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Eric Vander Voort | | April 3, 2023

How do seeds perform in the Final Four?

The deepest game-winning buzzer beaters in March Madness history

When filling out your bracket, it’s good to not get too caught up in the first-round upset picks. The deeper you go into the tournament, the more points you can earn per game. In fact, it's often better to start your picks with the Final Four and work your way backwards.

But when thinking about Final Four picks, what should you look for? Which seeds are the safest choices?

Take a look at the below chart, which detail the frequency of seeds making the Final Four and championship game, and then winning the national championship.

1 60 37 24
2 32 12 5
3 17 12 4
4 14 4 2
5 9 4 0
6 3 2 1
7 3 1 1
8 6 4 1
9 2 0 0
10 1 0 0
11 5 0 0
12 0 0 0
13 0 0 0
14 0 0 0
15 0 0 0
16 0 0 0

Note: The data goes back to 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

Here are some takeaways from the data:

No. 1 seeds are No. 1 seeds for a reason

Of the 37 national champions since 1985, 24 of them were No. 1 seeds. Twelve of the past 15 title winners have come from the top line. As crazy as March can be, the best teams of the regular season often have the most success in the postseason.

Crazy upsets stick in our minds. They are some of the most memorable moments of the tournament and will show up on “One Shining Moment,” but even if a top seed is eliminated early, there are most likely three other No. 1 seeds left.

But, expect at least some of the unexpected

Even with the successes of No. 1 seeds in the Final Four and championship game, there has only been one Final Four in which all four top seeds from the field made it: 2008, when Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA were all there.

Other than that, three No. 1 seeds have made it just five times. Final Fours have barely had more No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds (62) than No. 1 seeds (60). It's good to keep an eye out for a potential powerhouse from those seed lines.

Picking a Cinderella to go to the Final Four probably isn’t worth it

It’s happened a few times. Five No. 11 seeds went to the Final Four — 1986 LSU, 2006 George Mason, 2011 VCU, 2018 Loyola Chicago and most recently, UCLA in 2021. Villanova won the championship as a No. 8 seed in 1985. In 2016, Syracuse became the first No. 10 seed to make a Final Four. But even looking at data from millions of entries in the past seven years of the Capital One Bracket Challenge Game, it’s OK to miss on those picks.

The top four finishers in the Bracket Challenge Game in 2011 only got half of of the Final Four right. The key was that they got the championship game matchup correct (Butler vs. Connecticut) and the champion (Connecticut) right. In 2013, the top five finishers all missed Wichita State, which made the Final Four.

What the data shows us is that it’s important to get later rounds right, but it’s better to go with better seeds, because even if Cinderella dances, the likelihood of having that pick right plus the other three Final Four teams correct is not very high. It happens, but it's far from common.

Good luck bracketing.

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