March Madness Seed Statistics 2018
Soon -- very, very soon - it will be time for us to fill out our March Madness brackets . And even if you don't get into such things, it will be time for you to look at the newly-released NCAA tournament bracket to find where the best spots to bet are hidden. Either way, knowing how seeds tend to perform, where it makes sense to be on the lookout for an upset, and where it probably doesn't, is a valuable step on the road to profits. To help you out - because that's what we like to do - here is a look at some March Madness seed statistics that should be useful for you:
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The No. 1 seeds
Let's get this out of the way right out of the gate - a No. 1 is probably going to lose a first-round game, but if you bet on it happening you are an idiot. There have now been 132 tournament games between No. 1 and No. 16 teams, and the top seed has won all of them. Very few have been close. Later on down the road in the tournament it's fine to pick a No. 1 to lose in the second, third or fourth round -- more on that soon -- but the gap between the top four teams in the tournament and the bottom teams is so astronomically large that an upset that happens will be both bizarre and completely unpredictable. If at any time you feel the need to get clever and pick a No. 16 in your bracket then just apply this simple rule -- slap yourself in the face repeatedly, really hard, until you come to your senses.
We have now seen 33 tournaments in the 64 (or more) team era of the NCAA Tournament. That means that we are building up a pretty decent sample size -- 132 examples of each first-round matchup has been played over the years. One thing we have learned in that time is that it is very likely that we will see at least one No. 1 team in the Final Four. The years 2006 and 2011 are the only two times we haven't seen one, in fact. The year 2011 was particularly insane, as only one No. 1 even survived as far as the Elite Eight. It was total carnage. It is quite common that we will see more than one No. 1 as well -- last year both finalists, North Carolina and Gonzaga, were top seeds.
While we could very easily see multiple top seeds, it's extremely rare to see all of them. The Final Four was made up exclusively of No. 1 seeds just once, in 2008. And given how wide-open the tournament feels this year, and how flawed every team in the country is, it feels very unlikely that we will have a repeat of that experience.
While Gonzaga and North Carolina were both No. 1 seeds in the finals last year, they were actually the third and fourth overall seeds behind Villanova and Kansas. It is actually surprisingly rare that the team deemed the best heading into the tournament is the last one standing. Louisville won the tournament as the top overall team in 2013 (and has recently given up that title), and Kentucky did the same the year before. But those were the first teams to do so since back in 1995. There were four top seeds to win in the first 10 years of the tournament, but just six overall is probably below what most people would expect, and two in the last 22 years would fall well below most expectations. Top seeds just don't deserve respect as a dominant force.
Top three seeds
In a tournament played exactly to expectations, the Elite Eight would be four No. 1 seeds and four No. 2s. It is almost never going to play out like that, but those top two seeds will still be well represented in the Elite Eight. Last year they made up four of the eight teams, and that was the fifth straight year that at least half of the final eight were No. 2 seeds or better. So, the lesson is that you can pick upsets heading into the Elite Eight, but you don't want to get carried away and take too many.
By the same logic, we should ideally see all of the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds alive in the Sweet 16. In 33 tournaments, though, that has happened just once -- in 2009. Last year eight of the top 12 seeds were still alive in the second weekend, but only one region had not yet suffered an upset among these teams. Eight of 12 is actually pretty good -- that's the same number as 2016 but one more than 2015 and two more than 2014. So, again the lesson is respect the top seeds but not too much.
Those pesky No. 9 seeds
Last year only one No. 9 seed pulled off an upset against a No. 8 in their opener, but that was below expectations. In the 132 meetings between the closest of seeds, the No. 8s only have an edge of 67-65. That means that they were tied at 64 heading into last year's tournament. The gap between these two seeds is so tiny that smart bettors and bracket players know to completely ignore the seedings here and just pick the best team -- or at least try to.
Where are the big upsets?
The huge upsets by a low seed in the first round make big headlines and become legendary, but they really aren't that common. All of the top four seeds won their first game last year. In 2016, No. 15 Middle Tennessee State made a lot of noise by beating No. 2 Michigan State in their opener. As impressive as that was, it was only the eighth time a No. 15 has won. That might sound like a lot, but it still means that the No. 2 teams win 93.9 percent of their games. So enjoy these crazy upsets as a fan - and the chaos that follows them in the bracket - but you need to have an exceptionally good reason to actually pick one to happen.
Last year, No. 7 South Carolina and No. 11 Xavier were in the Elite Eight - with South Carolina advancing to the Final Four. Those two teams became the 29th and 30th teams ranked No. 6 or lower to make the Elite Eight in the last 33 years. That sounds like a lot, but it means that we have averaged less than one sub-No. 6 in the Elite Eight per year. So, if you fill out your bracket and find you have significantly more than that then you probably need to re-evaluate.
It's the 5 v. 12 line that always gets the upset attention when filling out brackets, and it deserves it. Last year Middle Tennessee beat Minnesota as a No. 12 in the opening round, making the 29th year out of 33 that at least one No. 12 has won. Middle Tennessee lost to Butler in the second round, but in five of the last 10 years at least one No.12 has made it to the Sweet 16.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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