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Daniel Wilco | | January 26, 2023

How No. 1 seeds do in the NCAA men's basketball tournament

UMBC upsets Virginia, 74-54

In back-to-back NCAA men's basketball tournaments, Virginia experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. In the 2018 NCAA tournament, UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed, when the Retrievers upset the No. 1 overall seed Virginia Cavaliers.

It wasn't even close. UMBC won by 20 points, 74-54, and delivered a result no other No. 16 seed in men's basketball had since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

After the 2022 NCAA tournament, which Kansas won as a No. 1 seed, No. 1 seeds are 147-1 against No. 16 seeds.

But being a No. 1 seed doesn't mean an automatic ticket to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

In the 2021 NCAA tournament, Illinois became the 20th No. 1 seed to exit the tournament in the Round of 32, as it fell to No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago.

The two first-weekend losses by No. 1 seeds Virginia and Xavier in 2018, which were far different from the Final Four trips by the other two No. 1 seeds that season, Villanova and Kansas, proved to be stark reminders of the scares top seeds have experienced in the past. 

Take the 1989 tournament, for instance, when not one, but two No. 1 seeds — Georgetown and Oklahoma — barely escaped the opening round. The Hoyas and Sooners defeated Princeton and East Tennessee State, respectively, by a single point each. A year later, Michigan State found itself in a similar position before eventually defeating Murray State, 75-71, in overtime.

Purdue survived a scare in 1996 from the Western Carolina Catamounts, winning 73-71.

While no other games have come down to a single possession, there have been some memorable games in the past that have been decided by single digits. Both Syracuse in 2012 and Kansas in 2013 survived tough contests from No. 16 seeds, defeating UNC Asheville and Western Kentucky, respectively, by seven points.

Now, No. 1 seeds may often appear to have it easy in the opening round, but the rest of the tournament could go either way. Despite the dominating numbers, 2008 remains the only year the Final Four has been comprised of all four No. 1 seeds.

In 2019, No. 1 seed Virginia was the only No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four, and the Cavaliers won the national championship, just one year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round.

Only eight national title games since expansion have been between two No. 1 seeds, most recently Baylor defeating Gonzaga in 2021.

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

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