For teams like Kansas, Duke and Kentucky, being seeded as a No. 1 or No. 2 in the NCAA Tournament is common place. Even programs like UNLV, Stanford and Purdue have a long standing history of appearing as top seeds. But what about programs that aren’t used to the attention that a top seed in the NCAA Tournament brings?
I went back over every bracket since 1985 and found teams that were making their first appearance as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. I excluded teams like Kansas, who obviously had a first, but who have since had multiple appearances at those seeds. What we are looking for are mid-majors or programs that don’t typically have a strong basketball team that are suddenly thrust into the spotlight.
I expected that these teams would likely under-perform. It is a lot to take on when your program never has had those expectations before.
First-Time #1 and #2 Seeds
|Season||Seed||Team||Round Reached||Expected Round||Wins||Expected Wins||+/- Wins|
|2016||1||Oregon||Elite Eight||Final Four||3||4||-1|
|2016||2||Xavier||Second Round||Elite Eight||1||3||-2|
|2014||1||Wichita State||Second Round||Final Four||1||4||-3|
|2014||1||Virginia||Sweet 16||Final Four||2||4||-2|
|2013||1||Gonzaga||Second Round||Final Four||1||4||-3|
|2011||2||Notre Dame||Second Round||Elite Eight||1||3||-2|
|2011||2||San Diego State||Sweet 16||Elite Eight||2||3||-1|
|2010||2||Kansas State||Elite Eight||Elite Eight||3||3||0|
|2010||2||West Virginia||Final Four||Elite Eight||4||3||1|
|2005||1||Washington||Sweet 16||Final Four||2||4||-2|
|2004||2||Gonzaga||Second Round||Elite Eight||1||3||-2|
|2004||1||St. Joe’s||Elite Eight||Final Four||3||4||-1|
|2002||2||Oregon||Elite Eight||Elite Eight||3||3||0|
|2000||2||Iowa State||Elite Eight||Elite Eight||3||3||0|
|1999||1||Auburn||Sweet 16||Final Four||2||4||-2|
|1997||1||Minnesota||Final Four||Final Four||4||4||0|
|1997||2||South Carolina||First Round||Elite Eight||0||3||-3|
|1992||2||USC||Second Round||Elite Eight||1||3||-2|
|1985||2||VCU||Second Round||Elite Eight||1||3||-2|
What I looked at was how many games a team is expected to win based on their seed. A No. 1 seed is expected to at least make the Final Four (four wins), while a No. 2 seed is expected to at least make the Elite Eight (three wins). I then looked at how many actual wins those teams had in the seasons where they were No. 1 or No. 2 seeds and found the difference, giving me the final +/- wins number.
On average, teams playing as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for the first time in the NCAA Tournament underachieved by about 1.4 games per season. That’s the different between the No. 1 seed making only the Elite Eight vs the Final Four or a No. 2 seed only making the Sweet 16 instead of the Elite Eight. This number is significantly higher than the average achievement of your “typical” No. 1 and 2 seeds, which are teams with a standing history of being seeded highly in the tournament. These teams actually do underachieve slightly at -0.8 games per season, but that’s about a half game better than we see from unsuspecting teams.
It is also worth nothing that just one team has ever exceed their expectations in this situation, the 2010 West Virginia Mountaineers. Only four other teams were able to at least match their expectations. Bottom line, don’t expect one of these teams to be my sleeper pick for a deep run.
This is significant for this year’s bracket because we have two teams that would fall into this category. No. 1 seed Oregon and No. 2 seed Xavier. You may want to think twice about taking Oregon to the Final Four or Xavier any further than the Elite Eight in your bracket!