The seeding process of teams began in 1979 as a way for the NCAA to make sure that the strongest teams didn’t end up meeting each other too early in the tournament, which would of course be bad for TV ratings and the overall fan experience. The seeding also provides the uninitiated in basketball a basis for which to make decisions in those recreational office pools. Because let’s be honest, you may or may not love college basketball, but you certainly didn’t take the time to follow the seasons of 64 teams from all over the country. However, we know that picking a number 16 seed, the lowest ranked team in each of 4 regions, to beat a number 1 seed is not statistically a good bet in most pools (i.e. with no point spreads). In fact, there has never been a number 16 seed that beat a number 1 seed in the history of the 64-team tournament. While this is the only seeding combination that is yet to produce an “upset” in 28 years of tournament action, it is illustrative of a trend, which is that higher seeds generally survive longer in the tournament. A team with a high ranking is, after all, the stronger team based upon qualitative and quantitative evaluation, and they often possess more talent and better coaching, than the lower-ranked team they are playing. While past performance has certainly not guaranteed future success for high-seeded teams, it certainly points the average NCAA bracket in the right direction.
We compiled data from CBS Sports regarding the success of each of the 16 seeds advancing through the NCAA tournament, which we have updated to include the 2013 tournament. The seeding process has largely worked out as the NCAA intended them two, with higher ranked teams typically advancing well into the tournament, leading to exciting clashes of talented teams late in the tournament. Top-seeded teams don’t always survive the test to the Final Four, but historically these teams win about 80% of the games they play. A #16 seed has never won a game and the #13-#16 seeds combine to win just slightly more than 11% of the games they play.
Additional NCAA Seeding Statistics (1985-2013)
- The #1 seeded teams have won the greatest percentage of games at 80%.
- The top 3 seeded teams combine for a record of 885 wins and 323 losses, a winning percentage of 73%,
- By contrast, the bottom 3 seeded teams have a combined win total of just 27 games (or 7% of their contests) in 29 years of NCAA tourney history.
- The top 5 seeded teams have produced winning percentage of 68%, while the bottom 5 seeds have won only 17% of their games.
- Top seeded teams have won more games in tournament history than the bottom 3 seeds have played. (389 to 348)
Study and text by Dorsey Wright and Associates