March Madness brackets: Why 16-1 upset picks are increasing
Over the last seven years, a growing number of fans have been picking 16 seeds over 1 seeds, according to data pulled from all the brackets in the Capital One March Madness Bracket Challenge, the official bracket game of the NCAA tournament.
Last year, 4.79 percent of all brackets had a 16 seed over a 1 seed. That's a slight drop since the all-time high of 6.2 percent in 2015, but the percentage is trending upward since 2011, when it was just 1.74 percent.
Of the past 20 1-v-16 games, 18 have had more than 1 percent of bracket-pickers going for the 16 seed. Four matchups have seen the 16 seed picked in over 2 percent of all brackets. That's a lot of confidence in something that's never happened before.
The most popular 16-over-1 pick in this time frame was Lafayette in 2015, selected to trip up Villanova by 3.05 percent of fans. Villanova won, 93-52.
South Dakota State over Gonzaga was the most popular 16-1 upset pick last year, with 2.73 percent of brackets choosing the Jackrabbits. Instead, Gonzaga won 66-46 and kept winning all the way to the championship game. The fans had the most confidence in Kansas, which was picked to be upset by UC Davis in only 1.71 percent of brackets. Good call, as the Jayhawks won by 38 points. Of the four 1-v-16 games last year, the average margin of victory was 29.25 points. Not exactly a toss-up.
Each of the No. 16 seeds was selected in at least 1.7 percent of all brackets last year. In 2011, not one No. 16 was picked on more than 1 percent of the brackets.
Here’s a look at the numbers:
|Villanova vs. Mt. St. Mary's||1.79%|
|Gonzaga vs. South Dakota State||2.73%|
|Kansas vs. UC Davis||1.71%|
|UNC vs. Texas Southern||1.98%|
|Kansas vs. Austin Peay||1.45%|
|Oregon vs. Holy Cross||1.98%|
|UNC vs. FGCU||2.69%|
|UVA vs. Hampton||2.85%|
|Villanova vs Lafayette||3.05%|
|Wisconsin vs Coastal Carolina||1.67%|
|Kentucky vs Hampton||1.29%|
|Duke vs Robert Morris||1.27%|
|Wichita State vs Cal Poly||1.67%|
|Virginia vs Coastal Carolina||1.58%|
|Arizona vs Weber State||1.34%|
|Florida vs Albany||1.21%|
|Gonzaga vs Southern||1.47%|
|Kansas vs W Kentucky||1.46%|
|Indiana vs James Madison||0.90%|
|Louisville vs NC A&T||0.58%|
|Syracuse vs UNC-Asheville||1.64%|
|Michigan State vs Long Island||1.46%|
|Kentucky vs W Kentucky||0.55%|
|North Carolina vs Vermont||0.55%|
|Kansas vs Boston||0.91%|
|Pittsburgh vs UNC-Asheville||0.83%|
|Ohio State vs Texas-San Antonio||0.57%|
|Duke vs Hampton||0.54%|
Why do we pick 16 seeds at this rate? After all, since the field reached at least 64 in 1985, the 16 seed is 0-132 against the No. 1 seed. It is the only seed without a win in the tournament.
Perhaps we’re just more aware that, one of these years, the number is going to come up for a No. 16 seed and, when it does, we’d like to say we called it. (Without admitting, of course, how many times we didn't call it.)
The No. 15 seed has won eight of its 132 games vs. the No. 2 seed. That probably leads to a sprinkling of No. 16 picks, too.
Another possible reason No. 16s seem increasingly attractive: The number of people who pick brackets online is increasing. Though you'd think percentages would stay constant, if a growing audience means more casual fans, perhaps that means more who are willing to take a risk -- or less aware of how risky it is for your bracket.
Bracket experts will tell you that picking a No. 16 seed is a horrible risk-reward proposition. Since a 16 seed is unlikely to advance to the Sweet 16 as well, that huge upset pick is liable to earn only a single point in your bracket.
The moral: A No. 1 seed still is the most likely NCAA Champion and Final Four participant. So picking the upset might be good for bragging righs. But it could take you out of contention very early if you're wrong. And everyone who's ever picked a 16 seed has been.