Every year, when filling out a bracket, it always looks so enticing — picking a 1 seed to win the national championship. But is it a smart decision? How do 1 seeds do in the NCAA tournament?
That's where this handy guide to everything you want to know about a March Madness 1 seed comes in.
Let's start at the basics.
What are seeds?
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is made up of 68 teams. On Selection Sunday, before any tournament game is played, those teams are ranked 1 through 68 by the Selection Committee, with the best team in college basketball — based on regular season and conference tournament performance — sitting at No. 1. Four of those teams are eliminated in the opening round of the tournament (known as the First Four), leaving us with a field of 64 for the first round.
Those 64 teams are split into four regions of 16 teams each, with each team being ranked 1 through 16. That ranking is the team’s seed.
In order to reward better teams, first-round matchups are determined by pitting the top team in the region against the bottom team (No. 1 vs. No. 16). Then the next highest vs. the next lowest (No. 2 vs. No. 15), and so on. In theory, this means that the 1 seeds have the easiest opening matchup in the bracket.
How have 1 seeds performed in the NCAA tournament?
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 1 seeds have played 569 games. They have won 454 of those, for a ridiculous win percentage of 79.8.
Their first-round performance is even more impressive, as 1 seeds are 135-1 against 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament. That lone loss of course came in 2018 when 16-seed UMBC beat 1-seed Virginia by 20 points in the biggest upset in March Madness history.
How have 1 seeds performed in the championship game?
Since 1985, there have been 34 national championship games, meaning 68 spots in a championship game have been available. Of those, 1 seeds have taken 32 of them (47 percent). In that span, there have only been eight championship games that did not feature a 1 seed at all:
1989 — 3-seed Michigan beats 3-seed Seton Hall
1991 — 2-seed Duke beats 3-seed Kansas
1998 — 2-seed Kentucky beats 3-seed Utah
2003 — 3-seed Syracuse beats 2-seed Kansas
2004 — 2-seed UConn beats 3-seed Georgia Tech
2006 — 3-seed Florida beats 2-seed UCLA
2011 — 3-seed UConn beats 8-seed Butler
2014 — 7-seed UConn beats 8-seed Kentucky
On the other side of the coin, seven national championships have pitted 1 seeds against 1 seeds:
1993 — UNC beats Michigan
1999 — UConn beats Duke
2005 — UNC beats Illinois
2007 — Florida beats Ohio State
2008 — Kansas beats Memphis
2015 — Duke beats Wisconsin
2017 — UNC beats Gonzaga
How many 1 seeds have won the NCAA tournament?
Of the 34 national champions since the tournament’s expansion in 1985, 20 of them have been 1 seeds:
|1987||1-seed Indiana||2-seed Syracuse||74-73|
|1992||1-seed Duke||6-seed Michigan||71-51|
|1993||1-seed UNC||1-seed Michigan||77-71|
|1994||1-seed Arkansas||2-seed Duke||76-72|
|1995||1-seed UCLA||2-seed Arkansas||89-78|
|1996||1-seed Kentucky||4-seed Syracuse||76-67|
|1999||1-seed UConn||1-seed Duke||77-74|
|2000||1-seed Michigan State||5-seed Florida||89-76|
|2001||1-seed Duke||2-seed Arizona||82-72|
|2002||1-seed Maryland||5-seed Indiana||64-52|
|2005||1-seed UNC||1-seed Illinois||75-70|
|2007||1-seed Florida||1-seed Ohio State||84-75|
|2008||1-seed Kansas||1-seed Memphis||75-68|
|2009||1-seed UNC||2-seed Michigan State||89-72|
|2010||1-seed Duke||5-seed Butler||61-59|
|2012||1-seed Kentucky||2-seed Kansas||67-59|
|2013||1-seed Louisville||4-seed Michigan||82-76|
|2015||1-seed Duke||1-seed Wisconsin||68-63|
|2017||1-seed UNC||1-seed Gonzaga||71-65|
|2018||1-seed Villanova||3-seed Michigan||79-62|