March Madness Seed Statistics
by Trevor Whenham - 3/17/2015
The NCAA men's basketball tournament is the best three weekends in sports. That's true as a fan, as a bracket junkie, or as a handicapper. Winter can be long and dull, but this is the best possible way to break it up - and hopefully to bring it to an end. To help you dominate your bracket this year, here are some updated March Madness seed statistics to help you out:
No. 1 seeds
The No. 1 seeds are getting a whole lot of attention this year. Well, one of them at least. Kentucky is picked in the Final Four of virtually every bracket out there, and they deserve it. But what has history taught us about No. 1 seeds in general?
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Well, for starters, we can be pretty confident that we will see at least one No. 1 seed in the Final Four. The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Since then there have been just two years - 2006 and 2011 - in which all of the No. 1 seeds were shut out of the final weekend of action. 2011 was particularly ugly - only one of the top seeds, Kansas, even made it as far as the Elite Eight.
While we are likely to see at least one top seed, we are even more likely to not see all four top seeds advance to the Final Four. That has happened just once before - back in 2008. With a field as wide-open as this one (aside from Kentucky, of course) and so little difference between the top seeds and the second seeds, it's hard to imagine that this will be a repeat of 2008.
It is good news for Kentucky that the top overall seed in the tournament won the tournament in two of the last three years - Kentucky again in 2012 and Louisville the next year. Of course, last year was something completely different - UConn was a No. 7 seed, and they beat eighth-seeded Kentucky in the final game. Including those two recent top-seed winners, though, only six top seeds have won since 1985, so recent success is not an indicator of overall trends. Before Kentucky won in 2012, in fact, no team had won as top overall seed since 1995.
The most obvious trend with the top seed is their first-round supremacy. A hundred and twenty times we have seen a No. 1 play a No. 16, and 120 times the superior team has come out on top. The games are almost never even somewhat close, either. Last year Arizona only beat Weber State by nine points. That marked the fourth time in the last three years that one of these games was decided by single digits. Before this streak this hadn't happened since 1997, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we are any closer to what would unquestionably be the biggest upset in the history of North American sports.
Top three seeds
We know that the two teams in the final last year were quite unexpected - at least in terms of their seeds. Joining them in the Elite Eight as surprises were No. 11 Dayton and No. 4 Michigan State. That means that only four of the eight last teams were top three seeds - fewer than the five from the previous year or the six the year before that. It's still a good bet, though, that quality will advance in bulk to the later rounds.
What we aren't likely to see, though, is all 12 of the top three seeds make it through to the second weekend. It wouldn't seem like that would be too tough, yet it has only happened once - in 2009. Last year, just six of those 12 teams made it through their first two games. That was a much worse performance by the higher-seeded teams than normal, but given how wide-open this tournament is this year behind Kentucky we could again see that level of decimation amongst the top seeds.
The hunt for big upsets
In the two years prior to last year we had seen some huge upsets. Three No. 15 squads - Florida Gulf Coast, Norfolk State and Lehigh - had shocked the world in their first games against No. 2 seeds. It was easy to think at that time that those upsets were becoming the norm. Last year, though, things returned to expectations, and the No. 2s rolled through their opening games. The top seeds have still won 113 of 120 games played - 94 percent - so while you would look like a hero if you correctly picked an upset, it's a lousy decision to pick one in your bracket.
Last year we saw two teams ranked higher than sixth in the Final Four. That was the 25th time in 30 years that we have seen at least one team ranked No. 6 or higher has made the Elite Eight. Don't forget a longer shot or two when you are filling out your brackets and making your bets.
By now we are almost more surprised when a No. 12 doesn't win their first game against a No. 5 than when they don't. Last year we saw three of the four No. 12s move on. There were three winners from that group the year before as well. In the 30 years of the 64-team tournament we have now seen a No. 12 advance to the second game 27 different times. No No, 12 made it to the Sweet 16 last year, but they have still done so in five of the last seven years.
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