Don’t fill out your bracket until you read this
By Dan Keating and Darla Cameron,
You can pick your brackets based on team colors, where your ex-partner studied nursing or power-conference winning records. But here’s some guidance based on how seeds 1 through 16 have performed over the 29 years of the 64-team tournament*.
Seed performance in each round
Did you know that No. 11 seeds have a winning record in the Elite Eight but no 10th-seeded team has ever won a game there? Did you know the number of low seeds getting to the Final Four has skyrocketed? But a low seed has never won it all.
Check out every seed’s performance in every round over the entire 29-year history. Hover over any box for more details.
Who makes the Final Four?
Low seeds are getting further and advancing more often. The last four years have seen unparalleled consistency of low seeds getting to the last weekend. If you add up the seeds of the last four teams – so a one, a two, a three and a four would be a total of 10 – you have an average Final Four Seed Score of less than 10 from 1985 through 2009. But the average since 2010 has been 17 – thanks to Wichita State (9), Butler (an 8 and a 5) and Virginia Commonwealth (11).
So you’re not crazy to pick some low seeds to get far. But don’t pick them to win.
No. 1 seeds have won 18 of the 29 championships in the 64-team tournament. Second- and third-seeded teams have won four times apiece. Arizona is the only No. 4 seed to win. And there was Kansas (6) and Villanova (8) back in the 1980s. But to win your bracket, pick a top seed. Hover over a year to learn more, and click to see the complete bracket from each year.
The rate of upsets
There may be more parity in college basketball since John Wooden and UCLA can’t keep all the best players anymore. But there has been no major change in the share of upsets per season. There are 63 games every tournament (we’re not counting play-ins) and there are between 16 and 20 upsets just about every year. Some years have bursts of upsets in the first round, other years have more in the second round.
But late-round upsets are getting rarer. Since 2005, there has only been one upset in the final game and only one in the Final Four – that’s 27 games with only two upsets. So once you get to the final weekend, go with the big dogs. Hover over the bars to see how many upsets happened in each round each year.
- Round 1
- Round 2
- Sweet 16
- Elite 8
- Final Four
- Title game
|Year||Upsets by round||Total|
* Play-in games are not included.