The Best Seeds in March Madness

No. 1 teams tend to win out, but not always

Two basketball players under the hoop
Omari Spellman #14 of the Villanova Wildcats and Moritz Wagner #13 of the Michigan Wolverines compete for a rebound in the second half during the 2018 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If you're thinking of breaking a bracket and picking underdogs to win their March Madness matchups, you may not be choosing wisely. The higher seeds almost always tend to do better -- and win more -- in the annual national college basketball tournament. Statistics bear this out: The higher a team is seeded, the better it will likely perform. But, there are some unusual twists to consider.

No. 1 Is ... No. 1

For the March Madness tournament, teams are placed in four brackets. The top teams are given spots -- or "seeds" -- at the No. 1 position in each bracket. Since 1985 -- the year the NCAA tournament initially expanded to 64 teams -- No. 1 seeds have:

  • Won 15 of 24 titles (over 62 percent)
  • Been runner-up 10 times (41 percent)

The tournament has been expanded twice more, first to 65 teams then to 68, but the statistics have remained constant: The top-seeded teams have either won or been runner-up in nearly every March Madness tournament for decades.

Final Four Twist

That said, having all four No. 1s reach the Final Four is very rare. It's happened just once -- in 2008, when UCLA, North Carolina, Memphis and eventual champion Kansas all held serve through the regionals.

Before the 2008 tournament, the closest was three of four No. 1s making it to the Final Four, which happened just twice: in 1997, when top seeds Kentucky, North Carolina and Minnesota reached the final weekend but fourth-seeded Arizona won the title. It also happened in 1993, when North Carolina, seeded No. 1 in its bracket, won the final game over No. 1-seed Michigan, with No. 1 Kansas and No. 2 Kentucky making up the rest of the Final Four.

That said, top seeds have found it increasingly tougher to get to the Final Four recently, according to Keith Lipscomb, writing on And, "in 2011, no No. 1 or No. 2 seeds made it, marking the only time that's ever happened." 

Average Composition of the Final Four

The 2008 Final Four group -- with four No. 1s winning out -- was seemingly the most statistically predictable group. The second was 1993 with three top seeds and a No. 2 making the final two rounds -- an average seed among Final Four participants of 1.25. The 2007 group, which featured No. 1 seeds Florida and Ohio State and No. 2 seeds UCLA and Georgetown, was the third most predictable group to make the Final Four.

On the flip side, the most surprising Final Four may have been the 2000 group, when fifth-seeded Florida and eighth seeds Wisconsin and North Carolina joined eventual champion No. 1-seed Michigan State. The average seed of that group: 5.5. That was one of only two years in which the average seed of the Final Four was five or higher. The other was 2006 when 11th-seeded George Mason crashed the party with No. 3 Florida, No. 2 UCLA and No. 4 LSU.