Everyone loves a Cinderella story, and March Madness produces plenty every year. When it comes to actually winning the big dance, however, the favorites usually get the job done.
A No. 1 seed has won 19 of the past 28 men’s national championships; the last time a No. 1 seed didn’t cut down the net was 2016, when the trophy was hoisted by … a No. 2 seed.
The women’s tournaments have seen similar trends. A No. 1 seed has won 22 of the last 28 titles, and every year since 2012; in 2011, a—you guessed it!—No. 2 took home the trophy.
Folks filling out brackets should generally play it safe with their championship predictions, but if there was ever a year to take a risk in the men’s tournament, it might be this year. FiveThirtyEight’s model gives the four No. 1 seeds combined just a 48% chance to cut down the nets. That number is 81% for the women’s tournament, as undefeated South Carolina is an overwhelming favorite, with -200 odds to win it all on DraftKings.
The overall dominance of No. 1 seeds has created a strange March Madness historic trend in the men’s bracket: No. 10, No. 11 and No. 12 seeds advance to the second week much more frequently than No. 8 or No. 9 seeds. Those two seeds are almost always shut out by running into top seeds in the second round, whereas the double-digit seeds directly below them make the Sweet 16 roughly 16% of the time by avoiding that difficult matchup.
Last year, though, No. 8 seed North Carolina made it all the way to the championship game, and nearly won. But before picking a No. 8 seed to go deep in your bracket this year, keep in mind that only 10% of them have reached the third round historically.
Prior to the 2022 tournament, we wrote about how No. 11 seeds are the ones who really put the “madness” into March Madness. Although No. 15 Saint Peter’s pulled off one of the biggest financial upsets in modern history en route to becoming the lowest seed to ever reach the Elite Eight, last year’s No. 11 seeds still pulled their weight in causing chaos. Michigan and Iowa State both advanced to the Sweet 16 as No. 11s.
Some of the most surprising men’s Final Four teams of all time were No. 11 seeds, including 2018 Loyola Chicago and 2021 UCLA. In the women’s bracket, however, no team seeded lower than No. 10 has ever reached the semifinals. In some ways, March isn’t that mad after all.
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