The unpredictable nature of March Madness is part of its allure, and while we have seen a lot of surprising performances over the years, there are certain scenarios we have never before seen.
Earlier this month, Mike LoPresti highlighted 30 things that have never happened during March Madness. Here is a look at how likely some of these are to appear in the 2019 NCAA tournament.
North Carolina and Duke meet in the NCAA tournament
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils have been a part of 34 tournaments together but have never faced off during March Madness. The only way it happens this year is if the two make it all the way to the national title game in Minneapolis.
That isn’t too far fetched. Duke, in the East, is the top seed in the tournament and North Carolina is a No. 1 seed in the Midwest, giving this match up a five percent chance of finally happening in 2019.
Three No. 1 seeds ousted in the first week
From 2011 to 2017, only one No. 1 seed per tournament was ousted before the Sweet 16. Last year two, Virginia and Xavier, were bounced by the end of the Round of 32.
This year’s top seeds are all highly likely to make the Sweet 16 but it’s not completely out of the question three of the four No. 1 seeds fall before then. Duke is the most vulnerable (16 percent chance of not making a Sweet 16 appearance) followed by North Carolina (12 percent), Gonzaga (8 percent) and Virginia (6 percent). Still, three of those four lose in the opening weekend less than one percent of the time.
A No. 16 seed gets to the second week
No. 16 UMBC shocked everyone last season with its stunning upset of No. 1 Virginia and now it’s time for a No. 16 seed to win not one but two games during the tournament. Think it can’t happen? You’re probably right, but it’s not impossible.
No. 16 Gardner Webb has the best chance at 0.11 percent, or 940-to-1 odds against. Iona is 1,100 to 1, North Dakota State is 1,300-to-1 and Fairleigh Dickinson is 2,300 to 1 to make it that far.
The No. 1 seed plays a 15 or 14 seed
The only way we see this matchup is in the Elite Eight or later. No. 14 Yale is the only team close to having a one percent chance to make it to the Elite Eight (0.7 percent), making the odds of a Duke-Yale matchup approximately 200 to 1 against. And that’s the most likely scenario.
|Elite Eight scenario||Probability||Approximate odds|
|No. 1 Duke vs. No. 14 Yale||0.48 percent||200 to 1|
|No. 1 Duke vs. No. 15 Bradley||0.01 percent||12,000 to 1|
|No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 14 Georgia State||0.09 percent||1,100 to 1|
|No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian||0.02 percent||6,000 to 1|
|No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 14 Old Dominion||0.11 percent||900 to 1|
|No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 15 Colgate||0.05 percent||2,000 to 1|
|No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky||0.14 percent||700 to 1|
|No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 15 Montana||0.02 percent||5,000 to 1|
An Elite Eight without a single No. 1 seed
Since 2011, 19 out of 32 No. 1 seeds have made an appearance in the Elite Eight. Top seeds Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Gonzaga each have a 60 percent chance or better to make this year’s Elite Eight, but the chances of none of them surviving that far is less than one percent (0.9 percent).
A team seeded lower than No. 11 plays in the Final Four
A No. 11 seed has made the Final Four four times (Loyola in 2018, Virginia Commonwealth in 2011, George Mason in 2006 and LSU in 1986) but the best finish of a No. 12 seed or higher is No. 12 Missouri in 2002, making it to the Elite Eight. No. 12 New Mexico State has the best chance among this group but I used the term “chance” loosely: the Aggies have a 0.22 percent chance to appear in this year’s Final Four. No. 12 Oregon has the next best chance at 0.16 percent.
Tennessee makes it to the Final Four
The Volunteers will be making their 22nd appearance in the NCAA tournament but have never ventured further than the Elite Eight. Only five other schools have that many trips to the Big Dance without a Final Four appearance, and there is a 24 percent chance Tennessee leaves them all behind.
A No. 5 seed wins the national championship
A No. 5 seed has made the finals three times — Florida in 2000, Indiana in 2002 and Butler in 2010 — yet none have been able to cut down the nets. Auburn is the most-likely No. 5 seed to break through this year (0.6 percent) followed by Wisconsin (0.4 percent), Mississippi State (0.2 percent) and Marquette (0.03 percent).
A team seeded No. 9 or lower plays in the national championship game
Villanova, a No. 8 seed in 1985, is the worst seed to ever win a national title. Saint Mary’s, a No. 11 seed this year, has the best chance of inheriting the mantle (0.2 percent), which makes them a 400-to-1 shot. No. 10 Florida, No. 11 Ohio State, No. 10 Iowa and No. 11 Belmont each have 0.1 percent chances to play for the NCAA title in 2019.
A coach wins the national championship past the age of 70
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has guided his team to 34 NCAA tournaments, 12 Final Fours and five championships: 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015. He turned 72 years old on Feb. 13 and has a 15 chance to win a championship in 2019.