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Using History to Help Fill Out Your Bracket

Even Mike Krzyzewski and the president could learn something from this post.
Even Mike Krzyzewski and the president could learn something from this post.

Every NCAA Tournament is unique, with its own unpredictable quirks. However, we've had 26 of these things since the field expanded to 64 (now 68), so that's plenty of history to draw on to establish some parameters. These are guidelines you should consider while filling out your bracket.

Pick a 1-seed or 2-seed as your champion

Only three champions have been seeded lower than the third line: 1985 Villanova (8-seed), 1988 Kansas (6-seed), and 1997 Arizona (4-seed). Also, only three teams from the 3-seed spot have won it all: 1989 Michigan, 2003 Syracuse, and 2006 Florida.

That means that 20 of 26 champions were either a 1-seed (15 of them) or 2-seed (five of them). Also notable is that three of the six champs that didn't come from the top two lines of the bracket were from the '80s, back before the Selection Committee really found its stride. Go with a 1-seed or 2-seed if you're playing the percentages.

Pay attenion to conference tournament results

No champion, not even the 8-seeded Villanova Wildcats of 1985, failed to make the semifinals of its conference tournament. Of the national champions, 12 won their conference tournaments, three lost in the championship game, and seven lost in the semifinals. The remaining four did not have conference tournaments to play in. Another way of thinking about it is that all national champions managed to win at least one game in their conference tournaments (assuming their leagues had one).

Having conference tournament champs win the national title is becoming more common of late, though. In the last 13 seasons, nine national champs also won their conference tournaments, with the other four having lost in the semis. The national champion also has never had to play more than three days in a row in its conference tournament.

Look at the title condenders' non-conference performance

Only three national champions have lost more than two non-conference games: 2000 Michigan State (four), 1988 Kansas (five), and 1986 Louisville (five). With the latter two, they played fewer than 16 conference games (14 and 12, respectively), so they had more non-conference games to play than typical.

Bonus stat with nowhere else to go: only two of the last ten champions have lost to teams that finished under .500 on the year ('03 Syracuse, '05 UNC), and only two have lost to more than one team that finished under .500 in conference play ('07 Florida, '10 Duke).

Last Year's Final Four Teams

Not every team that makes the Final Four makes it back into the tournament the next year. Of those that do, they almost always win their first round game. Only five teams have gone to the Final Four and lost their first round game the next season; three were Big Ten teams, and all three of them were seeded 6 or worse.

That said, never have all of a season's Final Four teams made it to the Sweet 16 the following season.

Overachievers and underachievers

Read this article for some good intel.

Round-by-Round Trends

This part is going after the jump so as not to clutter up the home page. Follow me there if you want the info.


1-seeds have never lost a first round game. It's not happening this year.

2-seeds collectively have lost four times to a 15-seed. The last time it happened was 2001; the other three times were in 1991, 1993, and 1997. A win by a 15-seed is an unpredictable and unlikely event. Predict it at your own risk (i.e. don't do it).

3-seeds are about a coin flip as to whether they all win their games; they've all survived 14 times, and at least one has lost 12 times. However as Division I has grown and the bottom of the bracket has gotten weaker, 3-seeds have reaped the benefit. Only three of them have lost in the first round since 2000, as compared with only four times that all survived the first round prior to 2000.

4-seeds usually are good for losing a game, as all have survived the first round just seven times. That includes only three times since 2000. Don't go overboard though, as we've only seen two 4-seeds lose their first game in the same tournament three times.

5-seeds are everyone's favorite upset pick, and with 69 wins over the last 26 tourneys, they've won fewer games than 4-seeds (82) and 6-seeds (72) have. Plus, all four 5-seeds have advanced in the same year just three times, compared to seven times for 4-seeds and six times for 6-seeds. Here's a guide to 5-12 games split by high-major teams (H) and mid-major teams (M):

Game Type 5 wins 12 wins 5 Win Pct.
H-H 13 6 .684
H-M 46 20 .697
M-H 2 2 .500
M-M 8 7 .533

6-seeds are slightly more reliable than 5-seeds are with more overall wins, but not by much. There's not really a strong pattern with them other than that you should have at least two advance. Once none of them did, and once only one did. Three have advanced 11 times, two have advanced seven times, and four have advanced six times.

7-seeds have had a rough go of it lately, with only one advancing each of the last two years. Still, you should probably have two or three of them win their first round games. Those numbers have happened 11 times each; one or four of them advancing has happened three times each.

9-seeds beat 8-seeds slightly more, with them holding a 57-47 edge in these games. Interestingly, neither can get any kind of momentum. Neither 8-seeds nor 9-seeds have ever won more than two games two seasons in a row. Given that 9-seeds won three games last year, if the pattern holds true, 9-seeds will win no more than two games this year.

I define a first round upset as when the worse-seeded team wins, with the exception of 8-9 games. We've seen anywhere from two (once) to nine (once) first round upsets over the last 26 years. The most common counts have been five (seven times) and eight (seven times). Don't pick seven first round upsets (once) or three (twice). Six of them (four times) or four (three times) aren't bad.


1-seeds have never all lost in the second round. In fact, they've never had three lose in second round. Two have lost in this round twice, one has lost nine times, and all four have won 15 times. With 91 second round wins, they are by far the most consistent teams in the second round. Their second round winning percentage is .875.

2-seeds also have never all lost by the end of the second round, and only three times have three of them lost by the end of the round. That said, they've all survived the second round just four times. Go with three of them (10 times) or two of them (nine times) winning here. Their second round winning percentage is .670.

3-seeds are the last seed line to have had all four teams win in the second round (twice). It's pretty much even between having one of them win a second round game (eight times), two of them (eight times), and three of them (seven times). Their second round winning percentage is .602.

4-seeds win two games in the second round about half the time (12 times). Also common is them winning one second round game (eight times). Only four times have three 4-seeds all won. Their second round winning percentage is .537.

5-seeds generally only win one game (12 times) or two games (nine times) in the second round. Just like 4-seeds though, they've only been blanked by the end of the second round twice. Their second round winning percentage is .565.

6-seeds more often than not pick up just one win (11 times), but two wins (five times) and three wins (five times) are equally as common as each other. Their second round winning percentage is .500.

7-seeds are where things fall off a cliff in the second round. Only 18 7-seeds have ever won a second round game, and never have more than two won a second round game (twice). They get skunked by the second round more often (12 times) than they win a game (10 times). Their second round winning percentage is .290.

9-seeds beat 8-seeds more often than the reverse, but 8-seeds beat more 1-seeds than 9-seeds do. 8-seeds have knocked off 1-seeds eight times, compared to just 4 times for 9-seeds. 8-seeds' second round winning percentage is .191, and 9-seeds' second round winning percentage is .070.

10-seeds have one more second round win than 7-seeds do, but they win more often when they get there. Their second round winning percentage is .452, which is pretty good considering they almost always play 2-seeds. They do have three of the four second round wins over 15-seeds, though. Take out those three, and it drops to .410.

11-seeds aren't quite as good, as they've all been dismissed by the end of the second round 15 times as opposed to 11 times for 10-seeds. Their second round winning percentage is .375, which given that they usually play 3-seeds, seems low compared to 10-seeds against 2-seeds.

12-seeds are quite good in the second round. They've only all been eliminated by the end of the second round nine times, which is fewer than the elimination counts for 7-seeds through 11-seeds. They also have posted a .514 winning percentage in the second round, the best of any seed worse than a 5.

13-seeds are not good bets in the second round. Only four have ever won a second game in the tournament, and their winning percentage in the round is .182. 14-seeds are even worse, having won only two games and posting a .125 winning percentage.

No 15-seed has ever won a second round game.


Only three seed lines are above .500 in Sweet 16 play. You'll guess the first two. You probably won't guess the third.

1-seeds win at a .824 clip in the third round of the tournament, and never have all four lost by the end of this round. Only once has just one of them survived the Sweet 16. It's common for one of them to lose by now (10 times), but having two of them lose (eight times) or none of them lose (seven times) is also common.

2-seeds have a .716 winning percentage in the Sweet 16, which also makes perfect sense. They've all been eliminated by the end of the round just twice, though all four have survived it just twice as well. The most common outcome is two of them making it past this round (12 times), followed by one of them making it past the round (seven times). 

The other seed line above .500 is 8-seeds, who are six-for-nine (.667) in the Sweet 16. It makes sense though; if an 8-seed is good enough to beat a 1-seed, it should be able to keep going. There even was once a year (2000) when two eight seeds made it past the Sweet 16.

3-seeds are close to even with a .491 winning percentage. Never have more than two made it past this round though. The most common outcome is one surviving (10 times), followed by two surviving (eight times) and none surviving (eight times).

4-seeds only win at a .318 percentage, and they mark the first seed where all of them losing by the end of the round (14 times) is more common than having any of them make it through. Only twice has more than one of them won in the Sweet 16.

5-seeds are pretty bad in this round, with a .179 winning percentage and only seven of them ever making it through alive. Only once has more than one advanced beyond this round.

6-seeds are a bit better, with a .361 winning percentage and 15 total wins. Still, only twice has more than one navigated the Sweet 16 successfully. Other than the one time with 8-seeds, no seed worse than a 6 has ever had multiple teams make it through the Sweet 16.

7-seeds win a third of their Sweet 16 games (.333), but that means only six have ever made it through. 

9-seeds are a bad bet here. Only one of the four to make it this far has ever won a Sweet 16 game (.250).

10-seeds are much better, actually, and their .368 winning percentage is the fifth-best behind only 1s, 2s, 8s, and 3s. That makes sense for the same reason as 8-seeds being good: they had to beat a 7-seed and a probably a 2-seed to get this far, so they're probably not that bad. Only one of the three 10-seeds to face a 15-seed in the second round won in the Sweet 16, so throwing out the 10-seeds that faced 15-seeds actually improves the winning percentage to .375.

11-seeds aren't quite so good. While only four have made it past the Sweet 16, that is a third of those who've had a chance (.333). 12-seeds are a wreck though; only one of 18 has ever won in the Sweet 16 (.056).

No one seeded 13 or worse has won a Sweet 16 game.


Here, the most reliable seed is of course... wait a minute. It's actually  4-seeds. Nine of 14 (.643) 4-seeds that have made the Elite Eight have gone on to the Final Four. That makes sense for the same reason as 8-seeds succeeding in the last round: they usually have beaten a 1-seed to get there. The same goes for 5-seeds, which are four-for-seven (.571).

1-seeds aren't bad though, having posted an even .600 winning percentage. They're also the only seed to have more than two teams win in this round, with three winning three times and all four winning just once. This is the first round that has ever seen all four 1-seeds lose by the end of it, but typically either two of them (11 times) or one of them (10 times) advance beyond it.

2-seeds are the only other seed besides 1s that win at least one game in this round (19 times) more often than they don't (seven times). They've only had two teams win games here four times; having only one win a game is most common (15 times). Their winning percentage is .458.

3-seeds have won a game in the Elite Eight seven times and two games three times. They've posted a .500 winning percentage in the round.

4-seeds and 5-seeds each have had two teams win in the Elite Eight just once. Only 8-seeds (once) have done so from worse than a 5-seed.

6-seeds tend to fall away in the Elite Eight, with only three having won a game and them having a .231 winning percentage.

8-seeds are .500 in their Elite Eight games, having won three of six. 11-seeds are also at .500, with them having won two of four.

7-seeds, 9-seeds, 10-seeds, and 12-seeds have never won an Elite Eight game.

In about three of every four tournaments (76.92 percent), at least one Elite Eight game is a 1-seed versus 2-seed game. In almost two of three (61.54 percent), at least one Elite Eight game is a 1-seed versus 3-seed game. Only once, in 1986, have we not had either of those happen in a given tournament. Only twice, in 2007 and 2009, have all four Elite Eight games been of these kinds. The most we've seen of either in one year is three 1-seed versus 2-seed games in 2007; other than that, there's never been more than two 1-seed versus 2-seed games or 1-seed versus 3-seed games in a single tournament.


Only three times has the Final Four been composed of all 1-seeds and 2-seeds. Only 11 times has the Final Four been composed of all 1-seeds, 2-seeds, and 3-seeds.

Only eight teams seeded worse than 5 have ever made the Final Four, and only four of them made it since 1990. We all loved George Mason in 2006, but they're by far an exception, not a rule. While two 5-seeds made it last year, only six total have gone this far.


Nearly half of all championship game participants have been 1-seeds. That said, only five times have we had two 1-seeds in the title game. 1-seeds are the only kind of seed to end up as both title game participants, though.

2-seeds have been there 11 times, and 3-seeds have been there eight times. In the six times that 1-seeds haven't made it to the title game, we had a 2-seed versus a 3-seed five times and once a matchup of two 3-seeds.


A number of teams are playing in their home states or are in line to play in their home states at some point. Here is how they've done:

Seed Games Wins Pct
1 66 65 .985
2 42 31 .738
3 23 21 .913
4 10 8 .800
5 5 3 .600
6 11 6 .545
7 4 2 .500
8 2 0 .000
9 4 1 .250
10 12 6 .500
11 15 8 .533
12 8 2 .250
13 5 1 .200
14 4 0 .000
15 3 0 .000
16 4 0 .000



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