While the NCAA tournament has existed since 1939, it wasn’t until 40 years after Oregon won the inaugural championship that full tournament seeding was introduced in 1979.
Now, a team’s seed is one of the most telling pieces of information for every school in bracket. In theory, better seeds mean better teams, and an easier road to the championship. But do the numbers back that up?
For the most part, yes. We looked at 41 years of historical data taken from the official NCAA record books to break down how every seed performs in March. Here are some quick takeaways from the data:
- Unsurprisingly, no seed is as successful as the 1 seed. They have 24 of the 41 national championships since 1979. The only other seed with more than five is the 2 seed, which has seven. The 1 seeds also have won 99.3 percent of their first-round matchups, and 78.6 percent of their 659 NCAA tournament games since 1979 — better than any other seed.
- Somewhat surprisingly, 5 seeds are an anomaly. They’re the only top 8 seed that hasn’t won a national championship, and they actually win fewer overall games (52.7 percent) than 6 seeds (53.4 percent). Of the 164 teams that have been a 5 seed since 1979, only three have made it to the championship game: Florida in 2000, Indiana in 2002, and Butler in 2010. All lost.
- While 9, 10, and 11 seeds have all survived until the Final Four, no seed worse than 8 has ever appeared in a championship matchup.
- The lowest seed to ever win the national championship came in 1985, when 8-seed Villanova took down Patrick Ewing and 1-seed Georgetown.
Let’s take a look at how each seed does in three of the most important areas of the tournament:
HOW SEEDS PERFORM IN THE OPENING ROUND
This data only includes games starting in 1985, when the NCAA tournament expanded to its modern 64-team format. It also does not include any games before the first round.
|#1 vs. #16||139||1||99.3%|
|#2 vs. #15||132||8||94.3%|
|#3 vs. #14||119||21||85.0%|
|#4 vs. #13||111||29||79.3%|
|#5 vs. #12||90||50||64.3%|
|#6 vs. #11||88||52||62.9%|
|#7 vs. #10||85||55||60.7%|
|#8 vs. #9||68||72||48.6%|
OVERALL RECORDS OF EVERY SEED
This data looks back all the way to 1979, and includes all NCAA tournament games, including the First Four.
HOW SEEDS HAVE DONE IN THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP
No seed higher than 8 has ever been in the championship game. The only seed that is undefeated in championship play is the 7 seed, thanks to UConn beating 8-seed Kentucky for the title in the 2014 tournament.