It has been one of the most unpredictable college basketball seasons in recent memory, so we can only hope that means this year's NCAA tournament will be one of the most exciting ever.
There are many good teams, but arguably no great ones this year. Does that foretell more massive first-round upsets than usual? We're just hours away from finding out, but whether you enjoy agonizing over filling out your bracket or you're more of a quick picker, hopefully you can find some facts within this column that will interest you.
Let's be clear about what this column is designed to be: lengthy, fun and interesting to those who love the NCAA tournament.
What this column is not designed to do is prognosticate or push you in any direction in terms of your picks. It's meant to arm you with data that you can decide to use at your discretion ... or just because you love numbers.
If predictions are what you seek, our great college basketball writers will have you covered and our Insider tools are a great resource for those seeking an analytics-based angle.
NOTE: All stats referenced are since 1985, unless otherwise noted. Additionally, any historical reference to the "first round" relates to the round of 64, and "second round" is the same as the round of 32. The First Four stands on its own for the purposes of this column to avoid confusion.
Is it a big deal to be the No. 1 overall seed?
Virginia is the overall No. 1 seed in this year's tourney. In the 14 years since the selection committee began specifying the overall No. 1, that team has reached the Final Four half the time (the other three No. 1s have combined to reach the Final Four just 33 percent of the time).
What might surprise you is that the overall No. 1 has won the title as often as it has been eliminated in the round of 32 (three times each). Last year, Villanova joined the "eliminated" when the Wildcats saw their hopes of a repeat come to an end at the hands of Wisconsin.
At-large teams with 14-plus losses
For the second straight year, multiple teams with 14 or more losses received an at-large bid (Alabama and Texas this year). It's only the second time it has ever happened in consecutive NCAA tournaments (also 1990-91).
In the past 60 years, only 15 teams with that many losses got the benefit of the doubt, but 60 percent of those (nine) have come since 2011. Last year, Vanderbilt became the first at-large with 15 losses in this span, and now is joined by SEC rival Alabama from this year's field with that distinction.
Of those previous 13 teams, nine lost their first tourney game. However, of the four that won a game, two reached the second weekend of play: 2001 Marquette (Sweet 16 as an 11-seed) and 1987 LSU (Elite Eight as a 10-seed).
At-large teams with losing conference records don't last
Since there was such an interesting bubble this season, it stands to reason that there are a few teams in the field of 68 that underwhelmed in conference play. But this year, an NCAA tournament record five such teams were given at-large bids (Alabama, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Syracuse and Texas, all 8-10 in their respective conferences). The previous mark was three in 1991.
The past four teams to receive at-large bids despite sub-.500 conference records lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and it has been a long time since any such team advanced to the second week of the tourney. In fact, it has been 13 years since an at-large selection with a losing conference record won more than one game in the tournament (2005 NC State), and the only time such a team won more than two games was 31 years ago (1987 LSU).
When it comes to winning in the first round, it has truly been a 50/50 proposition. The 36 teams with losing conference records to receive at-large bids have an 18-18 mark in the first round, with Illinois (seventh seed) and Minnesota (11th seed) being the last to win, in 2013. Winning a game is one thing, but winning the two needed to reach the Sweet 16 is another, as only five of those 18 first-round winners have been able to do that. Last year, Kansas State played in the First Four as an 11-seed despite its 8-10 record in the Big 12, and while the Wildcats defeated Wake Forest to reach the round of 64, they advanced no further. Arizona State and Syracuse will face off in the First Four.
The First Four matters
Need a reason to pay attention to what happens in the Tuesday and Wednesday night NCAA tourney games? There's a seven-year trend that could help you pinpoint an early upset pick in your bracket.
Exactly one team from the First Four has advanced to the second round each year since its inception in 2011. Interestingly, in six of the seven years, it was the team that won Wednesday's non-16-seed game. In all, Tuesday night winners have won just one additional game in the tourney (Wichita State in 2016), while Wednesday's winners have won 11 additional games in those seven years, including USC's defeat of SMU in last year's first round.
So, who plays in the late game on Wednesday, you ask? That would be the aforementioned Arizona State-Syracuse matchup. Tuesday night's late game pits St. Bonaventure versus UCLA.
Here's a look at seed-versus-seed data for each of the first-round matchups, where there are some interesting recent trends.
1 vs. 16
No. 1 seeds have won all 132 meetings with No. 16 seeds, and the average margin of victory the past three years has been 28.4 points. Since 1998, only four of 80 matchups have been decided by single digits, all of which came in a three-year span (2012-14). One of those actually involved one of this year's No. 1 seeds, as Kansas struggled with 16th-seeded Western Kentucky in 2013 before winning by seven points.
2 vs. 15
Only eight times in 33 years has a No. 2 seed lost to a 15-seed, but half of those losses have come in the past six years. The most recent surprise came in 2016 when Middle Tennessee put a quick end to Michigan State's national championship hopes in the first round.
Last year, Kentucky's nine-point decision over NCAA tourney first-timer Northern Kentucky was the first single-digit victory for a No. 2 seed in the first round since 2010.
Of the eight No. 15s to win a game, only two of them won or shared their conference's regular-season title, but seven of them finished in the top two in the standings. The only exception is Santa Clara in 1993, which finished third in the West Coast Conference. Steve Nash was a freshman for the Broncos back then.
Of this year's 15-seeds, only Georgia State and Lipscomb finished in the top two in their conference during the regular season. Cal State Fullerton and Iona both finished fourth.
3 vs. 14
While No. 3 seeds have won 84 percent of all-time meetings with No. 14 seeds, last year marked the first time since 2012 that the 14-seeds failed to win at least one game.
Overall, No. 3 seeds have suffered five losses to No. 14s in the past five years after compiling an impressive 49-3 record against them from 2000 to 2012.
The past three No. 3s to lose in the first round all came from the Big 12: West Virginia (2016), Baylor (2015) and Iowa State (2015). That should serve as a word of warning to Texas Tech, which is the 3-seed in the East Region and faces Stephen F. Austin on Thursday in Dallas.
4 vs. 13
No. 13 seeds are mired in quite a slump, as they have just one win in the past four years, easily their fewest in any four-year span. This drought comes on the heels of the most successful run 13-seeds ever had, when they won at least one game in a record six straight tournaments from 2008 to 2013.
Despite the recent struggles, at least one No. 13 seed has beaten a No. 4 seed in 23 of 33 years. Asking for multiple such upsets in a single tournament is rather ambitious, though. Only three times have two 13-seeds won a first-round game in the same tournament (1987, 2001, 2008), with this being the 10-year anniversary of the last such occurrence.
5 vs. 12
When it comes to picking upsets in the bracket, the first place people look is often at the 5-12 matchups, and understandably so.
At least one No. 12 seed has beaten a 5-seed in 29 of the past 33 years (1988, 2000, 2007, 2015 are the only exceptions).
Last year, Middle Tennessee took out a Big Ten opponent in the first round for the second straight tourney, knocking off No. 5 Minnesota in Milwaukee.
6 vs. 11
Don't be fooled by the 63 percent success rate No. 6 seeds have in this seed matchup since 1985. It has been a very different story this decade.
No. 11 seeds have won at least three out of four meetings with No. 6 seeds in consecutive years for the first time ever. By comparison, 6-seeds have won a majority of the matchups just once in the past eight years (2013), going 14-18 in that span.
While the 11s have been on the good side of things recently, it's quite rare for either seed to sweep all four meetings in a single tournament. Only once in the past 18 years have the No. 6 seeds done so (2004), and it has been nearly three decades since the only time No. 11 seeds ever got the brooms out (1989).
7 vs. 10
While the 6-11 pairing has become increasingly difficult to pick, the 7-10 matchup has actually been surprisingly one-sided of late. Four times in the past five years, No. 7 seeds have won three of the four matchups. To put that into perspective, No. 10 seeds have done that just four times ever, even if you go back to when seeding began in 1979.
Since 2010, no first-round seed pairing has had more games decided by single digits than this one (24), including 10 decided by 3 points or fewer or in overtime.
8 vs. 9
You expect these to be toss-up games, and historically they are, as No. 8 seeds hold a 67-65 edge. However, 8-seeds have been particularly successful recently, winning 19 of 28 meetings during the past seven years. In addition, only once in the past 10 years have No. 9 seeds won more than two of the four matchups in a single tournament.
Sweet 16/Elite Eight
How far should you advance the top 16 seeds in your bracket?
It remains to be seen whether the perceived lack of truly great teams means a wild ride is ahead for the top four teams in each region, but here's a look at how these "protected seeds" have fared through the years:
• Last year, the top four seeds in each region survived the first round for only the fifth time ever, and the first time since 2007. It has never been done in back-to-back tournaments.
• The top four seeds in a region have reached the Sweet 16 in only 17 of 132 regions (12.9 percent) since 1985. It happened in the South Region in 2017 and the West Region in 2016. Only once before, though, have we seen the top four seeds in at least one region get through the first weekend three years in a row (2007-09).
And in case you're wondering if the top four seeds in TWO regions advanced past the first weekend in the same tournament, the answer is yes (1989, 1991, 2009), but only once in the past 26 years. It's not that much fun to pick all the favorites in your bracket anyway, right?
• Just because it's called the Elite Eight doesn't mean all the teams that get that far were considered "elite" entering the Big Dance. Only three times have all Elite Eight participants been seeded fourth or better (1995, 2007, 2009). In fact, there have been multiple teams seeded worse than fourth in the Elite Eight each of the past two years and in three of the past four.
• There has never been an Elite Eight without a No. 1 seed present, but there have been three instances in the modern era when only one top seed got there (2000, 2011, 2013). By contrast, all four No. 1 seeds have reached the Elite Eight on eight occasions, although 2016 is the only time it has happened in the past eight years.
• If you want to simply play the percentages in your bracket, there are two things you should do with the No. 2 seeds:
1. Eliminate at least one No. 2 seed during the first week of games: Only once in the past 21 years have we had a Sweet 16 in which all the 2-seeds were still alive, and only four times in the modern era (1989, 1995, 1996, 2009).
2. Pick exactly two No. 2 seeds to reach the Elite Eight: Until last year, when only one No. 2 seed got there, that's precisely how it played out in each of the previous eight tournaments.
• Fewer than three No. 3 seeds have reached the Sweet 16 in six of the past eight tournaments. Only twice have all four 3-seeds made it (2008, 2009) and just once have they been shut out entirely (1997).
The difference between 8- and 9-seeds ... and does it matter?
Among at-large-caliber teams -- generally those seeded 12th or better qualify -- there are no two seeds that face a tougher path to the Sweet 16 than the 8s and 9s. It has everything to do with the second-round opponent that is looming: a No. 1 seed. In the modern era, Nos. 8 and 9 seeds combined don't have as many Sweet 16 appearances as the three seeds below them. And it might surprise you, but even No. 13 seeds have made more Sweet 16 trips than No. 9 seeds since 1985.
Earlier on, it was mentioned how historically close the first-round matchup is between these two. But beyond that point, it has always been interesting to me that No. 8s have had more success against No. 1s in the second round than the 9-seeds (13 wins to five).
The sample size gets smaller once you look at Sweet 16 results (especially for the No. 9s), but once again, the No. 8 seeds have had more staying power from that point forward as well.
In those Sweet 16 games, No. 8 seeds are an impressive 8-5, while No. 9s are 2-3. Boston College (1994) and Wichita State (2013) are the only 9-seeds to reach the Elite Eight. Meanwhile, not only have five No. 8 seeds advanced all the way to the Final Four, but three of them reached the title game.
Double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16
It's worth taking at least one team seeded 10th or worse to advance past the first weekend. It has happened in 31 of the 33 years since the field expanded to 64 teams. There were at least three double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 five straight years from 2010 to 2014, but there have been just four in the past three tournaments combined.
Dry spell for No. 12s
As mentioned earlier, 12-seeds are often the first place veteran bracket-filler-outers look to plant their upset flags, but the past few years have been rather lean for these tournament darlings. No. 12 seeds have just three wins total in the past three NCAA tournaments, tied for the fewest by No. 12s in any three-year span in the modern era.
Three years is a small sample size -- and since each year stands on its own, it's really more of a coincidental trend -- but it still helps serve as a reminder not to get too ambitious when it comes to picking the 12s to reach the second week of NCAA tournament play. Here are some more nuggets related to 12-seeds to consider:
1. No team seeded 12th or worse has reached the Sweet 16 since 2013. This might surprise you, but it's the only time that has ever happened in consecutive years, let alone four straight! With so few consistently strong teams this season, will this streak end?
2. Even though 12-seeds have reached the Sweet 16 as often as 11-seeds since 1985 (20 times each), it still happens less than twice every three years on average. So, if you do think the drought ends this year, it's wise to pick ONLY ONE and to stay away from forecasting further advancement. Here's why:
• It's the 10-year anniversary of the only time two 12-seeds made the Sweet 16 in the same year (Villanova and San Diego in 2008). But it's worth noting that neither of them faced a No. 4 seed in the second round, instead defeating 13-seeds to get there.
• Of the 20 previous 12th-seeded Sweet 16 teams, only one (Missouri in 2002) advanced to the Elite Eight. The poor win-loss record has everything to do with the competition they've had to face. All 19 losses came against No. 1 seeds, while the Missouri victory came against a No. 8 seed (UCLA).
Are No. 11 seeds the new Cinderella to pick?
While No. 12s have long been a hot topic once the bracket is revealed, recent results indicate that the more realistic Cinderella discussion should start at No. 11. After all, 11-seeds are often the final at-large teams to make the field -- major-conference teams that may have some puzzling defeats on their résumés but are also dangerous enough to beat anyone, or strong mid-major squads whose underwhelming schedule strength may have kept them from consideration as a higher seed.
Nearly half of the instances (nine of 20) in which No. 11 seeds have made the Sweet 16 have come in just the past eight years. If that seems like a lot, it is. Outside of the top four seeds, No. 11 seeds have reached the second weekend more often than any other seed in this span.
When it comes to having success in the Sweet 16, it's worth comparing the opposition that No. 11s have had to face with what was mentioned about No. 12s above. While No. 11 seeds have had considerably more success than No. 12 seeds in that round -- 11-seeds are 7-13 in their Sweet 16 games compared to the one win for No. 12s -- it's important to note that almost all of their wins have come against teams seeded more closely to them. They are 2-1 versus 10-seeds, 3-0 versus 7-seeds and predictably 2-12 against No. 2 seeds. That said, 11th-seeded Xavier took out No. 2 Arizona in the 2017 tourney, 31 years after the only other time an 11 knocked off a 2 (LSU over Georgia Tech).
How many No. 1 seeds generally make the Final Four?
Simply put, the safe bet is one or two.
At least one No. 1 seed has reached the Final Four in six straight years and 10 of the past 11. Multiple 1-seeds have made the Final Four twice in the past three tournaments after it didn't happen at all from 2010 to 2014. In 2011, no 1- or 2-seeds made it, marking the only time that has ever happened. Thinking about just picking all four No. 1 seeds to get there? Not only does it make for a boring bracket, but it also has happened only once (2008).
Here is a breakdown of how many No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four since the beginning of seeding in 1979:
None -- 3 times
One -- 15 times
Two -- 16 times
Three -- 4 times
Four -- 1 time
Who will be this year's South Carolina? Or Syracuse? Or ...
... I could keep going, as there has been at least one Final Four team seeded seventh or worse each of the past five years. Not surprisingly, that's the longest such streak in NCAA tournament history.
Since seeding began in 1979, only 16 teams seeded seventh or worse have reached the Final Four, with half of those coming in the past seven years! Remarkable, when you consider it didn't happen even once from 1987 to 1999.
Here are a handful of other nuggets on lower seeds, with regard to the Final Four:
• Among the seeds that have reached the Final Four at least once, no seed is experiencing a bigger drought than the No. 6. Only three 6-seeds have made it to the Final Four, but it has been 26 years since the last time it happened (Providence in 1987, Kansas in 1988 and Michigan in 1992).
• From 1985 to 2013, neither a No. 7 nor a No. 10 seed made a Final Four appearance. But in the past four tournaments, we've seen three 7s (UConn in 2014, Michigan State in 2015 and South Carolina in 2017) and a 10 (Syracuse in 2016) get there. UConn became the first No. 7 seed to win the title, while Syracuse became the first No. 10 seed to reach the Final Four.
• Since 1979, six No. 8 seeds have advanced to the Final Four. Those teams are actually 4-2 in the national semifinals, but the lone 8-seed to win the title is Villanova in 1985.
• Since 1985, three No. 11 seeds have reached the Final Four (LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011), which is as many as or more than Nos. 6, 7, 9 and 10 seeds.
It's not easy to repeat
North Carolina is attempting to become the first repeat champion since 2006-07 Florida. Getting back to the Final Four would be quite an accomplishment, as just seven defending champs have advanced that far since seeding began.
Not so sweet for defending champs
Would you believe that, since Florida's repeat in 2007, no defending champion has even gotten past the Sweet 16? It's true. Last year, defending champion Villanova was the No. 1 overall seed and couldn't get past the second round. As you'll see below, four of the past 10 champions didn't even make the NCAA tourney.
Here are other facts of note, as it pertains to hoisting the trophy in early April:
• No team has ever won a national championship after losing its first game in the conference tournament. Last year, six teams that landed top-four seeds -- including Kansas (1) and Louisville (2) -- were bounced right off in the bat in their conference tourney, and none of them advanced past the Elite Eight. This year, Auburn is the only top-four seed that needs to be concerned about this curse. Ohio State (5), Florida (6), Miami (6) and TCU (6) are the only others better than a No. 7.
• Upsets may grab the headlines this month, but when it comes to winning championships, you have to look out for No. 1. In the 33 years since the field expanded, No. 1 seeds have accounted for 20 championships, including eight of the past 11. No other seed has more than five titles, and the top three seeds have combined for 29 of the 33 championships.
• We're still waiting for the first No. 5-seeded champion, although three 5-seeds have reached the championship game (Florida in 2000, Indiana in 2002 and Butler in 2010). There have been teams seeded sixth (NC State, 1983; Kansas, 1988), seventh (UConn, 2014) and eighth (Villanova, 1985) to win it all, however.
NOTE: References are since 1985, unless otherwise noted
Interested in which conferences have been the hottest in recent years, which ones have failed to meet expectations most often or which conference is still looking for its first win in the round of 64? This section is for you, with a tidbit on each of the 32 conferences.
The America East is 3-30 in the first round and its teams haven't won a first-round game since Vermont defeated Syracuse in 2005. Since that win, only once has a conference team even stayed within single digits of its opponent. That's a bit deceiving, though, as many poorly seeded America East squads have showed a lot of fight against topflight opposition in recent years. Case in point, Vermont hung with No. 4 seed Purdue last year before losing by 10. This year, UMBC, fresh off its huge upset of Vermont in the conference title game, will try to become the first No. 16 to win a game when it faces No. 1 overall seed Virginia.
Seventh-seeded UConn got the American Athletic Conference off to a great start back in 2014, winning the national title in the conference's first year of existence. In all, the American had two Sweet 16 teams and nine tourney wins that season. Since then, the conference has just three wins in as many years, all coming in the first round, though it's worth noting no team has been seeded higher than sixth in this span. Those first-round games the past few years have been really close, too, as five of the seven were decided by one or two points. Poor seeding is not an issue this year, as Cincinnati received the AAC's best seed ever (No. 2), while Wichita State got a 4-seed and Houston a 6.
The last time an Atlantic 10 team advanced past the second round was 2014, matching the conference's longest Sweet 16 drought. While the A-10 hasn't had a team seeded better than seventh during this stretch, the past four Sweet 16 teams from the conference have actually been double-digit seeds. This is the A-10's 11th straight year with at least three bids, thanks to Davidson's upset of Rhode Island in the conference title game. URI is the highest-seeded conference team (No. 7), while St. Bonaventure is an 11-seed playing in the First Four and Davidson snagged a No. 12.
If it's somehow possible for a conference to supply the eventual national champion and still have a disappointing NCAA tournament showing, the ACC did that last year. The ACC sent a conference-record nine teams to the Big Dance in 2017, but only the champion Tar Heels advanced past the first weekend. That was just the fifth time in the 38 years of seeding the ACC didn't have multiple teams in the Sweet 16, as a pair of 2-seeds (Duke, Louisville) and a 3-seed (Florida State) were sent packing in the round of 32. But let's keep it positive here ...
From 2011 to '14, the ACC experienced its longest dry spell without a team in the Final Four. In each of the three years since, the conference has had a team reach the title game, including the champion twice (Duke in 2015, North Carolina in 2017). Here's a quick overview of how deep ACC teams have advanced recently:
The ACC received nine bids yet again this year, including a 1-seed and a pair of No. 2s, so the expectations are there yet again.
The past three times the Atlantic Sun received better than a 16-seed, its representative played very well in the first round. In 2013, we were introduced to "Dunk City," as FGCU became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. In 2014, 14th-seeded Mercer shocked Duke. Last year, 14-seed FGCU once again acquitted itself well before losing by six to Florida State. This year, NCAA tourney first-timer and 15th-seeded Lipscomb hopes to make a name for itself in a tough matchup with defending champion North Carolina.
As strong as the Big 12 Conference is each year, it's hard to understand why its teams don't have more success in the tournament. While the conference didn't have a top-five seed lose in the first round for the first time in six years in 2017, there are still a couple of disappointing trends it'd like to reverse:
• Only one champion in the 21-year history of the conference (2008 Kansas)
• Only two Final Four teams in the past nine years
• Despite 10 Sweet 16 teams in the past four years, just three advanced to the Elite Eight
• Five of the 12 top-four seeds to lose in the first round since 2012 have been Big 12 teams (including each of the past three No. 3 seeds to fall in the round of 64)
The seven bids for the Big 12 tied a record for the conference, although only two are top-four seeds (Kansas and Texas Tech).
In the first four years of the new Big East, NCAA tourney success has been hard to come by. The conference has had just four Sweet 16 teams in as many years, and although Villanova won the title in 2016, the Wildcats also lost in the second round as a top-two seed the other three years. This year, the Big East has six teams in the field, including a pair of No. 1 seeds in Villanova and Xavier, so the draw can't get any more favorable.
The Big Sky is just 3-33 in the NCAA tournament since 1985 and has just one win in the 2000s, when Montana defeated Nevada in 2006 as a 12-seed. Montana earned the conference's automatic bid and will try to make it two wins this century when they face Michigan on Thursday.
The Big South has just one win ever in the round of 64 and that was 11 years ago, when Gregg Marshall (now at Wichita State) led 11th-seeded Winthrop past Notre Dame. This year's representative, Radford, has its work cut out as a 16-seed, beginning in the First Four against LIU Brooklyn for the right to face Villanova.
Can you believe it has been 18 years since a Big Ten team last won a national championship? And for the first time since 1995-96, the conference has failed to have at least one team reach the Elite Eight the past two years. The Big Ten has a trio of top-three seeds in this year's field (Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State), so we'll see if they are up to the task.
Big West Conference teams have just one win in the round of 64 in the past 12 years. That came in 2016 when 13th-seeded Hawaii upset Maryland. This year, though, CS Fullerton is a 15-seed. The past four Big West teams seeded 15th or 16th lost by 38, 27, 29 and 28 points.
The Colonial Athletic Association is winless in the first round each of the past five years, its longest such streak in the modern era. But that doesn't mean CAA teams have stopped being a nuisance, even in defeat. UNC Wilmington pushed Virginia and Duke to the limit each of the past two years and Northeastern took Notre Dame down to the wire in 2015 as a 14-seed. Charleston is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1999 and is the latest dangerous squad from the Colonial, so Auburn should be on upset alert.
Conference USA has won a game in each of the past three tourneys, despite receiving just one bid and getting no better than a 12-seed each time. The past two years, Middle Tennessee has knocked off a Big Ten foe as a 12- and 15-seed, and in 2015 it was 14th-seeded UAB that busted brackets everywhere by upsetting Iowa State. It's on Marshall to keep the streak alive this year. The Thundering Herd is in the field for the first time since 1987 and faces No. 4 seed Wichita State in San Diego.
Ever since Butler moved on to greener pastures, the Horizon League hasn't been the same. The league's six-year stretch without an NCAA tournament win is the longest in its history. Dating back to 2007, Butler has 13 of the Horizon's past 14 tourney wins (Cleveland State has the other) and the league is still looking for its new March darling. This is the seventh straight year the Horizon League has gotten a 13-seed or lower -- Wright State is the 14-seed in the South Region -- which has obviously increased the degree of difficulty. The lowest-seeded league team to win an NCAA tournament game was 14th-seeded Xavier in 1991, when it was called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
The Ivy League champion has been throwing a scare into first-round opponents for years, but instead of coming up short it has become a 50/50 proposition the past eight years. In the first 25 years of the modern era (1985-2009), Ivy teams won just three NCAA tourney games, two of which came from teams seeded better than 12th. In the eight years since, the league has won five games total, despite being seeded 12th or worse each time. During the aforementioned eight-year span, not only have Ivy teams have won four of their eight first-round games, but three of the four losses have come by exactly two points each, most recently Princeton coming up short against Notre Dame last year. This year, Penn hopes to make the most of its first tourney trip in 11 years, but received the dreaded 16-seed and will face Kansas. The Quakers are the first Ivy League team to get a 16-seed since 1989, when Pete Carril and Princeton took Georgetown to the buzzer, losing by one point. Penn's head coach, Steve Donahue, is equipped for this opportunity. He was the coach at Cornell back in 2010 when the Big Red reached the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed.
Two of the MAAC's five first-round wins came in back-to-back years in 2008-09, but it has been oh-fer since then. Iona won the conference's automatic bid for the third straight year. The Gaels lost their first-round games by double figures the past two years, as a 14- and 13-seed. This year, they are the 15-seed in the Midwest and will face Duke in the first round.
The Mid-American Conference is hoping to avoid tying its longest NCAA tournament win drought ever. MAC teams have gone five years without a victory, one shy of the six straight winless years from 2004 to 2009. During the past 14 years, the MAC has just three wins total, all by Ohio. Prior to the conference's recent struggles, there was plenty of #MACtion, as the league won at least one game in five of six years between 1998 and 2003. Nate Oats' Buffalo Bulls were the best team in the MAC all season and Thursday's first-round matchup with Arizona could be a good one. The Bulls lost by six and seven points as a 12- and 14-seed in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Since Norfolk State's stunning upset of Missouri in 2012, the MEAC has lost its four first-round games by 27 points per game. The conference does have three wins in the first round, all as No. 15 seeds, but otherwise has been generally noncompetitive. All 25 of their losses have come by double digits (an average of 23.8 points). The MEAC has never received anything better than a 14-seed, and has had its representative -- North Carolina Central this year -- sent to the First Four three of the past four years now.
Missouri Valley Conference teams have proved to be a tough out early in the tournament. The Valley is the only conference to win a first-round game each of the past five years without a loss (8-0) and has done so despite being seeded fifth or worse in seven of those eight games, including three double-digit seeds the past two years. In addition, the conference has at least one NCAA tourney win in six straight years despite supplying no more than two teams in any of those years. Loyola-Chicago is the only Valley team in the Dance this year, marking the first time the conference has had just one team make the field in consecutive years since 2008-11.
The Mountain West received multiple bids for the first time in three years. The league has failed to win a tournament game in consecutive years for the first time ever. At least this year's regular-season champion, the Nevada Wolf Pack, is not a double-digit seed, because it has been flat-out ugly for MW teams seeded 10th or worse. Mountain West double-digit seeds are an abysmal 1-17 all-time in the first round (and even 0-2 in First Four games), while single-digit-seeded teams from the conference are 14-11.
This marks the sixth straight year the Northeast Conference representative has been sent to the First Four in Dayton to start its journey. The NEC is the only conference yet to win a game in the round of 64, and only once in the past 19 years has an NEC team come within single digits of its opponent in that round. This marks the 16th straight year the conference has gotten a 15- or 16-seed, so the odds are once again stacked against its representative. Even more so since LIU Brooklyn will have to beat Radford on Tuesday just to get to the first round. NEC teams have won two of their past three games in the First Four.
Since 1985, the Ohio Valley Conference has won six first-round games, all coming in separate three-year stretches (one win each from 1987-89 and 2010-12). In all other years, the conference is 0-27 in the first round, with each loss the past five years coming by double figures. One sign of hope is that Murray State earned a 12-seed this year, which is the first time the OVC has received better than a 15-seed since 2013.
Oregon's trip to the Final Four last year was the Pac-12's furthest advancement since 2008, but the "Conference of Champions" hasn't actually had a champion in 21 years. The three bids the Pac-12 received -- two of which must play in the First Four -- are the fewest since 2012. This is also the first time the Pac-12 didn't have a top-three seed since 2013. Arizona is the highest seed, as the No. 4 in the South Region.
The Patriot League has just three first-round wins in its history and just one in the past 11 years. Last year, though, 13th-seeded Bucknell played West Virginia very tough, losing by just six in the first round. The Bison are back again as a 14-seed this year and they won't sneak up on their first-round opponent, Michigan State.
At least one SEC team has reached the Elite Eight in 21 of the past 26 years. Last year, three teams made it that far, including Final Four surprise South Carolina. The Gamecocks' run was the first time an SEC team other than Kentucky or Florida reached the Elite Eight since 2010. And this year, the conference received a record eight bids, beating the previous high of six (last done in 2008). Are more big things in store?
Southern Conference teams have long been tough opponents for higher seeds, but they have rarely been rewarded with a victory for their efforts. In fact, the only wins the conference has in the past 20 years are the three that Stephen Curry and Davidson strung together on the way to the Elite Eight in 2010. In the modern era, SoCon teams are just 3-30 in the first round. UNC Greensboro hopes to make some noise as a 13-seed in the West Region. The Spartans will face last year's national runner-up, Gonzaga, on Thursday in Boise.
Recent tourney regular Stephen F. Austin is the Southland Conference's representative, as a No. 14 seed. The Lumberjacks will face Texas Tech in the first round. The last time SFA made the tournament in 2016, it was also a 14-seed and knocked off West Virginia in the first round. Will it knock off another Big 12 squad on Thursday?
This is the 25-year anniversary of the SWAC's only win in the round of 64, when Jervaughn Scales and Southern stunned Georgia Tech by 15 points in 1993. That Jaguars team was seeded 13th, which is the last time a SWAC team wasn't a 15- or 16-seed in the Big Dance. SWAC teams are just 1-8 in the opening round/First Four dating back to 2002, so Texas Southern will attempt to survive North Carolina Central on Wednesday night, in hopes of facing top-seeded Xavier.
Speaking of anniversaries, it has been 20 years since Homer Drew and Valparaiso from the Mid-Continent Conference ran "Pacer" to beat Ole Miss at the buzzer. The Mid-Con eventually became the Summit League, but no matter the name, the league has just one NCAA tournament first-round win since then. That came in 2014, when 12th-seeded North Dakota State knocked off Oklahoma in OT. High-scoring Mike Daum and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits are back for a third straight year, as a No. 12 seed and likely as a popular upset pick. They will meet Ohio State in the first round.
Heading back down memory lane, it was 10 years ago that No. 12 seed Western Kentucky made a run to the Sweet 16. In the modern era, only two times has a Sun Belt team advanced that far (WKU also did it in 1993). This conference has been competitive even when poorly seeded recently: No. 14 seed Georgia State won a game in 2015, No. 14 Louisiana played Creighton close in 2014 and No. 16 Western Kentucky put a scare into Kansas in 2013. Head coach Ron Hunter (healthy Achilles and all) and his Georgia State Panthers are back again as a 15-seed. Is more March magic in store?
The West Coast Conference has won at least one first-round game each of the past 10 years, and it's almost all about Gonzaga. The Zags have won their first-round game nine straight years now. The rest of the conference has just five wins total in the past 20 years, not counting the First Four. Last year was the third time in conference history that two WCC teams won round of 64 games in the same year (also 2000 and 2010). That won't happen this year, as Saint Mary's was left out of the field, meaning Gonzaga is all alone to carry the conference once again.
The Western Athletic Conference hasn't won a tournament game in 11 years, and losses the past three years have come by an average of 17 points per game. New Mexico State is representing the WAC for the sixth time in the past seven years, as the 12-seed in the Midwest Region. That's the WAC's best seed since 2011.
The Hurley brothers played against each other in the 1992 Sweet 16, when Bobby was the starting point guard at Duke and Dan a reserve guard at Seton Hall (Bobby and the Blue Devils won that game). This year, they are head coaches in the same NCAA tournament for the first time, Bobby in his second overall appearance (but his first with Arizona State) and Dan in his second straight trip with Rhode Island. Both have historical barriers to bust through at their respective schools.
This is the 40th NCAA tournament in which teams have been seeded, but in that span Arizona State has just six wins and only once have the Sun Devils won more than one game (Sweet 16 in 1995 as a No. 5 seed). Meanwhile, URI has just seven NCAA tourney wins in its history, with last year's first-round victory its first since the 1998 Rams made a surprise run to the Elite Eight as a No. 8 seed.
It would take some work, especially since Arizona State starts in the First Four as an 11-seed, but their paths would cross in the Sweet 16. I think it's safe to say both Hurleys have seen the bracket and are aware of that.
Below are more notable facts about teams and coaches in this year's field. They are listed in alphabetical order so that finding one that interests you is easier.
It's been 30 years since Avery Johnson was in the NCAA tournament as a player for Southern University. That season he set the single-season Division I record with 13.3 assists per game (which still stands, by the way). In both of his seasons at Southern, his Jaguars lost in the first round as a No. 15 seed. Now he has the Crimson Tide back in the Dance for the first time in six years and seeking their first tourney victory in 12 years. Only once in the past 26 years has Bama advanced past the first weekend; that was in 2004, when the Tide reached the Elite Eight as an 8-seed.
There's no question the Wildcats have enough talent to contend for the national championship. In order for that to happen, though, Sean Miller must get over his Elite Eight hump first. In 10 previous NCAA tournament appearances with Xavier and Arizona, Miller has reached the Sweet 16 seven times -- interestingly, as six different seeds -- including the Elite Eight four times. Arizona hasn't been to the Final Four since 2001, when it lost to Duke in the title game.
The Razorbacks are a 7-seed in the East Region. They have won their first-round game in each of their past three trips (2008, 2015, 2017), but haven't advanced past the second round since their Sweet 16 run in 1996 as a No. 12 seed.
It's been a while since a hearty "War Eagle" has been shouted in the Big Dance, 15 years to be exact. One fun fact Tigers fans can hang their hat on is that Auburn has never lost a round of 64 game (7-0), and that's despite the fact that it was a 7-seed or worse in six of those seven games.
As a 4-seed, this year's team doesn't carry the same expectations as the 1999 squad, but it's as close as any other Tigers team has come. That year, high-flying Chris Porter led top-seeded Auburn to the Sweet 16 before being upset by Ohio State. Bruce Pearl's bunch is fun to watch and hopes to become the first team in school history to reach the Final Four.
The Bulldogs have won 10 of their past 11 first-round games dating back to 2001 -- all while seeded fourth or worse -- and have never lost to a team seeded worse than they were ... in any round in school history. Last year, they earned their first-ever top-four seed and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since their back-to-back runs to the national title game in 2010 and 2011. This year, they are back in Cinderella mode as the No. 10 seed in the East Region.
As the No. 2 in the South, this is the highest the Bearcats have been seeded since 2002, well before Mick Cronin took over as head coach. Life as a high seed has been, let's say, upsetting for Cincinnati for more than the past two decades, though. The previous six times the Bearcats were a top-four seed -- all under now-West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins -- they lost in the second round each time and at least once as each seed. Needless to say, Cronin hopes to turn over a new leaf on this one.
This is the first tournament appearance for the Tigers since 2011, and it has been 21 years since they last won a game in the round of 64. Rick Barnes, now the head coach at Tennessee, was the Clemson coach for that 1997 team that reached the Sweet 16.
In the modern era, not only have the Bluejays have yet to advance past the second round (0-6 in the round of 32), but they've lost all six games in that round by double figures. In fairness, they were at least five seeds lower than their opponent in five of those matchups, but in the one game they were the higher seed -- as a No. 3 versus No. 6 Baylor in 2014 -- they were blown out by 30. Greg McDermott hopes for a better fate this year.
This is the 34th time Mike Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to the tournament. In an impressive 12 of the previous 33 trips, Duke has advanced to the Final Four, five of which ended with a championship. This year, Coach K's team earned a No. 2 seed, which hasn't treated the Blue Devils well in recent years, including last year when South Carolina upset them in the round of 32. In their past six appearances as a 2-seed -- dating back to 1997 -- they have lost in the first round once, second round three times and reached the Elite Eight only once (2013). Here's why it matters whether Duke is a 1- or 2-seed:
While Duke has struggled recently as a 2-seed, the Gators have excelled, regardless of seed. In their past five trips to the Dance -- as a 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- and 7-seed -- they have four Elite Eight appearances and one Final Four. In Mike White's first trip to the NCAA tournament as a head coach last year, Florida reached the Elite Eight before falling to conference foe South Carolina. This year, the Gators received a No. 6 seed.
Last year's runner-up is making its 20th straight NCAA tournament appearance. Gonzaga has won nine straight first-round games and is looking to reach the Sweet 16 four straight years for the first time in school history.
Some of you reading this remember when the Cougars were among college basketball's elite. They made three consecutive Final Fours from 1982 to 1984, including back-to-back runner-up finishes in '83 and '84. Unfortunately, Houston hasn't won a single NCAA tournament game since then (0-4). In fact, this is only its second tourney appearance in the past 26 years. The No. 6 seed the Cougars received this year is their best since that 1984 team was a 2-seed.
In the past nine years, the Jayhawks have been a No. 1 seed six times and a No. 2 seed three times. Pretty amazing. But Bill Self's team has just one Final Four appearance to show for it during this stretch (as a 2-seed in 2012). This is the 10-year anniversary of KU's last championship and the Jayhawks are among the favorites to cut down the nets.
John Calipari may have just one championship to his credit as a head coach, but his teams have regularly made deep runs the past decade-plus. Going back to his time at Memphis, Coach Cal's teams have reached the Elite Eight in nine of the past 11 trips to the Dance (six out of seven at Kentucky). The success has not come only as a top seed, either; UK reached the Final Four in 2011 as a 4-seed and lost in the title game in 2014 as a 7-seed. This year's team is playing its best ball entering the tournament and is quite the dangerous 5-seed.
The Ramblers are dancing for the first time since 1985, when Alfredrick Hughes & Co. reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 4 seed before running into Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. Yeah, it's been a while. I just wanted to reminisce a little, but Porter Moser's team is certainly good enough to bust some brackets as a No. 11 seed.
The Spartans are trying to avoid something that's never happened under Tom Izzo, missing the Sweet 16 in three straight seasons. As the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region, the odds are on their side, but that was also the case two years ago when Michigan State lost in the first round as a No. 2 seed.
This is the seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance in which the Wolfpack are an 8-seed or worse, dating back to 2005. Despite the unfavorable draws in this span, not only is NC State 4-2 in first-round games, but the Pack have reached the Sweet 16 three times as well (as an 8-, 10- and 11-seed). This year, Kevin Keatts' team received a 9-seed and is certainly capable of another Sweet 16 run, although it's more difficult with top-seeded Kansas looming in the second round.
New Mexico State
It's been 25 years since the Aggies won an NCAA tournament game. They've lost their past nine games since then, all as a No. 12 seed or worse. The seeding woes haven't changed, as they are a 12-seed, but this team is certainly good enough to win a game.
The Tar Heels fell at the buzzer in the 2016 title game, but returned to win it all last year, giving Roy Williams his third national championship. We mentioned earlier how difficult it is to repeat, but do you know what else is hard? Winning 27 first-round games without a loss, which is exactly what Williams' teams have done in his career. No other coach in history has won more than 14 straight.
More bad news for North Carolina opponents: The Heels have reached at least the Elite Eight each of the eight times they've been a top-two seed under coach Williams. That differs greatly from the disappointments he suffered under the same circumstances as the head man at Kansas.
One last interesting note on the Tar Heels: The favorite has won 32 of North Carolina's past 33 NCAA tourney games dating back to 2009. The only game in which the underdog won outright was the 2016 championship game, which Villanova won.
The Friars have just one victory in their past six trips to the NCAA tournament. That came two years ago when Rodney Bullock's layup with 1.5 seconds helped them defeat USC. They are a No. 10 seed this year and face Texas A&M on Friday.
The Boilermakers are looking to reach the Sweet 16 in consecutive years for the first time since 1998 to 2000. As a No. 2 seed for the first time in 20 years, you'd think they'd feel good about that happening, but Purdue has mostly disappointed in its history as a top-two seed, having advanced past the Sweet 16 just once in five tries.
The Rams are trying to win an NCAA tournament game in back-to-back years for the first time in history. This is their best seed ever (No. 7), so that's encouraging. As mentioned above, it's the 20th anniversary of URI's furthest advancement, when they made the Elite Eight as an 8-seed under head coach Jim Harrick, led by the backcourt of Cuttino Mobley and Tyson Wheeler. It's also the 30-year anniversary of making the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed on the shoulders of Tom Garrick. Those are the only two times URI has made it to the second week of play in the tournament.
Not only are the Bonnies in the Dance for just the fourth time since reaching the Final Four in 1970, they haven't won a tourney game since then, either. On the positive, this is the best seed in school history (No. 11), but they'll have to win on Tuesday against UCLA to reach the round of 64.
While Kevin Willard has taken the Hall to the tournament each of the past three years, it has been 14 years since the Pirates' last NCAA tournament victory. Their matchup against NC State should be one of the more entertaining first-round games.
The last time Cuse was in the tournament, it was a double-digit seed for the first time. That worked out well, as the Orange became the first No. 10 seed to reach the Final Four. Jim Boeheim's bunch will have to work even harder to recreate that magic this year, as they begin play in the First Four against Arizona State on Wednesday.
Jamie Dixon was the point guard the last time TCU won an NCAA tournament game. That was 31 years ago. Now, he's the head coach of the Horned Frogs, who are making their first tourney appearance in 20 years.
The Vols have been one of the pleasant surprises this season, and they snagged a No. 3 seed in the South region. This is Tennessee's first NCAA tourney appearance since they went from the First Four to the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed under Cuonzo Martin in 2014. Four years before that, they went all the way to the Elite Eight as a No. 6 seed under Bruce Pearl. So, how has Rick Barnes fared as a top-three seed in his coaching career? In four such instances (all at Texas), his teams reached at least the Sweet 16 each time, including a Final Four as a 1-seed and a pair of Elite Eights as a 2-seed.
The Longhorns are one of two teams to win an NCAA tournament game as a double-digit seed three years in a row (1995-97). Since then, they are 0-4 as an 8-seed or worse. They'll try to put an end to that streak this year, as they landed a No. 10 seed and will face Nevada on Friday.
As the No. 3 seed in the East, the Red Raiders are a top-four seed for the second time ever. The only other time was in 1996 when they reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 3 seed before losing to Georgetown. Chris Beard has done a tremendous job with this team, and Tech's goal is certainly more ambitious than simply earning the school's first tourney win since 2005, when Bob Knight was the head coach.
Steve Alford has led the Bruins to the Sweet 16 three times in as many trips, including once as an 11-seed in 2015. UCLA will have to follow a similar path as that team if the Bruins are to do it again, as an 11-seed once again, this time beginning in the First Four. Alford has never advanced past the Sweet 16 in his head-coaching career.
This is the fifth straight year the Wildcats have earned a top-two seed, and in their past eight appearances they've either reached the Final Four or failed to escape the first weekend. Talk about feast or famine ... well, at least Nova won the national title in 2016. Regardless of past results, Villanova is among the favorites to cut down the nets this year. Here's a look at how Jay Wright's teams have actually fared better when the expectations aren't so lofty:
Virginia has been near the top of the rankings for much of the season, but the Cavaliers' recent tournament struggles are cause for concern. Under Tony Bennett, Virginia has played nine tourney games against teams that weren't 15- or 16-seeds. UVA is just 4-5 in those games, averaging 78.8 points per game in the wins and just 51.8 PPG in the losses. In their two previous trips as a No. 1 seed under Bennett in 2014 and 2016, they were eliminated in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively.
The only time the Hokies ever won more than one game in a single tournament was in their first appearance back in 1967, when they won a pair of games to reach the Elite Eight. Since then, they have just four tourney wins, one in each of four different decades. Buzz Williams may be the right man for the job of turning things around, though, as he took Marquette to three consecutive Sweet 16s (including one Elite Eight) from 2011 to 2013. The Hokies have an intriguing first-round meeting with Alabama for starters.
Gregg Marshall's Shockers have won their first-round game each of the past five years, but have been all over the place in terms of seeding. They were expected to win as a No. 1 seed in 2014, but they also won as 7-, 9-, 10- and 11-seeds. Winning in the first round as a double-digit seed in consecutive years, as the Shockers did in 2016 and 2017, is something that has been done only 19 times in tournament history. That's a streak Wichita State can't extend this year, though, as a more favorable 4-seed in the East Region with a date with Marshall in San Diego.
Last, but certainly not least, the Musketeers are a No. 1 seed for the first time, which puts them in prime position to put an end to the two trends below.
• Xavier has been to the NCAA tournament 27 times previously but never reached the Final Four. Only BYU (29) has made more trips to the tourney without a Final Four appearance.
• Xavier's 27 NCAA tournament wins are the most by any team without a Final Four appearance.
The Musketeers have made the Sweet 16 on eight occasions, seven of which have come as a 4-seed or worse. The past four instances have come as a 6-seed or worse. This is new territory for Chris Mack and his team, so how will they handle it? The next few weeks will tell the story.
Thank you to Chris Fallica from ESPN Stats & Information for his contributions to this column.