Bracket IQ

BACK TO Bracket IQ
basketball-men-d1 flag

Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | March 13, 2022

Why losing streaks shouldn't really matter when filling out your NCAA tournament bracket

Best Dunks from the National Championship

Are you sitting down? Because you probably should before reading this: Losing streaks don't really matter when filling out your NCAA tournament bracket.

What!? Blasphemy!

Yes, you read that second sentence correctly. Go back and read it again if you want. There's a variety of strategies basketball fans employ when making their March Madness picks: which school's colors they like better, which team's mascot might win in a theoretical fight, which school's name is more fun to say and yes, how teams have recently performed on the court.

We're here to dispel that final notion. We analyzed the results from the last 23 NCAA tournaments and found 79 teams that entered the tournament on a losing streak of at least two games. Forty-seven of those teams (roughly 60 percent) won their Round of 64 matchup. We did not include wins in the First Four.

Length of Losing Streak Number of Teams Combined Wins Avg. Wins
Five losses 1 0 0.00
Four losses 4 6 1.50
Three losses 15 13 0.87
Two losses 59 70 1.19

In total, those teams combined for 89 wins in the NCAA tournament, including 17 Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights and six Final Four appearances, so roughly a third of those teams made the second weekend of the tournament. The most notable and recent example of a team making a deep NCAA tournament run immediately after a losing streak was No. 11 seed UCLA in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, which had lost its final three regular-season games and its first game in the Pac-12 tournament, before it rattled off five wins in a row to become the second team to ever go from the First Four to the Final Four.

The Bruins repeatedly found themselves in tight games. Their loss to the Oregon State Beavers in the Pac-12 tournament, their fourth straight loss, was in overtime, as was their Final Four loss to No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Two of UCLA's five NCAA tournament wins also went to overtime.

Tournament Finish After Losing Streak Number of Teams
First Four 3
Round of 64 29
Round of 32 21
Sweet 16 17
Elite Eight 3
Final Four 6

This data doesn't suggest that you should automatically pencil in a team on a three-game losing streak into the Final Four, but don't write off a team in the first round just because it left a sour taste in your mouth when you saw that it lost its regular-season finale and the first game in its conference tournament. In fact, the last seven NCAA tournament teams that entered March Madness on a losing streak won at least one game in the tournament, including a pair of teams that were on a four-game slide entering Selection Sunday.

Of course, it's relatively rare for teams to enter the NCAA tournament on a losing streak, given the single-elimination nature of conference tournaments, so there won't be any teams on a losing streak that also earned an automatic bid. Typically, there might be three or four teams per season that make the tournament following a multiple-game losing streak and given that they're at-large teams, the rest of their resume is strong enough that they were still able to make the tournament despite a small, late-season slide, so their ceiling is probably higher than the losing streak might suggest.

Here's a complete list of teams in the last 23 NCAA tournaments that have entered the tournament on a losing streak of at least two games.

Year School Losing Streak Tournament Finish
2021 UCLA 4 games Final Four
2021 Villanova 2 games Sweet 16
2021 Texas Tech 2 games Round of 32
2021 West Virginia 2 games Round of 32
2019 UCF 2 games Round of 32
2019 Baylor 4 games Round of 32
2019 Oklahoma 2 games Round of 32
2018 Creighton 2 games Round of 64
2018 Virginia Tech 2 games Round of 64
2018 TCU 2 games Round of 64
2018 Arizona State 2 games Round of 64
2017 Florida 2 games Elite Eight
2017 South Carolina 2 games Final Four
2017 Oklahoma State 3 games Round of 64
2017 Butler 2 games Sweet 16
2017 Dayton 2 games Round of 64
2016 Vanderbilt 2 games First Four
2016 Wisconsin 2 games Sweet 16
2016 Iowa State 2 games Sweet 16
2016 Syracuse 3 games Final Four
2015 Oklahoma State 2 games Round of 64
2015 Ole Miss 2 games Round of 64
2015 St. John's 2 games Round of 64
2014 North Carolina 2 games Round of 32
2014 Kansas State 3 games Round of 64
2014 Arizona State 3 games Round of 64
2014 Iowa 3 games First Four
2013 Oklahoma 2 games Round of 64
2013 Minnesota 3 games Round of 32
2013 La Salle 2 games Sweet 16
2013 California 2 games Round of 32
2011 Villanova 5 games Round of 64
2011 Wisconsin 2 games Sweet 16
2011 Purdue 2 games Round of 32
2011 Georgetown 4 games Round of 64
2010 Clemson 2 games Round of 64
2010 Missouri 2 games Round of 32
2010 Villanova 2 games Round of 32
2010 Syracuse 2 games Sweet 16
2009 Connecticut 2 games Final Four
2009 California 2 games Round of 64
2009 Clemson 2 games Round of 64
2008 Louisville 2 games Elite Eight
2008 Indiana 2 games Round of 64
2007 Vanderbilt 2 games Sweet 16
2007 Virginia 2 games Round of 32
2007 Stanford 2 games Round of 64
2007 UCLA 2 games Final Four
2007 Duke 3 games Round of 64
2006 West Virginia 2 games Sweet 16
2006 North Carolina State 4 games Round of 32
2006 Alabama 2 games Round of 32
2006 Oklahoma 2 games Round of 64
2006 Wisconsin 3 games Round of 64
2005 Charlotte 3 games Round of 64
2004 Wake Forest 3 games Sweet 16
2004 Memphis 2 games Round of 32
2004 Providence 3 games Round of 64
2004 North Carolina 2 games Round of 32
2003 Florida 3 games Round of 32
2003 Maryland 2 games Sweet 16
2003 Alabama 2 games Round of 64
2003 Cincinnati 2 games Round of 64
2002 Georgia 2 games Round of 32
2002 UCLA 2 games Sweet 16
2001 Georgia 2 games Round of 64
2001 Virginia 2 games Round of 64
2001 Notre Dame 3 games Round of 32
2001 Xavier 2 games Round of 64
2000 Indiana 2 games Round of 64
2000 North Carolina 2 games Final Four
2000 Syracuse 2 games Sweet 16
2000 Purdue 2 games Elite Eight
1999 Purdue 3 games Sweet 16
1999 Iowa 2 games Sweet 16
1998 Michigan State 2 games Sweet 16
1998 West Virginia 3 games Sweet 16
1998 Western Michigan 2 games Round of 32
1998 Oklahoma State 2 games Round of 32

March Madness brackets: How do seeds perform in the Final Four?

When thinking about Final Four picks, what should you look for?
READ MORE

How much experience coaches have when they reach their first Final Four

A look at the years of experience (as a head coach) it took each NCAA coach to reach the Final Four in March Madness.
READ MORE

How First Four teams do in the NCAA tournament

Here is how at-large participants in the First Four have done since 2011 and why you should consider picking one in your NCAA bracket.
READ MORE

Subscribe To Email Updates

Enter your information to receive emails about offers, promotions from NCAA.com and our partners