Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, three teams have entered March Madness with a perfect record. We’re not here to talk about them. We’re here for their antitheses: the teams with the worst records to make an NCAA tournament.

Here’s every team that entered the tournament with a losing or .500 record

Year Team W L % Seed Conference Tournament result
1995 Florida International 11 18 37.93% 16 A-Sun First Round loss
1996 UCF 11 18 37.93% 16 A-Sun First Round loss
1997 Fairfield 11 18 37.93% 16 MAAC First Round loss
1985 Lehigh 12 18 40.00% 16 ECC First Round loss
1999 Florida A&M 12 18 40.00% 16 MEAC First Round loss
2005 Oakland 13 18 41.94% 16 Mid-Cont First Round loss
2014 Cal Poly 14 19 42.42% 16 Big West First Round loss
2016 Holy Cross 15 19 44.12% 16 Patriot First Round loss
1993 East Carolina 13 16 44.83% 16 CAA First Round loss
1996 San Jose State 13 16 44.83% 16 Big West First Round loss
1998 Prairie View 13 16 44.83% 16 SWAC First Round loss
1986 Montana State 14 16 46.67% 16 Big Sky First Round loss
2012 Western Kentucky 16 18 47.06% 16 Sun Belt First Round loss
1997 Jackson State 14 15 48.28% 16 SWAC First Round loss
2003 UNC-Asheville 15 16 48.39% 16 Big South First Round loss
2004 Florida A&M 15 16 48.39% 16 MEAC First Round loss
2002 Siena 17 18 48.57% 16 MAAC First Round loss
1985 Penn 13 13 50.00% 15 Ivy First Round loss
1987 Penn 13 13 50.00% 16 Ivy First Round loss
1987 Idaho State 15 15 50.00% 16 Big Sky First Round loss
1987 Fairfield 15 15 50.00% 16 MAAC First Round loss
2000 Lamar 15 15 50.00% 16 Southland First Round loss
2015 Hampton 17 17 50.00% 16 MEAC First Round loss

Seventeen teams finished the regular season with a losing record and still secured a bid to the tournament. Six more have gone dancing at an even .500. All but one received a 16 seed. None made it past the first round, losing by an average margin of 25.6 points.

For reference, the average winning percentage of an NCAA tournament team is 73.5. Over the average of 31 games in a season, that’s a record of 23-8.

But there are plenty of teams that are far from average. The absolute worst record is a three-way tie at 11-18 (37.93 percent). Those would be 1995 FIU, 1996 UCF, and 1997 Fairfield.

MARCH MADNESS SHOP
Two of those — FIU and UCF — came out of the Atlantic Sun Conference. In 1995, the Panthers went 6-12 in regular-season conference play before winning three in a row to take the conference crown. UCF was 6-10 before they won the title.

Fairfield was even more impressive in 1997 — posting a 2-12 record in the MAAC — good for last place by two games. But the Stags shocked 1-seed Iona (22-8, 11-3 MAAC) in the first round of the tournament, and beat 2-seed Canisius (17-12, 10-4 MAAC) to win the title and secure the auto-bid. They were rewarded with a first-round matchup against 1-seed UNC, which they lost 82-74

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The worst record to ever win an NCAA tournament game belongs to Villanova in 1991. The Wildcats entered the tournament at 16-14, having lost to Seton Hall in the Big East semifinal. But they did own five wins against ranked teams on the year, including three top-10 opponents. That was enough to land them a 9-seed as an at-large bid. They took down Princeton 50-48, but lost to 1-seed UNC 84-69 in the second round.

Not surprisingly, 1985 Villanova — the ultimate Cinderella — owns the distinction of the worst record among championship teams. After winning eight straight to start the season, the Wildcats lost six of their last 11. On Selection Sunday, they sat at 19-10 (65.5 percent) and found themselves as an 8-seed.

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Then they won six games in a row, by a tight margin of five points per game en route to knocking off the Goliath to their David in Patrick Ewing and 1-seed Georgetown. That Villanova team remains the highest-seed ever to win the title.

So, is a below-average winning percentage recommended in March? Not exactly. But it’s not a guaranteed early exit either. If anything, it’s the first ingredient in the recipe for a great Cinderella story.

Daniel Wilco has worked at the AJC, Sports Illustrated, and SEC Country. His writing has also appeared on SI.com, Men’s Health, and The Cauldron.

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