It’s almost bracket picking time, and everyone has a system or a theory to help them out. Regardless of your system, consider these historical trends while you’re picking your winners.
Keep in mind that these trends say what is likely to happen, not what will happen. Everything here is based off of the era of 64-team tournaments, which means we’ve only got 24 past tournaments to go off of.
One last thing: I do not classify an eight-seed losing to a nine-seed as an upset. That is all; let’s do this.
Kansas, UCLA, Memphis, and North Carolina will all win their first round games, but at least one will probably lose its second round game.
In the last ten years, nearly every Final Four team has won its first round game the next year (provided it made the tournament). The three that have not were all Big Ten teams and six-seeds or below. No Big Ten squads made the Final Four and it’s looking like all of last year’s participants will be at least four-seeds, so those teams should be safe.
For all of the tournaments though, never have all Final Four teams from one year made the Sweet 16 the next.
The champion will almost certainly be a one, two, or three-seed.
Only three teams lower than a 3-seed have won it all: 8-seed Villanova in 1985, 6-seed Kansas in 1988, and 4-seed Arizona in 1997. Keep in mind that in the ‘80s when the six and eight-seeds won, we didn’t have nearly the coverage of the sport we do now. The committee has gotten better with more time and more film, and a team at the top will take home the title.
In case you’re wondering, one-seeds have won just over half of the championships and seven of the last ten. Three-seeds aren’t even that great a bet, as only three of those have ever won the whole thing (though two were this decade).
Strictly speaking, based on history each one-seed has a 13.5 percent chance of winning it all, each two-seed has a 5.2 percent chance, each three-seed has a 3.1 percent chance, and everyone else from four-seeds to eight-seeds has a 0.4 percent chance.
One and three-seeds playing in their home state are money, but twos are not quite so reliable.
Only a single one-seed in 62 contests has lost a game in its home state, and that was in 2001 when three-seed Maryland beat Stanford in Anaheim. Only a single three-seed in 19 contests has lost a game in its home state, and that was in 2007 when Texas A&M lost to two-seed Memphis in San Antonio.
Two-seeds however are just 30-8 (.789) in their home states, essentially losing one of every five contests. When you take out games against one-seeds, they go to 27-7 (.794) which is basically the same performance. They have won ten in a row in their home state, but six of those came from UCLA’s 2006 and 2007 teams. Even then, two-seeds are just 16-4 (.800) in home state games since 2003.
When picking first round upsets, don’t bet on lucky seven.
The average number of first round upsets is 5.63. The most common number is five in a year, something that has happened seven times. The next most common number of first round upsets is eight (five times) and then six (four times).
What about seven you ask? We’ve seen seven first round upsets exactly once, and that was in 2002. I have no good explanation for this phenomenon other than that there have been a relatively small number of 64-team tournaments, but try not to bet against history with this one.
For what it’s worth, this decade has evenly split up the number of upsets: 2007 had two, 2004 had three, 2005 had four, 2003 had five, 2008 had six, 2002 had seven, 2006 had eight, and 2001 had nine. If you’re considering extending the pattern, be advised that we’ve never seen one or ten first round upsets in a year. Then again, we had never seen two or nine in a year until it happened this decade.
Having a team return to the Final Four is about a coin flip.
Having all Final Four teams shut out of the next year’s Final Four has happened 11 times in 23 possible chances. That means 12 times in 23 chances we’ve seen at least one come back.
The most that have ever returned is two, and each time that has happened one of the two Final Four repeat teams was on at least a three-year run of making it that far: Duke and UNLV both made it in 1990-91 during a four-year run for Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina both made it in 1997-98 during a three-year run for UK, and both UCLA and Florida made it in 2006-07 during a three-year run for the Bruins.
That would seem to indicate that if two teams were to make it back, UCLA would be one of them. It’s a trend, not a rule though, so nothing is set in stone.
Anyway, it’s no guarantee than any of last year’s bunch makes it back, much less two. Just pull out a quarter and let George tell you.