It’s time to grab an NCAA Tournament bracket and join that office pool. Here’s a rundown of dos and don’ts as you try to maneuver through the Madness this week:
Don’t pick a No. 16 seed
Let’s the get the obvious out of the way first. The constant of the NCAA Tournament is that no 16 seed has ever defeated a 1 seed — in 128 tries since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. No reason to think that changes this year (even if you’re not a believer in Gonzaga).
Flip a coin and move on
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The 8-9 game is a true toss-up. Over 32 tournaments and 128 games, the 8 seed has defeated the 9 seed 64 times, and the 9 seed has defeated the 8 seed 64 times. And don’t spend too much time agonizing over these four matchups, because you probably shouldn’t be picking any of these teams to make it out of the first weekend. The winner of the 8-9 game has a 17-111 record against the 1 seed in the round of 32.
No. 2 blues
See a 2 seed that you don’t like? Don’t advance them past the round of 32. At least one 2 seed has failed to make it out of the first weekend in each of the last seven tournaments and 19 of the last 20. Two 2 seeds have been ousted before the Sweet 16 in each of the past three tournaments. In all, 46 teams seeded 7 or 10 have made it past the first weekend in the last 32 tournaments (and 15-seeded Florida-Gulf Coast did it in 2013, the only such seed to win two tournament games).
Pick a big upset
Don’t be afraid to pick a team seeded 13, 14 or 15 to pull a major upset in the first round. That’s an expected part of the Madness. At least one such team has earned a victory in 28 of the 32 tournaments since the field expanded in 1985. It’s happened in each of the last nine tournaments. And there were three such upsets last year: No. 13 Hawaii over No. 4 California, No. 14 Stephen F. Austin over No. 3 West Virginia and No. 15 Middle Tennessee State over No. 2 Michigan State. Don’t get too crazy though. Of the 55 teams seeded 13-15 to win a first-round game, only nine advanced to the Sweet 16, and none made it further than that.
When you get to the Elite Eight, go ahead and throw out the numbers next to the names. In the last 10 tournaments, the team with the worse seed actually has a better record than the better-seeded team when a trip to the Final Four is on the line. But it’s close. The worse seed is 21-19 in such games. Kentucky has won twice in the Elite Eight as the worse seed over that stretch — beating No. 2 North Carolina as a 4 seed in 2011 and defeating No. 2 Michigan as an 8 seed in 2014. The Cats have also won two as the better seed — beating No. 3 Baylor in 2012 and No. 3 Notre Dame in 2015, both times as a 1 seed. The Cats’ other trip to the Elite Eight in that span was 2010’s loss as a 1 seed to No. 2 West Virginia.
Don’t load up on 1s
We’ve established that its best to advance all of your 1 seeds past the first weekend. It’s also probably smart to drop at least two of those four teams in the second weekend. Since the tournament expanded in 1985, only twice have more than two 1 seeds reached the Final Four (three No. 1s in 2015 and all four No. 1s in 2008). There has been no more than one 1 seed in six of the past seven Final Fours, and two Final Fours (2006 and 2011) featured zero 1 seeds.
Your title game
History suggests that two of the top 12 seeded teams will be playing for the national championship in Arizona on April 3. In the 64 national semifinal games since 1985, a 1-3 seed has won 52 of them. Teams seeded 4-8 have 12 total victories in that span, and no team seeded 9 or worse has ever advanced to the national title game. The only championship game to feature two teams seeded worse than 3 was 7-seeded UConn’s victory over 8-seeded Kentucky three years ago.
The final line
Keep it (relatively) simple when settling on your national champion. Since the field expanded to 64 teams, 28 of the 32 champs have been a 1, 2 or 3 seed. More often than not (19 times in 32 years) a 1 seed wins it all. Five national champs in that span were 2 seeds, and four were 3 seeds. Only once in the past 20 years has a team seeded 4 or worse won the title (UConn in 2014). The other three such teams to do it: 4-seeded Arizona in 1997, 6-seeded Kansas in 1988 and 8-seeded Villanova in 1985.
Statistics for NCAA Tournament round of 64 games (since 1985)
Top seed wins
Bottom seed wins
1 vs. 16
2 vs. 15
3 vs. 14
4 vs. 13
5 vs. 12
6 vs. 11
7 vs. 10
8 vs. 9