Twelve of the past eighteen Tournaments have been won by a top seed.
Graphic updated with data through the 2019 Tournament
On Sunday the NCAA Selection Committee will release this year’s Tournament brackets and create the structure within which the teams will compete. Teams will be placed in one of sixteen seedings spread across four so-called “regions,” for a total of sixty-four competitors. How teams are seeded dramatically influences their chances of victory in the Tournament. Those top seeds should be feeling optimistic as they begin their paths through the Tournament. Twelve of the past eighteen Tournaments have been won by a top seed.
Here is a comprehensive look at the performance of all 1,216 competitors, representing 249 programs, that have participated in the nineteen Tournaments between 2001 and 2019. (Play-in games are excluded.)
Of the 380 teams seeded twelfth or lower, only one has managed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. More interesting is the exceptional performance of the seven and eleven seeds. Six of the 72 eleven seeds made the Sweet Sixteen, as did seven of the teams ranked seventh. One of them, Connecticut, won the Championship in 2014. The relative success of eleven seeds hurt the performance of the six seeds against whom they play in the first round.
If I were a college basketball coach, I would be very disappointed to find my team seeded eighth or ninth. These teams face each other in the first game, with the survivor usually losing to the top seed in the next round.
The survival rates for teams rated fifth or higher rise quickly along with their seedings, but it is the top-seeded teams whose performances really stand out. Half the teams (19 of 38) that reached the Final Four were top seeds, and twelve of those eighteen teams won the Championship. The remaining winners consisted of two two-seeds, three three-seeds, and one seven seed, Connecticut in 2014.