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Andy Wittry | | March 18, 2019

How many No. 1 seeds to pick to make the Final Four?

Get ready for Selection Sunday!

It's always tempting to go "chalk" with your March Madness picks and pick multiple No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four, but just how many top seeds should you pick to reach San Antonio this year?

All four No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four just once, so it would be wise to predict that at least one of this year's No. 1 seeds gets tripped up before then.

Of course, there is no perfect formula to calculate which teams or seeds will advance to the Final Four – just look back at the 2008 (all four No. 1 seeds) and 2011 NCAA tournaments (seeds Nos. 3, 4, 8 and 11). However, history tells us you should pick two No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four if you're looking for a cut-and-dry rule regarding top seeds.

Here's a breakdown of many No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Number of 1 seeds to make Final Four Frequency Percentage
4 1 2.94%
3 4 11.76%
2 13 38.24%
1 14 41.18%
0 2 5.88%

If you pick two No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four and only one No. 1 seed makes it, you have a 50 percent chance of picking the right team. If multiple top seeds advance to the Final Four, your chances are even better. On average, 1.7 top seeds make the Final Four each NCAA tournament. While the most common occurrence is only one No. 1 seed making the Final Four (14 of the 34 years since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985), two or more No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four in 18 NCAA tournaments (52.9 percent of the time). For that reason, it's better to error on the side of picking perhaps one too many No. 1 seeds than one too few.

So, if choosing two No. 1 seeds is the best option based on historical averages, what should you do with your other two Final Four picks?

A No. 2 seed has made the Final Four 28 times in the 34 years of the current tournament format, which is almost once per year on average. Pick a No. 2.

With the fourth team, take a flier on a team seeded as a No. 3 or lower. As a reminder, at least one team seeded seventh or lower has made the Final Four in each of the last five seasons.

Seed Number of Final Four Appearances Average Per Year
No. 1 56 1.65
No. 2 28 0.82
No. 3 16 0.47
No. 4 13 0.38
No. 5 6 0.18
No. 6 3 0.09
No. 7 3 0.09
No. 8 5 0.15
No. 9 1 0.03
No. 10 1 0.03
No. 11 4 0.12

Whether you decide to pick one No. 1 seed or two top seeds to make it to Minneapolis, it's definitely worth picking at least three teams that are a top-three seed in their region. On 13 occasions, exactly three of the four teams that made the Final Four were a top-three seed. In 11 seasons, all four Final Four teams were a top-three seed, so nearly 70 percent of the time at least three teams in the Final Four have been a No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 seed.

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