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Brett Comer of the FGCU Eagles celebrates during the 2013 NCAA Tournament
Brett Comer and the FGCU Eagles made a surprise run to the second weekend in 2013. Photo by William Streicher/Icon Sportswire.
  • Is there really as much mayhem in March Madness as the media portrays?
  • Which seeds are the best bet to overachieve?
  • Which schools just cannot buy a win in the NCAA Tournament?

March Madness is known for upsets, buzzer-beaters, and more havoc than a Shaka Smart defense on amphetamines. But is there really as much chaos to the tournament as there appears, or are have we all fallen victim to YouTube bias? Even though you’ve watched the highlights of #15 Lehigh beating #2 Duke 35 times, it still only happened once.

To get a more accurate sense of how the bracket tends to play out, eschew the videos and look to the trends. Below are 11 of the best, strangest, and most-bankable trends for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

1. No #1 seed has ever lost in the first round

Alonzo Mourning as a Hoya
Alonzo Mourning’s Hoyas nearly fell as a #1 seed in 1989 … but they didn’t.

We will get to stats you haven’t already heard a thousand times in short order, but every March Madness trends article has to start here. We have still never seen a #1 seed get upset in its opening game. Two #16 seeds did manage to lose by just a single point:

TEAM SCORE TEAM
#1 Georgetown 50-49 #16 Princeton
#1 Oklahoma 72-71 #16 East Tennessee State

But here’s the catch: both of those near-misses were all the way back in 1989.

2. The #1 seeds win at least two games 86% of the time

After feasting on lowly #16 seeds, the top dogs still have room for dessert: #1 seeds are 114-18 (86% win-rate) in the second round since 1985. That’s significantly better than #2 seeds, which are just 83-41 (67% win-rate).

3. The #1 seeds cover the spread if it’s less than 20 points

According to ESPN’s Mackenzie Kraemer, #1 seeds are 7-1 in their last eight games when the point spread is less than 20.

4. The #7 seeds crush the #10 seeds

Mo Wagner of the Michigan Wolverines
Mo Wagner and the #7 Wolverines beat #10 OK State in 2017.

That’s overstating it a bit, but given the NCAA Tournament’s reputation for upsets, a lot of amateur bracketologists assume that the #7 vs #10 matchups are basically toss-ups, and that’s not the least bit true. The #7 seeds have won at a 61% clip and are 81-51 all-time.

5. But the #10 seeds have staying power

[When #10 seeds] survive the Round of 64, they’re batting nearly .500 in the Round of 32.

The history of #10 seeds in the first round isn’t great (see above). Yet, when they do survive the Round of 64, they’re batting nearly .500 in the Round of 32, going 24-28 all-time (46% win-rate). If there’s a #10 seed you love in the first round, take a hard look at their matchup in the second round and don’t assume they’ll be one-and-done.

6. The First-Four are primed for more!

Chimezi Metu of the USC Trojans
Chimezi Metu and the Trojans went from the First Four to the Round of 32 in 2017,

Ever since the tournament expanded to 68 teams and implemented the “First Four” (2011), one of the teams to advance from that preliminary section of the bracket has won its Round of 64 game, as well. Since 2013 (when LaSalle won three games as a #13), that’s meant a #11 seed upsetting a #6 in the first round. In 2017, #11 USC knocked off #6 SMU.

7. The #9 seeds are one-hit wonders

The #8 vs #9 games are true coin-flips (70-66 since 1985), and the selection committee has long said that the eight teams grouped in the #8-9 range are treated as equals. That makes the discrepancy in their second-round success really strange: #8 seeds are 13-54 (19.5% win-rate), while #9 seeds are an atrocious 5-60 (8% win-rate).

SEED ROUND OF 64 WIN-RATE ROUND OF 32 WIN-RATE
#8 51.5% 19.5%
#9 48.5% 8%

8. Underdogs have covered 22 of the last 36 games between #8 & #9 seeds

Again, #8 and #9 seeds are almost in a dead-heat over the last 33 years, and the parity has translated to the betting realm. Taking the points has been the wise move.

9. The #11 seeds are first-round phenoms

Going back to the 2011 tournament, #11 seeds are … 17-15 [against #6 seeds].

Going back to the 2011 tournament, #11 seeds are over .500 against #6 seeds in the first round, going 17-15 in that span. In the 2017 tournament, Xavier, USC, and Rhode Island all won as #11 seeds, and Xavier advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.

10. The #13 line is the parity cut-off

Every year, talking-heads (and, to some extent, computer algorithms) detail the increased parity in the college game. It’s also well documented that #12 seeds (47-85 all-time; 35.6% win-rate) are basically as good as #11 seeds (49-83 all-time; 37.1% win-rate) in the Round of 64.

When you get to #13 seeds, though, David runs out of rocks and Goliath pulverizes the word parity between his heartless hands. What I’m trying to say is that #13 seeds are a dismal 26-106 (19.7% win-rate) in the Round of 64.

11. Some teams just can’t get off the schneid

Nebraska facing Purdue in 2017
History indicates that Nebraska won’t win in the NCAA Tournament.

Neither Boise State (0-7), Nebraska (0-7), nor Belmont (0-7) have ever won a tournament game. Only Eastern Kentucky (0-8) has more losses without a win.

Contrast that with perennial mid-major power Gonzaga, which is 9-0 in the Round of 64 since 2009.