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Daniel Wilco | | March 13, 2022

How men's basketball teams that earn a No. 8 seed do in March Madness

Clash of the Underdogs: Super Nova

In 1985, the Villanova Wildcats shocked the college basketball world with their 69-64 upset over Georgetown in the national title game. The team not only won the first NCAA tournament after the field expanded to 64 teams, but more than three decades later, Villanova remains the worst-seeded team 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 No. 8 seeds, the opening round can be just as challenging as any other part of the tournament.

No. 8 seeds have the most difficult matchups, among teams ranked better than their opponents in the first round, since they are usually so evenly matched with their No. 9-seeded counterparts. Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64, teams in the No. 8 slot have won 71 of the 144 first-round matchups — just below 50 percent.

Another Wildcats team on the No. 8 seed line almost didn’t make it out of the opening round before advancing to the national championship game. The 2014 Kentucky Wildcats barely survived No. 9 seed Kansas State but eventually advanced to the national championship against No. 7 seed Connecticut. Kentucky is tied with BYU for the most appearances as a No. 8 seed and it has a 3-1 record compared to the Cougars' 0-4 record.

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

It is also rare for all four No. 8 seeds to sweep the nine seeds. That's occurred only three times since 1985, including the 2015 NCAA Tournament, thanks to N.C. State, Cincinnati, Oregon and San Diego State.

2017 saw a nearly perfect year for the No. 8 seeds come up short when Michigan State took out Miami (FL) with a colossal, 20-point win. No. 8 seed Northwestern, meanwhile that season, beat No. 9 seed Vanderbilt by just two points for its first NCAA 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 experience for No. 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.

In 2021, No. 8 seeds went 3-1 in the first round, with Loyola Chicago advancing to the Sweet 16 after knocking off No. 1 seed Illinois 71-58.

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

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