: 64%

University of North Carolina. Mascot: Tarheels. 49th NCAA tournament. Net Sentiment:68%

University of Kentucky. Mascot: Wildcats. 55th NCAA tournament. Net Sentiment:72%

Beyond the obvious, that Syracuse and Duke require a little digging, what does the overall picture here tell us? Well, a search for terms specific to NCAA underdogs probably captures the passion best:

Ready to read about the expected upsets? And planning to see if sentiment around these teams ties in and possibly helps predict winners? There’s lots that predictive analytics powered by Next Generation AI is capable of, though we don’t suggest you use it to inform bracket choices.

But reach out for a demo and we can show you ways to find insight hiding beneath the surface. And you can find unlikely audiences, underdogs even, in your own category to become brand ambassadors and capture that same sentiment and direct it toward you!

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