NCAA Seed Stats - through 2023 |

NCAA Seed Stats - through 2023


Bored Historian
Aug 26, 2011
Well, folks, the time has come to fill out your NCAA bracket sheets, If you are like me, you have come to realize that there is no relationship to the amount of time you spend on your sheet and the quality of the results. One year, a friend of mine at work put a sheet on the floor and placed his baby on it. Wherever the kid drooled, that was the pick. I spent three days reading all I could about all the teams before doing my sheet. The kid and I were neck and neck until I passed him in the final four. Now he’s probably all grown up and is as dumb as I am. Another year, I was delighted to go 14-2 the first night. I came to work and found some secretary had gone 16-0. The next day, I went 15-1. I backslid on Saturday at 5-3 but had a 7-1 Sunday for an incredible record of 41-7 after the first weekend, with only 15 games to go. You see ads in the sports magazines for guys bragging about their 70% prediction rate. I was at .854. How could anyone match that? The secretary was at 44-4, (.917). I asked her for her secret. She said she didn't know anything about basketball. She just picked schools based on who she knew who went there, which schools wore her favorite color, etc. Any illusion that I or anyone else knew anything about college basketball disappeared completely.

But it can be liberating to lose your illusions. I was born in the same hospital as Tom Cruise and grew up a couple miles from where he spent the first two years of his life but that's not him in the mirror, so why worry about it? The real challenge is to get a sheet done before the tournament begins. For that you need some kind of a system. Not a fool proof system. Not something that would make you the King of Vegas. Just a system that allows you to get a sheet together on time and still have a life. One way is to look at the percentages.

The NCAA tournament field went to 64 teams in 1985, (the year Villanova won). Since then these are the records of the seeds in the first rounds:

(updated through 2021 Note: a 7-10 game between Oregon and Virginia Commonwealth was canceled due to “multiple positive Covid tests” on the VCU roster and 7 seeded Oregon was advanced. I’m treating that as a win for the 7th seed. )

1 vs 16: 154-2 98.7% Last year #1’s were 3-1 by a combined +55 points. The loss was by 5 points.

2 vs 15: 144-12 92.3% Last year #2’s were 3-1 by a combined +66 points The loss was by 4 points.

3 vs 14: 134-22 85.8% Last year #3’s were 4-0 by a combined +47 points. The closest was by 18 points.

4 vs 13: 123-33 78.8% Last year #4s were 3-1 by a combined +37 points. The loss was by 1 point.

5 vs 12: 102-54 65.4% Last year #5’s were 4-0 by a combined +48 points. The closest was by 6 points.

6 vs 11: 95-61 60.9% Last year #6’s were 3-1 by a combined +11 points. The loss was by 18 points.

7 vs 10: 96-60 61.5% Last year #7’s were 3-1 by a combined +14 points. The loss was by 17 points.

8 vs 9: 76-80 48.7% Last year the #8’s were 2-2 by a combined +3 points. The losses were by 1 and 8 points.

If you divide the latter, (upset), number by 397, you should pick one 14, one 13, one 12 and two 11 seeds, two 10s and two 9s to win . That's 8-9 upsets in the first round. The average over the years is 8. Last year there were 7. You can't always go with the averages, however. In 2016 there were 13 upsets, tied for the highest ever with 2001. The previous year, 2000, there was the lowest ever, only 3. The year we won the title, (2003) there were 8 first round upsets, exactly the historical average. The next year there were half that many. Overall, the seedings hold up pretty well. In 39 years, there have been between 7 and 9 upsets 20 times. Don’t just go “chalk” but don’t drive off the road, either.

If you score well in the first round, you will usually contend the rest of the way because you will have the most teams still alive. Then the question becomes: Who's most likely to make the Final Four? According to the seeds, there have been:

60 #1 seeds, (including all four in 2008, the only time it’s happened)

35 #2 seeds

17 #3 seeds

14 #4 seeds

9 #5 seeds

3 #6 seeds

3 #7 seeds

7 #8 seeds

2 #9 seed

1 #10 seeds (Dat’s us!)

5 #11 seeds

0 #12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 seeds.

The chances of a team seeded less than #4 making the final four, (based on a percentage of who made it) are 19%, (only 29 of 156). But last year we had a #4, two #5s and a #9. SU’s Final Four teams were seeded #2, (1987), #4, (1996), #3, (2003), #4, (2013) and #10 (2016). There were no seedings in 1975 but we wouldn’t have been seeded very high. Each regional was 8 teams and we probably would have been 6th or 7th.

The national champions have included:

25 #1 seeds

5 #2 seeds

4 #3 seeds

2 #4 seed (Arizona in ’97)

0 #5 seeds

1 #6 seed (Kansas '88)

1 #7 seeds (Connecticut ’14)

1 #8 seed (Villanova '85)

0 below that. (I don't think the play-in games are a real big deal).

There had never been a Final Four with all #1 seeds until 2008: Somebody is likely going down. But, if you are picking less than a #3 seed to go all the way, you are going out on a limb. But you might just be right- about once a decade, Still, if you want to play it safe, chose a #1 seed.

First Round Upsets

How often do they lead to second round victories? Last year the first round Cinderellas won another 2 games before going down. The previous year 10 won 8 more games.

In the 39 tournaments since the field reached 64 teams, there have been the following number of first round upsets, with the following results in later rounds:

16 seeds have now won 2 games and both lost in the next round.

15 seeds have won 12 times. Nine lost in the next round and the other 3 in the Sweet 16.

14 seeds have won 22 first round games and 2 second round games and none in the Sweet 16.

13 seeds have won 33 first round games, 6 second round games and none in the Sweet 16.

12 seeds have won 55 first round games and 24 second round games. They have won 3 Sweet 16 games,

11 seeds have won 57 first round games and 27 second round games. They have won 8 Sweet 16 games. They made it to the final four 5 times. (LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011, Loyola in 2018 and UCLA last year.)

10 seeds have won 60 first round games and 23 in the second round. They have won 8 Sweet 16 games. We were the first ever 10 seed in the Final Four.

9 seeds have won 80 first round games. That has gotten them 78 dates with #1 seeds. They have won exactly 8 second round games and 4 games in the sweet 16.

People love those first round upsets but 227 of 325 of the teams that pulled them have gone from windshield to bug in the next game. That’s 70%. Then they are 24-65, (27%) in the Sweet 16 They are 7-17 (29%) in regional finals. None made it to the title game.

If you go with percentages, pick 2 nine seeds to upset eight seeds but that's as far as they go. Also pick two 10 seeds to win in the first round. Give one of the winners a trip to the sweet 16 but that’s it. Pick two #11 seeds to win and one goes to the Sweet 16. Pick one each of the 12, 13 and 14 seeds to win. They will stop there. In the Final Four you could go with two 1 seeds, a 2 seed and a 3 or 4 seed. Or you might want to pick a lower seed just for fun, But nothing below an 11th seed unless you want to make history. You now have the freedom to pick a 16 seed to win in the first round but keep in mind it took 34 years for that to happen. Do you really want to predict it’s going to happen again now?

Oh, you want to know WHICH upsets will take place? Beats me! That's the problem, and the delight. Some observations that might help- or might not:

- I tend to steer away from "hot" teams to win it all because they will have to maintain their level of play for three weeks against increasingly tough competition. The championship team is usually a team that gets hot in the tournament, not one that was already hot when it started. Sometimes, they are just "survive and advancers", who don't blow anyone away but have bottomed out at the right time and get better as the opposition gets better. (Of course “bottoming out” teams are more vulnerable in the early rounds than the hot teams, so watch out!)

- Don't base decisions on coach's reputations. Bobby Knight won three national titles and went out in the first game 9 times. Lute Olson won a national title and was one and done 10 times. Tom Izzo has been to 7 Final Fours, (he’s good at getting there but less good at winning: only one). But he’s gone out in the first round 4 times. Jim Boeheim is 5 and 6. Jimmy Valvano and Rollie Massimino had one good run a piece and became “legends” for a moment. The players play the game, not the coaches.

- I think match-ups are critical. Not just individual match-ups but team match-ups. We all know what physical teams can do to finesse teams. I like zone teams or teams with great shot-blockers vs. teams with no outside game. I like teams that press or use man-to-man vs. a team with a shaky point guard. I like teams with two good big men over a team with one. Look at guard play first, the front line second. But if guard play is similar, go with the taller team. Upsets are more likely to occur between teams with different styles. When teams mirror each other, pick the higher seeded one – they are doing it with better athletes. A "mid major", (are there "low majors" anymore?), will be more likely to pull off an upset if they've been strong all year than if they got hot in their conference tournament. Actually, you should avoid Cinderella conference tournament winners: they've likely shot their bolt.

- The numbers suggest that the most efficient offensive teams go the farthest and you’ve got to score. But defense still wins championships. Avoid teams that are just trying to out-score their opposition. They might pull off an upset but not they aren’t winning 6 in a row.

- You may hate the "power conferences" but when the Final Four comes, that's where the teams have traditionally come from, although that shows signs of changing with George Mason, VCU, Butler, Wichita State, etc. Last year, (2019) we Had Loyola of Chicago and Villanova, (is the Big East still a ‘power’ conference?). Under-performing but talented teams from power conferences might be a better bet. If you are going to pick a Cinderella, make sure you don’t wind up with an Ugly Step Sister instead.

Beginning in 2018, I took a different tactic. Instead of researching all the teams and applying my dubious theories, I just used to the points accumulated by each team in my “Against Ranked Teams” study, (which I will be updating shortly), to pick the most likely upsets, then the most likely final Four teams and the probable winners there and in the other games in between. It enabled me to rip through the selection process and, even though my predicted national champion went down in the first round, I wound up doing better than I have in years overall. Documented achievements proved more reliable than theories and opinions, so I’ll be using the same method this year. You might want to peruse that or Sagarin or KenPom or somebody else and let them guide you more than your own instincts or guesses.

Or you can just drool. That might work...

Bon appetit.
Thank you for the every year update of a great post.
Last edited:
The top 10 ranked teams were all eliminated early in the 2023. The 1 seeds went 5-4 in last year's tournament and the highest seed to make it into the Final Four was a 4 seed.
The top 10 ranked teams were all eliminated early in the 2023. The 1 seeds went 5-4 in last year's tournament and the highest seed to make it into the Final Four was a 4 seed.

That produced a lot of paper airplanes from what used to be NCAA sheets.
"It's just an iceberg, Captain!"

I predicted 9 upsets and we got 10. None were 15's or 16's. :p

I predicted two 9's, two 10's, two 11's and one each of the 12's, 13's and 14's and we got two 9's, one 10, three 11's, two 12's, and one each of the 13's and 14's. I had 3 upsets right but 6 that didn't happen and 7 that did that I didn't predict. :oops:

Including the play in games, I've gotten 21 games right and 15 wrong and have 7 'automatic losers' because the team I predicted to win those second round or sweet 16 games games didn't make it to the second round. So I'm really 21-22. :(

But all my Final Four teams are still alive! :)

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