The NCAA Tournament field has finally been set for the 2015-16 season. This is the most exciting times of year. More than 40 million Americans fill out over 70 million brackets. That is a lot of competition.
Our goal here is to help you be better than average. We want to help you fill out more winners and increase your chances of winning. That’s why we put together a list of bracket tips and offer our expert bracket picks for free.
I thought it might also be interesting to look at the history of NCAA tournament winners by seed. Here is all of the data that I’ve found.
A #16 has never beaten a #1 in the first round in Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament history (124-0).
They are also likely to keep winning. Here is how often they have historically reached each stage:
Sweet 16: 86.2%
Elite 8: 68.5%
Final Four: 41.1%
Championship Game: 23.4%
National Championship: 15.3%
Based on this information it’s tough not to slot all your number ones into the Elite 8. You want either 2-3 among the last four and at least one championship finalist. They are also far more likely than any other seed to win the championship, taking home 19 of 31 titles. Remember that if you want to bet on who will win the tournament.
#15 seeds rarely pull off the upset. They have beaten #2 seeds just 7 times. That gives the 2 a 94.4% chance of making it past the initial game. Here are the percentages to reach the:
Sweet 16: 63.7%
Elite 8: 46.8%
Final Four: 20.9%
Championship Game: 9.7%
National Title: 3.2%
These teams aren’t nearly as likely to win the second round game as the ones are. You only want half of your twos making the Elite 8 and one Final 4 squad.
Here is where things start turning more towards the underdogs. The #3 has lost to a #14 a total of 20 times (104-20). That gives them a 83.9% chance of winning.
Sweet 16: 50.8%
Elite 8: 25%
Final Four: 11.3%
Championship Game: 7.3%
National Title: 3.2%
Only half these teams make the Sweet 16! Only one is likely to make the Elite 8! That is why any teams advancing deep as a #3 or more is prime for our tournament sleepers section.
#4 seeds tend to win about the same rate against #13 seeds with the #13 winning just 25 times (99-25) for 79.9%.
Sweet 16: 46%
Elite 8: 16.1%
Final 4: 10.5%
Championship Game: 2.4%
National Title: 0.8%
This really shows you why you need to pick your champion from the 1-3 seeds. Only one 4 has even won it all and it was Arizona in 1997. Check out the farthest each seed has gone in the tournament article to see more.
Things are really interesting here and where most people have their upset predictions. The #5 has beaten the #12 80 times in 124 tries, but that’s only a winning percentage of 64.5%. This is a pretty dramatic drop-off from the 80% winning percentage of #4 seeds.
Sweet 16: 33%
Elite 8: 6.5%
Final 4: 4.8%
Championship Game: 2.4%
National Title: 0%
The trends take a slight upward turn in favor of the #6, which has beaten the #11 66 times (66-30). They also have never won the title.
Would you rather be a five or a six? History says the six as they have actually won 81 of 124 (65.3%). Meaning fives are upset more often! The sixes also make the Sweet 16 just as often (33%), and go to the Elite 8 more (10.5%). Only three have been among the last four standing (2.4%), two have been in the title game (1.6%), and one has even won it all (Kansas in 1988).
What is strange is that No. 7’s have done almost as well as fives and sixes. They have won 76 (61.3%) in first round games, but there the similarities end. Only 22 have reached the next weekend, nine (7.3%) made the Elite Eight, and two (1.6%) achieved the Final Four. Only one team has made the national title game, but the good news is that they won. That was UConn back in 2014.
This opening game is normally a toss up, with 50.8% eights winning and 49.2% for the nine. The dream doesn’t typically last long though, only 12 (9.7%) have gone to the last 16. But, eight (6.5%) of those 12 have won. Five (4%) eights went to the Final Four and three (2.4%) played the title game. That’s they lowest seed to do so. One even cut down the nets when in 1985 Villanova knocked off Georgetown.
While nines do have some first game success, things don’t go well after that. Only five (4%) have made the second weekend, two (1.6%) the round of 16, then a single team has lasted to the round of eight. That team was Wichita State in 2013 and they ended up losing their Final 4 matchup.
The initial two rounds you might see a few tens pulling off the victory. With 48 (38.7%) first-round wins and 22 (17.8%) second-round wins one ten making the next weekend isn’t out of the question. However, only seven (5.6%) won the third game but not a single one has ever made the championship weekend.
Elevens had won 43 (34.7%) times in first round matchups, 18 (14.5%) second, then only six (4.8%) third round games. Three (2.4%) no. 11 teams have gone all the way to the last four, but that’s where there run has ended.
Everyone makes a big deal of these games. Sure, more 12’s have won than 11’s. What’s surprising is they have nearly as many wins as 10 seeds. They don’t do terrible in the following round either with 20 of the 44 winning again. That’s 16% advancing past the opening weekend.
That’s where the story ends though. Only 1 has ever made the Elite 8 and they’ve never seen a Final Four.
When you get Cinderella stories from this point on, they are more like one-hit wonders. We’ve seen 25 1st-round winners (20.2%), but only six (4.8%) could pull off back-to-back victories.
While they do have 20 first round upsets (16.1%), a 14 has only made it to the second weekend twice (1.6%).
They do win 5.6% of the time, but only 1 has even made the Sweet 16.
They’ve never won. Don’t pretend you can pick the first one that will do so. The rest of your bracket will be ruined and you can see how far No. 1’s typically go. If you are a fan of a #16, buy your ticket to the first round game. It will be the only chance you have to see them.
Even using all of this information your odds of picking a perfect bracket aren’t good. That’s why in 2014 Warren Buffett had no problem offering a $1 billion grand prize to anyone who could pull it off.
I don’t know if there will be any prize quite that big ever again, but if you enter enough of the free March Madness contests out there you can haul in quite a few prizes with a good showing.
Our bracket tips for beginners offers even more historical data to help you fill out a winner.