March Madness Seed Statistics 2019
We are, as I write this, just over a week away from the unveiling of the NCAA Tournament bracket. That starts four days of mad scrambling to fill out what we hope will be a winning bracket. Every tournament is different, and this one will have a unique flavor like any other. But there have been enough games played over the years in the tournament that we can learn valuable lessons from March Madness seed statistics that can help guide us towards the winning picks. We don't want to let the statistics entirely guide our picks, but using them to point us in the right directions can at least help us avoid costly mistakes.
The No. 1 Seeds
It finally happened! Every year I had written that sooner or later a No. 16 was going to pull off the seemingly impossible upset, but with each passing year I was beginning to believe it less and less. But UMBC not only beat Virginia to ensure they are the answer to a trivia question forever, but they did it by 20 points. It was an incredible thing to witness and one that will never be forgotten. But perspective is still important here. Before last year there had been 132 matchups between a No. 16 and a No. 1, and the top seed had won 100 percent of them. Now there have been 136, and the top seed has won 135 of them - a .993 win rate. So, we now know that these upsets are possible, but that doesn't make them likely. We may see another one again soon, or we may never see another one again. And neither would be that surprising. So, as you sit down to fill out your bracket, remember this - despite what UMBC did, picking an upset in these games is an indefensibly stupid decision, and if you pick the No. 16 team then you don't deserve to fill out a bracket.
Even with Virginia out so soon, and some general carnage in the bracket, we still saw two No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. That fully matches expectations. In the 34 years of the 64+-team tournament we have seen only two years - 2006 and 2011 - in which at least one top seed has not been among the last four standing. But we aren't likely to see all four top seeds make the final weekend. That has only happened once, in 2008. This year it feels like the top seeds could be quite strong, but even so you will want to look for at least one to lose somewhere ahead of schedule.
Part of what made the Virginia upset so shocking is that they weren't just a No. 1 seed, but they were the top seed in the entire tournament. Louisville in 2013 was the last top overall seed to win the tournament, and they have given up that title now. Kentucky did the same the year before. But before that no team had pulled it off since 1995.
Top Three Seeds
If the tournament played out exactly to expectations, then the Elite Eight would be four No. 1 teams playing four No. 2 seeds. Of course, it never works out that way. Last year there were two No. 1 teams and a No. 2 in the final eight. That was the first time in six years that at least half of the eight wasn't made up of the top two seeds. So, the general lesson is clear - don't get too crazy with the upsets, because top teams are more likely to advance most of the time.
Logic also tells us that we would expect to see all 12 of the Top 3-seeded teams in the tournament advance to the Sweet 16. The only time that has happened in the 34 years of a 64-or-more team field, though, was in 2009. Last year was a particularly crazy year on this front, with just six of the 12 team advancing. While all three teams advanced in one group, Virginia's group actually saw all three teams upset in the first weekend. The last time only six of the 12 teams made the second weekend was 2014.
The No. 9 seeds
If you are looking for the toughest matchup to pick in the first round, it is without question the battle between the closest seeds. Last year three No. 9 seeds pulled off the mild upset over their No. 8 opponents. That moved the record over the 136 games played between the seeds in the history of the tournament to exactly 68-68. Over a pretty decent sample size, these have literally been coin flip games.
Despite the insanity in so many corners of the bracket last year, one oddity that stands out is that all four No. 5 seeds survived the attack of the No. 12s in a spot that is often tough for higher seeds. Last year was just the fifth year in 34 that at least one No. 12 had not won their opener. In five of the last 11 years, at least one No. 12 has made the Sweet 16.
Last year saw three teams below a No. 6 seed make the Elite Eight - No. 9 teams Florida State and Kansas State, and Sister Jean's No. 11 Loyola, which advanced to the Final Four. In 34 years, we have now seen 33 teams below a six seed make the Elite Eight. So, it's possible, but still not likely - that only averages just under one per year.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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