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

SeasonSeedTeamRound ReachedExpected RoundWinsExpected Wins+/- Wins
20161OregonElite EightFinal Four34-1
20162XavierSecond RoundElite Eight13-2
20141Wichita StateSecond RoundFinal Four14-3
20141VirginiaSweet 16Final Four24-2
20131GonzagaSecond RoundFinal Four14-3
20112Notre DameSecond RoundElite Eight13-2
20112San Diego StateSweet 16Elite Eight23-1
20102Kansas StateElite EightElite Eight330
20102West VirginiaFinal FourElite Eight431
20051WashingtonSweet 16Final Four24-2
20042GonzagaSecond RoundElite Eight13-2
20041St. Joe’sElite EightFinal Four34-1
20022OregonElite EightElite Eight330
20002Iowa StateElite EightElite Eight330
19991AuburnSweet 16Final Four24-2
19971MinnesotaFinal FourFinal Four440
19972South CarolinaFirst RoundElite Eight03-3
19922USCSecond RoundElite Eight13-2
19852VCUSecond RoundElite Eight13-2

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!

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