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Andy Wittry | | March 14, 2021

Why you should probably pick 2 No. 1 seeds in your NCAA bracket this season

Check out how UMBC flipped the script on Virginia

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 the Final Four 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 at least two No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four if you're looking for a cut-and-dried 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 No. 1 seeds to make Final Four Frequency Percentage
4 1 2.86%
3 4 11.43%
2 13 37.14%
1 15 42.86%
0 2 5.71%

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, almost 1.7 No. 1 seeds make the Final Four each NCAA tournament. While the most common occurrence is only one No. 1 seed making the Final Four (15 of the 35 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 (51.4 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 29 times in the 35 years of the current tournament format, which is almost once per year on average. Pick a No. 2 seed.

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 six of the last seven NCAA tournaments.

Seed Number of Final Four Appearances Average Per Year
No. 1 57 1.62
No. 2 29 0.83
No. 3 17 0.49
No. 4 13 0.37
No. 5 7 0.20
No. 6 3 0.09
No. 7 3 0.09
No. 8 5 0.14
No. 9 1 0.03
No. 10 1 0.03
No. 11 4 0.11

Whether you decide to pick one No. 1 seed or two top seeds to make it to the Final Four, it's definitely worth picking at least three teams that are a top-three seed in their region. On 14 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 more than 70 percent of the time at least three teams in the Final Four have been a No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 seed.

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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