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Daniel Wilco | | February 5, 2021

How No. 8 seeds do in March Madness

Clash of the Underdogs: Super Nova

*Note: All data is from the 1985 tournament to the present.

In 1985, the Villanova Wildcats shocked the college basketball world with their 69-64 upset over Georgetown in the title game. The team not only won the first tournament that expanded to 64 teams, but more than three decades later, Villanova remains the lowest seed to ever capture a national championship.

But the Wildcats almost didn’t make it out of the first round that season as they barely escaped No. 9 seed Dayton with a 51-49 win. Sometimes for the eight seeds, the opening round can be just as challenging as any other part of the tournament.

No. 8 seeds have the most difficult match-ups (as "favorites") in the first round since they are usually so evenly matched with their No. 9 seed counterparts. Since the tournament expanded to 64, teams in the No. 8 slot have won 68 of the 140 first-round matchups -- just below 50 percent.

Another Wildcats team in the No. 8 seed almost didn’t make it out of the opening round. The 2014 Kentucky Wildcats barely survived No. 9 Kansas State but eventually advanced to the national championship against seventh-seeded Connecticut. Kentucky is tied with BYU for the most appearances as an eighth-seed and has a 3-1 record compared to the Cougars' 0-4 record.

About 60 percent of the 8-vs.-9 games have been decided by single digits.

It is also rare for all four eight seeds to sweep the nine seeds. That's occurred only three times since 1985, including 2015’s tournament field of N.C. State, Cincinnati, Oregon and San Diego State.

2017 saw a nearly perfect year for the No. 8 seeds go to waste when Michigan State took out Miami (FL) with a colossal 20-point win. No. 8 seed Northwestern, meanwhile, beat No. 9 seed Vanderbilt by just two points for its first tournament win in program history.

2018 was a bummer for No. 8 seeds as just one, Seton Hall, made it out of the first round. The Pirates were bounced in the round of 32, making it a short tournament for 8-seeds. But 2019 was even more brief as VCU, Syracuse, Utah State and Ole Miss all lost in the first round by an average of 16 points.

College basketball rankings: Even unranked teams find success in the NCAA tournament

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 — its modern format — only four of 35 national champions were unranked to start the season. That’s about one in every nine years.

Only .025 percent predicted the 2021 Final Four teams in the Bracket Challenge Game

UCLA's upset of No. 1 Michigan in the Elite Eight turned what could have been a record-high number of perfect picks into a tiny number that went 4-for-4.

A huge majority of NCAA brackets have a No. 1 seed winning the 2021 championship

Here is how many brackets predicted each seed to win the national championship, from Gonzaga and the No. 1 seeds through Drexel and the rest of the No. 16 seeds.
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