March Madness: Which Final Four School Is the Smartest?

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The fact that the teams playing in the annual Final Four of the NCAA Tournament actually represent colleges, universities, and institutes of higher learning is often forgotten in the craziness that is March Madness. We also tend to forget that the players we rooting for and against are student-athletes, as many of them go on to achieve fame and fortune playing professional basketball.

College athletics almost always overshadow academics. Many people judge schools based off their performances on the playing fields or courts, not based on their research, academic achievement, or the success of their alumni. For example, when the University of Oregon football team clinched a spot in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, the school saw a 30% increase in applications almost immediately. Richard Lariviere, who at the time was the University of Oregon’s president, summed up the situation by saying that, “the amount of general interest in the university has just skyrocketed. It is possible this may be the highest level of positive scrutiny that the university has ever had.”

Exclusivity is a big part of what separates colleges and universities from one another in terms of prestige. Exclusivity is typically portrayed through acceptance rate. A lower acceptance rate equates to a more prestigious school, which in theory leads to a group of incoming students with average SAT and ACT scores that are higher than other schools around the country.

MarketWatch recently compiled and released the data on how well the 68 teams in the 2015 NCAA Tournament rank in terms of smartest student bodies. The rankings are based on average SAT score, average ACT score, and acceptance rate. Harvard, to the surprise of nobody, ranked as the smartest school in the field this year, while the University of Northern Iowa ranked as the least smart school in the field. In honor of tomorrow’s Final Four, we decided to take a look at how the four remaining teams stack up against one another in terms of perceived brainpower. It is important to note that this ranking has no relevance as to how well these teams perform on the court, and is not indicative of each team’s basketball IQ. Furthermore, these numbers represent the entire student population, not just the basketball team. With that, here is a look at which Final Four school is the smartest.

Elsa/Getty Images

Elsa/Getty Images

4.  Michigan State Spartans

  • Average SAT Score:  1640
  • Average ACT Score:  25
  • Acceptance Rate:  68.6%

Michigan State comes in as the least smart school in the Final Four. The irony of this situation is that they may actually be the smartest team in terms of overall basketball IQ that is in Indianapolis this year. The most popular areas of study at MSU are business, biological and biomedical science, communication and journalism, social sciences, and engineering.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

3.  Kentucky Wildcats

  • Average SAT Score:  1672
  • Average ACT Score:  25
  • Acceptance Rate:  68.6%

Kentucky may be the heavy favorites to win the 2014-15 national title, but they are a middle-of-the-pack school in the rankings for smartest school in the 2015 Big Dance. The five most popular majors at Kentucky among 2013 graduates were biology, psychology, accounting, finance, and nursing. With that said, most of the Wildcats’ basketball team will move on to play professional basketball before earning their degrees.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2.  Wisconsin Badgers

  • Average SAT Score:  1905
  • Average ACT Score:  28
  • Acceptance Rate:  67.9%

Like Michigan State, the Badgers have an incredibly high basketball IQ for a college team, which can be attributed to their roster being among the most experienced in the entire tournament. Wisconsin was actually one of the higher ranked schools despite their relatively high acceptance rate, but let’s be honest here, their acceptance rate it likely on the higher end because of their arctic climate. The top five most popular majors among 2013 graduates at Wisconsin were biology, economics, political science, psychology, and history.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

1.  Duke Blue Devils

  • Average SAT Score:  2185
  • Average ACT Score:  32
  • Acceptance Rate:  13.4%

Duke is one of the few schools in the country where the prestige of the basketball program matches up with the school’s academic prestige. The Blue Devils are back in the Final Four for the 16th time in program history, and the university ranked as the second smartest school in the 2015 NCAA Tournament behind Harvard. Duke is more or less the equivalent of the All-American kid. With such a strong tradition of excellence in nearly everything they do, it’s easy to see why Duke is the school a lot of people love to hate.

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