Let's get this out of the way right off the top: This column is lengthy and meant to be a fun read for NCAA tournament enthusiasts. There's no prognostication here. I'll let our talented college basketball writers and impressive Insider tools help you break down each matchup as you fill out your bracket.
You won't be able to take all of the facts within this column and fill out a bracket devoid of contradiction. There's simply too much overlap, but maybe you'll read something that moves you to go in one direction or another.
Most of the trends will relate to specific rounds, seeds, conferences, as well as teams and the coaches that lead them. Whether you quickly scan the column for things that might interest you or you accept the challenge of reading the entire behemoth -- man, I wish I could offer a prize of some sort for those of you who do -- I hope you at least find something in here you didn't know and can appreciate.
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 Additionally, any historical reference to the "first round" relates to the round of 64, and "second round" is the same as the round of 32.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, so as to avoid confusion.
Welcome to the Dance, Northwestern!
One of the biggest stories during the regular season was the Wildcats' quest for their first-ever NCAA tournament bid. Chris Collins' bunch finally did it, garnering an 8 seed in the West region. So, how have tourney first-timers performed, you ask?
Since 1985, only three have reached the Sweet 16 before being eliminated: 1986 Cleveland State (14 seed), 1987 Florida (6 seed) and 2013 FGCU (15 seed). As you might expect, most tournament newbies don't get seeded very well, so let's narrow it down to top-10 seeds only, for more of an apples-to-apples comparison.
It's been a long time since a team making its first trip received such a high seed -- after all, Northwestern is the final major-conference team to make it to the Big Dance -- but if there's a positive to take away for the Cats, it's that all three teams seeded eighth or better won their first-round games. The only team on the list below to win a second game was Florida in 1987.
A "loss" cause?
One story that became clearer as February progressed was how many teams with losses in the teens would be in consideration for at-large bids. More specifically, the number 14 became a focal point.
Before this year, only 11 teams in the past 60 years lost 14 games and still received an at-large bid. Five of those 11 came in one year (2011, which is also the last time it had happened).
This year, Vanderbilt, dare I say, one-upped them by making it with 15 losses. In all, this tournament features two at-large teams with at least 14 losses, as Michigan State also made it. So what does history say we should expect from these teams, in terms of advancement? Generally speaking, one and done.
Of those previous 11 teams, eight lost their first tourney game. However, of the three 14-loss at-large teams that won a game, two actually advanced past the first weekend: 2001 Marquette (Sweet 16 as an 11 seed) and 1987 LSU (Elite Eight as a 10 seed). Here's the entire list:
At-large teams with losing conference records don't last
Naturally, if you have many at-large teams with losses in the teens, some will have underwhelming conference records. This year, Kansas State got in despite an 8-10 mark in the Big 12. They'll face Wake Forest in the First Four on Tuesday night.
The past three teams to receive at-large bids despite sub-.500 conference records lost their first NCAA tournament game, and it's been a long time since any such team made it past the first weekend. In fact, it's been 12 years since an at-large selection with a losing conference record won more than one game in the tournament (2005 NC State), and this marks the 30-year anniversary of the only such team to win more than TWO games (1987 LSU).
When it comes to winning in the first round, it's been akin to a coin flip. The 35 teams with losing conference records to receive at-large bids have an 18-17 mark in the first round, with Illinois (7th seed) and Minnesota (11th seed) being the last to win, in 2013. Winning a game is one thing, but only five of those 35 teams won at least the two needed to reach the Sweet 16.
The First Four matters
While most bracket contests don't start until Thursday, it doesn't mean you should ignore the First Four games Tuesday and Wednesday. Need a reason? Here's the best I've got:
At least one team from the First Four has advanced to the second round each year. In the first five years of the First Four, it was the team that won Wednesday's non-16-seed game, but last year it came from the Tuesday late game instead (Wichita State). Since the First Four began in 2011, the Shockers were the first Tuesday winner to win another game in the tourney, while Wednesday's winners have won 10 additional games in those six years.
In addition to the aforementioned Kansas State/Wake Forest matchup on Tuesday, Providence and USC will match up on Wednesday.
Here's a look at seed-versus-seed data from each of the first-round matchups, where there are some interesting recent trends.
1 vs. 16
No. 1 seeds have won all 128 meetings with No. 16 seeds, and the average margin of victory the past two years has been 28.0. Since 1998, only four of 76 matchups have been decided by single digits, all of which came in a three-year span (2012-14). Of those four close games, a pair of this year's 1 seeds, Kansas (7-point win over Western Kentucky) and Gonzaga (6-point win over Southern), accounted for half of them back in 2013.
2 vs. 15
Last year, Michigan State was the second-most popular pick to win the championship in ESPN's Tournament Challenge game, despite being a No. 2 seed. Kermit Davis' Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders had other ideas, though, as they busted many brackets by sending the Spartans home in the first round.
Even after that shocker, No. 2 seeds are still 120-8 all time against No. 15 seeds, but it's worth noting that four of those eight losses have come in the past five years.
3 vs. 14
No. 14 seeds have won at least one game in four straight years for the first time since it happened in seven straight tourneys from 1986 to 1992.
Last year, it was Thomas Walkup and Stephen F. Austin who upset West Virginia in the first round, before losing to Notre Dame on a late tip-in in the second round.
No. 3 seeds have now lost five games versus No. 14s in the past four years, after compiling a 49-3 mark against them from 2000 to 2012.
4 vs. 13
The 2014 and 2015 tournaments marked the first time that a No. 13 seed failed to win a game in consecutive years, but last year Hawaii put an end to that tiny drought by knocking off fourth-seeded Cal for its first NCAA tournament victory. Will that start another streak for the 13s? Remember, prior to the aforementioned two-year dry spell, 13 seeds had won at least one game in a record six straight tournaments from 2008 to 2013.
5 vs. 12
Once the bracket is released, the first upset discussion often starts by looking at the 5/12 matchups, and it's no wonder. They have split 20 meetings during the past five tournaments, and only four times since 1985 has a No. 12 seed failed to win a game (1988, 2000, 2007, 2015).
Last year, Yale won its first tourney game in school history and Little Rock won in the Big Dance for the first time in 30 years as 12 seeds. Who's it going to be this year? All four No. 12s -- UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Nevada and Middle Tennessee -- certainly present difficult matchups.
6 vs. 11
In recent years, this seed matchup has also become increasingly difficult to predict. No. 6 seeds have won 64 percent of the meetings overall, but the past seven years tell a very different story. The No. 11s have won seven of 12 meetings the past three tourneys, and hold a 15-13 advantage since 2010. In that span, only once have the No. 6 seeds won a majority of the matchups (2013).
In addition, since 2000, only once have the No. 6 seeds won all four meetings with 11 seeds in a single tournament (2004). And in case you're wondering, 1989 is the only time the 11s got out the brooms.
7 vs. 10
While the 6/11 pairing has evened out over time, the opposite is true of the 7/10 matchup. Overall, No. 7 seeds have won 61 percent of meetings with No. 10s, and only four times have they failed to at least split the four first-round games in a single tournament (1998, 1999, 2009, 2010).
On the other hand, No. 7 seeds have won at least three of the four matchups 16 times in 32 years. Just like the 11 seeds in the previous note, only once have No. 10s won all four meetings (1999). Games are certainly close, though. In each of the past three years, exactly one 7-versus-10 matchup has gone to overtime, and nine of the 12 games were decided by eight points or less.
8 vs. 9
Last year, the four 8-versus-9 matchups were decided by an average of 3.5 points, which is indicative of the toss-up nature of this pairing historically. These two seeds have split the 128 meetings since 1985. It might surprise you, though, that last year marked the first time since 2007 that No. 9 seeds won more than two of the four matchups.
Sweet 16/Elite Eight
How far should you advance the top 16 seeds in your bracket?
In a season without a prohibitive favorite to win the title, it will be interesting to see how the top four seeds in each region fare. Let's look at how things have played out for them through the years.
Only four times have the top four seeds in all four regions survived the first round (1994, 2000, 2004, 2007), and it's been 10 years since the last instance. Last year, a No. 2 (Michigan State), No. 3 (West Virginia) and No. 4 (California) were bitten in their first game.
And if the top four seeds in a particular region do make it to the weekend, beware in the second round. It's rare for the top four seeds in any region to reach the Sweet 16. Since 1985, it's happened in only 16 of 128 regions (12.5 percent), and just twice in the past seven years.
Even in the one occurrence last year in the West region, it took a historic collapse by UNI against third-seeded Texas A&M in order to so, as the Panthers blew a double-digit lead in the final 30 seconds before falling in double-overtime.
While upsets ruin plenty of brackets each year, the cream often rises to the top by the time we reach the Elite Eight. But that doesn't mean all eight teams that get there have to be among the elite. 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 in four of the past seven years alone.
There has never been an Elite Eight without a No. 1 seed present, but there have been three instances where only one top seed got there. Two of those three have occurred in the past six years (2011, 2013). By contrast, all four No. 1 seeds have reached the Elite Eight on eight occasions, including last year.
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 20 years have we had a Sweet 16 in which all the 2 seeds were still alive, and only four times in the past 32 years (1989, 1995, 1996, 2009).
2. Pick exactly two No. 2 seeds to reach the Elite Eight ... no more, no less. That's precisely how it has played out in each of the past eight tournaments.
Fewer than three No. 3 seeds have reached the Sweet 16 in six of the past seven tournaments. Only twice have all four 3 seeds made it (2008, 2009) and just once have they been shut out entirely (1997).
What's the difference between 8 and 9 seeds?
Earlier on, it was mentioned how equal 8s and 9s are in head-to-head play in the Dance. But once we get past the first round, there's been quite a noticeable degree of separation.
Twelve No. 8 seeds have reached the Sweet 16, but only five No. 9 seeds have done so. Their success after that has also varied greatly, albeit in a small sample size (particularly for the 9 seeds).
In those Sweet 16 games, No. 8 seeds are an impressive 8-4, 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
There has been at least one team seeded 10th or worse to survive the first weekend in 30 of the 32 years since the field expanded to 64. There were at least three double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 five straight years from 2010 to 2014, but there have been just three total in the past two tournaments combined.
Don't get carried away with the No. 12s
Sure, it's fun to nail your upset picks, and as mentioned earlier, 12 seeds are understandably a popular target. Not including the First Four, No. 12s have combined for at least two wins 14 of the past 16 years.
But there are some things to keep in mind with regard to these lower-seeded teams advancing past the first weekend:
1. No team seeded 12th or worse has reached the Sweet 16 since 2013. It's the first time that's ever happened in consecutive years, let alone three straight!
2. Even though 12 seeds have reached the Sweet 16 more often than 11 seeds since 1985 (20 to 19), it still happens less than twice every three years. And if you do pick one to do so this year, it's wise to pick ONLY ONE and to stay away from forecasting further advancement. Here's why:
Only once have two 12 seeds made the Sweet 16 in the same year (Villanova and San Diego in 2008), and both of them defeated 13 seeds in the second round to get there.
Of those 20 previous 12th-seeded Sweet 16 teams, only one (Missouri in 2002) advanced to the Elite Eight. It 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).
Going back to the 11 seeds briefly, they are 6-13 in those Sweet 16 games, but their successes have come against teams seeded more closely to them. They are 2-1 versus 10 seeds, 3-0 versus 7 seeds and 1-12 against No. 2 seeds. That one win against a No. 2 seed came in 1986 (LSU over Georgia Tech), so let's just say it's been a while.
How many No. 1 seeds generally make the Final Four?
Top seeds have found it increasingly tougher to get there recently. Only once in the past seven tournaments have multiple No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four. In 2011, no 1 or 2 seeds made it, marking the only time that's 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's happened only once as well.
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 -- 15 times
Three -- 4 times
Four -- 1 time
Dark horses in the Final Four
Last year, Syracuse became the latest Cinderella story in the NCAA tournament, as the first No. 10 seed to reach the Final Four. It's become quite a trend in recent years.
Since seeding began in 1979, only 15 teams seeded seventh or worse have reached the Final Four, but seven of those 15 have done so in the past six years, including at least one in each of the past four. That's the longest such streak in NCAA tourney history, and quite interesting when you consider that in a 13-year span (1987-99) it didn't even happen once.
Here are a handful of other tidbits on lower seeds, with regard to the Final Four, since 1985 in all cases:
It's been a quarter-century since a No. 6 seed made a run this deep. Only three 6 seeds have made it to the Final Four (Providence in 1987, Kansas in 1988 and Michigan in 1992).
The only two No. 7 seeds to make the Final Four happened in the past few years, when UConn won the title in 2014 and Michigan State lost in the national semifinals in 2015.
Five No. 8 seeds have advanced to the Final Four. Those teams are actually 3-2 in the national semifinals, but the lone 8 seed to win the title is Villanova in 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 or more than Nos. 6, 7, 9 and 10 seeds.
How hard will it be for Villanova to repeat?
Villanova hopes to become the first team to repeat as champions since Florida won it all in 2006 and 2007, and as the overall No. 1 seed, they are obviously in a good position to do so. Duke in 1991 and 1992 is the only other team to repeat since UCLA won seven straight from 1967 to 1973.
That Florida team is also the last defending champ to even get back to the Final Four the next year. In the past 40 years, only seven teams have done it.
What might be more surprising is that, since Florida's repeat in 2007, no defending champion has even gotten past the Sweet 16. And four of the nine didn't even make the NCAA tourney.
No team has ever won a national championship after losing its first game in the conference tournament. Kansas (1 seed), Louisville (2), Baylor (3), Butler (4), Purdue (4), Florida (4) and Maryland (6) are among the highly seeded teams hoping to put an end to this fact.
When it's time to pick a champion, it's understandable if you simply go with chalk. In the 32 years since the field expanded, No. 1 seeds have accounted for 19 championships, including seven of the past 10. No other seed has more than five.
Villanova became the fifth No. 2 seed to win a championship last year, breaking a rather remarkable 12-year title drought for No. 2s. The top three seeds have combined for 28 of the 32 championships.
A No. 5 seed still has not won the national title -- even if you go back to 1979 when seeding began -- but 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.
Some schools have great history in the NCAA tournament, while others are trying to make names for themselves. The same goes for the coaches who lead these teams. Take Roy Williams, for example. In addition to his two national championships, he's never lost a game in the round of 64 (26-0). No other coach in history has won more than 14 straight.
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.
This is the 20th anniversary of the Wildcats' surprising run to the 1997 championship as a No. 4 seed, and Sean Miller has a team good enough to celebrate that anniversary with a title of its own. In nine previous NCAA tournament appearances with Xavier and Arizona, Miller has reached the Sweet 16 six times - interestingly, once each as a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 seed -- and the Elite Eight four times. Is this the year he finally gets to his first Final Four? Arizona hasn't gone that far since 2001, when it lost to Duke in the title game.
Scott Drew took the Bears to two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in their only three tourney appearances between 2010 and 2014. However, the past two years haven't been as kind, as Baylor has been the victim of first-round upsets as a 3 seed (2015 versus Georgia State) and 5 seed (2016 versus Yale). The Bears are highly seeded once again, so will they avoid a third straight one-and-done?
The Bulldogs have won nine of their past 10 first-round games, all while seeded fifth or worse. The No. 4 seed they received this year represents their best in school history.
Mick Cronin's teams are known for their toughness and, in recent tournaments, tough losses. The Bearcats have lost in the first round three of the past four years, with each game decided by four or fewer points. Cincinnati received a 6 seed this year and will face the Kansas State/Wake Forest winner in the first round.
This is a quirky one: Since seeding began in 1979, the Flyers have never won a game as a single-digit seed (0-3), but have 10 wins in seven trips as a double-digit seed, including a pair of Elite Eight appearances (1984, 2014). Archie Miller's bunch will get a chance for that first win as a single-digit seed in the 7/10 matchup with Wichita State.
After winning four games in four days to win the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils are a 2 seed in the East region. This is the 33rd time in the past 34 years that Duke has made the tournament (all under Mike Krzyzewski), and an amazing 23rd time they've been a top-two seed. There's no denying how impressive Coach K's five titles are, but his teams have delivered some inconsistent results through the years. In their past four trips as a 2 seed, which dates back to 2008, Duke reached the Elite Eight once (2013), but also lost in the first round (2012), second round (2008) and Sweet 16 (2009).
As you might expect, there have been more happy endings as a top seed but still a fair share of heartbreak, as Duke has also lost in the Sweet 16 a handful of times. However, as a 2 seed like they are this year, the Blue Devils have reached the Final Four as many times as they've been eliminated before the Sweet 16 (four times each). This year's team looks very strong entering the tournament, but they remain one of the tougher teams to predict in the bracket each year.
The Gators are back in the tournament after missing the past two years. The past four times they've made the tournament, though, things have gone rather well, with one Final Four trip (2014) and three Elite Eights (2011-13). But all of those happened under Billy Donovan, along with the back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. This is Mike White's first trip to the NCAA tournament as a head coach.
The only other time the Zags received a No. 1 seed, in 2013, they got a scare from 16th-seeded Southern in the first round, before losing to 9 seed Wichita State in the second round. The first round has really never been a problem for Gonzaga. Regardless of seed, the Zags are 14-3 in the first round under Mark Few, including eight straight wins. But in three previous instances as a No. 1 or 2 seed, they were upset in the second round twice. Will Gonzaga finally break through and reach the Final Four for the first time?
Incredibly, this is the eighth straight year the Jayhawks are a top-two seed in the tournament. Unfortunately for Bill Self & Co., they have reached the Final Four just once in the previous seven years. Last year as a 1 seed, they lost to eventual champion Villanova in the Elite Eight. This year, Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson hope to toss the previous three sentences in the trash and give KU its first title since 2008. The Jayhawks certainly have the firepower to do it.
UK's loss to Indiana in the second round last year marked the first time in six NCAA appearances under John Calipari that the Wildcats didn't reach the Elite Eight. In fact, it snapped a streak of four straight tourney appearances -- not four straight years, since they went to the NIT in 2013 -- in which they went to the Final Four.
Before last year's early exit, Coach Cal's teams had made the Sweet 16 nine appearances in a row (five at Kentucky, four at Memphis). Still, his teams have been to the Elite Eight in eight of the past 10 trips to the Dance. Despite all of these deep runs in the tournament, Calipari has just one championship to his name.
The Cardinals are back in the tournament after a one-year self-imposed postseason ban in 2016. The previous four years -- in no particular order -- Louisville got to the Sweet 16, Elite Eight, Final Four (each time as a 4 seed) and won it all as a No. 1 seed in 2013. The only coaches to knock off the Cards in this span: John Calipari (twice) and Tom Izzo.
The Terrapins have won 12 straight first-round games, the second-longest active streak behind North Carolina's 14. Last year, they got a monkey off their back, as they snapped a streak of five straight second-round losses, advancing to their first Sweet 16 since 2003. As a 6 seed, getting back to the Sweet 16 would be considered a successful run.
It isn't very often that the Spartans find themselves as the lower seed in their first-round matchup. Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State is just 1-2 in the first round as the lesser seed (1-0 as a No. 9, 0-2 as a No. 10).
Kermit Davis' Blue Raiders received a 12 seed and will look to follow up last year's upset of Michigan State as a 15 seed with yet another victory in the first round. If they do that, they'll be just the fifth team in the past 10 years to win an NCAA tournament game in back-to-back years as a double-digit seed. Wichita State and VCU, both 10 seeds, could also join the list below.
Since Bobby Jackson and Sam Jacobson led the Golden Gophers to the 1997 Final Four as a No. 1 seed, Minnesota has just one NCAA tournament victory to speak of. The No. 5 seed this year is the highest they've received since that Final Four season.
Roy Williams' Kansas teams were known to disappoint as No. 1 seeds, but he's turned the page on that since coming to Chapel Hill.
This is the seventh time UNC is a No. 1 seed under Williams. Each of the previous six times, the Heels advanced to at least the Elite Eight, including four Final Four trips, three championship game appearances and two national titles.
While at Kansas, Williams failed to get past the Sweet 16 in each of his first four trips as a No. 1 seed from 1992 to 1998, before finally reaching the Final Four in 2002.
The Fighting Irish are the only team to reach the Elite Eight in each of the past two years. They were eliminated by a No. 1 seed each time.
The Cowboys have lost four straight first-round games, all as a single-digit seed under former head coach Travis Ford, and their last tourney win came in 2009. This time, they are a double-digit seed (10), which should suit new head coach Brad Underwood just fine. His Stephen F. Austin teams won a pair of first-round games in the past three years while as a 12 and 14 seed.
Oregon is a 3 seed in the Midwest region, and if you believe in history, that means a return to the Elite Eight is in the cards.
The previous three times the Ducks have been a top-three seed (2002, 2007, 2016), they've advanced to the Elite Eight each time. Oregon is looking for its first Final Four since winning the first NCAA tournament in 1939, but having to battle without Chris Boucher (ACL, out for season) will make it an even tougher task.
The Friars won their first tournament game since 1997 last year on Rodney Bullock's layup with 1.5 seconds against Southern California. The only time in school history they've won an NCAA tournament game in consecutive years was 1973-74. Interestingly enough, Providence gets a rematch with USC in the First Four on Wednesday.
From 1994 to 2012, the Boilermakers won 14 straight first-round games. However, they've lost tight ones each of the past two years. In 2015, by one point to Cincinnati in an 8/9 game, and last year as a No. 5 seed in double overtime to Little Rock. Will the Big Ten regular-season champs get back in the win column this year?
The Gaels are just 1-6 in the round of 64 (1-4 under Randy Bennett), with the only win coming in 2010 when they advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 10 seed. This year, they received a No. 7 seed, which ties for their best ever (also in 2012).
The Mustangs are in the field in consecutive years for the first time since 1984-85. After a heartbreaking one-point loss to UCLA last year as a No. 6 seed, SMU is seeking its first NCAA tournament victory since 1988.
It's been a while for the Gamecocks: 13 years since their last NCAA tournament appearance and 44 since their last tourney victory. It's been never for head coach Frank Martin, as in he's never lost in the first round (4-0 at Kansas State). Something's got to give.
Fabulous freshmen Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf helped lead the Bruins to a 3 seed this year, UCLA's best seed in nine years. This is the Bruins' first time as a 3 seed, but the previous six times they were a top-two seed -- going back to 1992 -- they advanced to at least the Elite Eight each time.
None of those were with Steve Alford at the helm, though. He's taken UCLA to the Sweet 16 twice, but he's never advanced any further in his coaching career. While at Iowa and New Mexico, Alford specifically struggled as a 3 seed, losing twice to 14 seeds in the first round and falling to an 11 seed in the second round. Even the only game his team won as a 3 seed -- New Mexico defeated 14th-seeded Montana in 2010 -- was decided by just five points.
Kevin Keatts' Seahawks may wind up as one of the popular picks to pull an upset this year, since they return almost everyone from the team that nearly upset Duke last year. In UNCW's past four trips to the tournament -- seeded anywhere from ninth to 13th - all five games they've played have been decided by single digits, and two of them went to overtime. That includes their only victory, an upset of USC back in 2002 as a No. 13 seed.
Vandy has never won an NCAA tournament game when seeded eighth or lower (0-4), and that includes a First Four game pitting 11 seeds against each other. Worse yet, the Commodores lost all four games by double figures. Well, Bryce Drew's squad got a No. 9 seed and will try to put an end to this trend against tourney first-timer Northwestern.
This time last year, before they went on their national championship run, the Wildcats were starting to get a reputation as a team that underachieved as a high seed. Jay Wright's bunch had lost in the second round each of the previous three times it earned a top-two seed (2010, 2014, 2015). Yet, here we are a year later looking at a defending champion that enters as a No. 1 seed. How will they handle the pressure as they attempt a repeat as the overall No. 1 seed?
Bob Huggins brings the Mountaineers in as a No. 4 seed. It's been quite a roller-coaster ride for him as a top-four seed during his coaching career, some might say all or nothing.
Under these circumstances, his teams have lost in the first or second round seven times -- including last year as a No. 3 to Stephen F. Austin -- but reached at least the Elite Eight the other four times. No one ever seems to want to play Huggy Bear's teams -- and his current "Press Virginia" squad is no different -- but when it comes to filling out your bracket, it's clear his teams are among the hardest to figure.
Gregg Marshall's Shockers have won their first-round game each of the past four years, with varying seeds. They were expected to win as a No. 1 seed in 2014, but they also won as 7, 9 and 11 seeds. This year, Wichita State comes in hot, but received only a 10 seed and a tough matchup with Dayton.
The Badgers have reached the Sweet 16 in five of the past six tournaments, including a pair of Final Four appearances (one of which ended in a championship game loss). Wisconsin may not be expected to win two games this year as a No. 8 seed with a potential second-round date with Villanova, but the Badgers are always a tough out, and it wouldn't be a total shocker if they did it again.
Five years ago, a 14-4 power conference regular-season champion (Washington) didn't even get an at-large bid. This year, a handful of power conference teams with sub.-500 marks in league play received consideration until deep into Championship Week. These things happen when the bubble is so weak. Ultimately, though, just one got in (Kansas State).
If you like to know which conferences have been hot or cold in NCAA tournament play, this section is for you. There's something for everyone here, a nugget on each of the 32 conferences, so let's get to it.
An America East team hasn't won a first-round game since Vermont defeated Syracuse in 2005, and only once since then has a conference team even stayed within single digits of its opponent. Vermont is well-equipped to put an end to that 11-game first-round losing skid, as a dangerous 13 seed in the Midwest. They do have to face the Big Ten regular-season champs, though, in Purdue.
In its first year of existence in 2014, the American had two Sweet 16 participants, including eventual national champion UConn. In the two years since, the conference has just two wins total, both coming in the first round. Four of the five first-round games in that stretch were decided by one or two points.
Each year from 2008 to 2014, the Atlantic 10 supplied exactly one Sweet 16 team. The A-10 has come up empty the past two years in that regard, although in fairness, no team was seeded better than seventh. Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island hope to help avoid a conference-record-tying third such year in a row.
Last year, seven ACC teams combined for 19 wins in the tournament, setting the record for most by a conference in a single tourney. The ACC has had multiple teams in the Sweet 16 in 33 of the past 37 years, as well. With a whopping nine teams in this year's field, the conference could break the record again.
The past two times the Atlantic Sun received better than a 16 seed, its representative pulled a memorable first-round upset. In 2013, FGCU actually won a pair of games to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Then, in 2014, 14th-seeded Mercer sent Duke packing. FGCU is back again, this time as a 14 seed, hoping to work some more magic against Florida State.
Once again, the Big 12 is one of the top conferences, but disappointing results during the years have made them difficult to trust. Since the conference's formation in 1997, it has just one champion to claim (Kansas in 2008). Last year, Oklahoma became just the second Big 12 team in the eight years since that title to reach the Final Four. Losing some of its top seeds in the first round has been the latest bugaboo.
All three No. 14 seeds to win the past two years came against Big 12 teams, and the conference has had at least one top-five seed lose in the first round each of the past five years, going back to No. 2 Missouri getting shocked by 15 seed Norfolk State in 2012. This year's top-five seeds from the Big 12: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State.
Villanova's national championship run last year was impressive, and thank goodness for the sake of the Big East as a whole, because when it comes to surviving past the first weekend ... the struggle has been real since the conference was forced to downsize.
In the past three years, Big East teams are just 2-8 in second-round games, with half of those losses coming by top-three seeds. Yes, that's just two Sweet 16 teams in three years! Villanova is expected to carry the torch for the conference again this year, but will it receive any help from the other six Big East teams in the field?
The Big Sky is just 3-32 in the modern era of the NCAA tournament and has just one win in the 2000s, Montana defeated Nevada in 2006 as a 12 seed. North Dakota, making its first tournament appearance, will have its hands full against Arizona as a 15 seed.
The Big South has only one win in the round of 64, which came by Gregg Marshall's Winthrop squad in 2007, his final season in Rock Hill. The Eagles are back in the tourney for the first time in seven years, this time with Pat Kelsey at the helm, and their 13 seed is the highest the conference has received since 2008.
It's been a long time since the last national champion from the Big Ten, 17 years to be exact. Since Michigan State hoisted the trophy in 2000, the conference has had 12 teams reach the Final Four, and while half of those got to the title game, they are winless in those six games. Since Purdue got the Big Ten's highest seed as a No. 4, it'll take a special run to end the drought.
The past two years, Big West teams have played extremely well. In 2015, UC Irvine nearly upset Louisville in the first round, then last year Hawaii knocked off Cal to break the conference's 11-year dry spell in the round of 64. Both of them were 13 seeds, though. This year, UC Davis is making its tourney debut as a 16 seed. It's only the third time the Big West has earned the lowest possible seed, and the previous two times, teams lost by 27 and 38 points in the first round. The Aggies will need to beat North Carolina Central on Wednesday just to get to the first round.
The CAA has gone winless in the round of 64 four straight years for the first time ever. Don't let the cold streak fool you, though, as Colonial teams almost always put up a good fight. Last year, UNC Wilmington (13 seed) gave Duke all it could handle and in 2015 Northeastern (14 seed) took Notre Dame down to the wire. UNCW is back with most of the same players from last year's team, so it will be a popular upset pick in the first round, albeit against Virginia's stingy defense.
Conference USA teams have pulled arguably the biggest upset in each of the past two tournaments. Last year, there's no doubt 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee beating Michigan State was the largest surprise, and the year before, UAB was one of two 14 seeds to win a game when it took down Iowa State by one point. This year, with Middle Tennessee back as an 12 seed, the conference has its best seed in four years, so is a third straight first-round upset -- even if not on the level of the previous two years -- in store?
Upsets in the Horizon League tournament in recent years have meant worse seeds for its NCAA tournament representatives, which may explain its current drought of five straight years without an NCAA tourney victory, the longest in league history. The last Horizon League team to win a game in the Dance is since-departed Butler, on its way to a second straight championship game appearance in 2011. This year, the league's top three seeds were eliminated from the conference tourney before the semifinals, so it's up to 15-seeded Northern Kentucky, which is making its tourney debut. 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.
Simply put, no one wants to play the Ivy League champ. It's been like that for a long time, but not until recently did they start handing out more "L's." In the first 25 years of the modern era (1985-2009), The Ivy won just three NCAA tourney games, two of which came from teams seeded better than 12th. In the seven years since, the league has won five games total, despite being seeded 12th or worse each time. Not only has this one-bid league won in its first-round matchup in three of the past four years, but two of its three losses during the aforementioned seven-year span came by two points each (Harvard against North Carolina in 2015, and Princeton against Kentucky in 2011). Princeton went unbeaten in Ivy play this season, so needless to say -- but I'll say it anyway -- Notre Dame, you've got a fight on your hands.
Much like in the Horizon League, the MAAC has seen its top seed fail in the conference tourney in recent years, and the conference's NCAA results bear that out. Back in 2008-09, the MAAC won a first-round game in consecutive years for the first time. The conference hasn't won a game since, and that's not expected to change this year, with 14 seed Iona as its lone representative.
There was a time when the MAC was the mid-major conference that seemed to make the most noise each March, but it's been a different story for a while now. In the past 13 years, the MAC has just three total wins, all by Ohio (including a Sweet 16 trip in 2012). After Buffalo lost a couple of close games the past two years, will Kent State finally break through and give us some #MACtion by shocking UCLA?
The MEAC is just 3-25 in the first round, but all three wins have been memorable upsets as No. 15 seeds. That said, none of the losses have been close, with all 25 coming by double digits (and an average of 23.8 points). Then again, the best seed the MEAC has ever received is a 14, and even that's happened only twice. North Carolina Central brings a veteran squad to the Dance this year, but will have to emerge from the First Four just to play in the first round.
Missouri Valley Conference teams are known for being tournament tough, but did you know The Valley is the only conference to win a first-round game each of the past four years without a loss (7-0)? Seeding hasn't deterred them from making noise, either, as the three MVC teams to reach the Sweet 16 since 2010 were seeded 7th, 9th and 9th. It's all on Wichita State's shoulders this year, as the Valley's only representative.
The Mountain West is a one-bid conference for the second straight year, which is something that happened just once in the first 16 years of the conference's existence. To make matters worse, that one representative -- the Wolf Pack of Nevada -- is a 12 seed, and while MW teams have historically struggled in general, they've been especially dreadful as double-digit seeds. How bad? How about 1-16 all time in the first round (and even 0-2 in First Four games) when seeded 10th or worse. Even knowing that each year stands on its own, these facts likely don't give you a burning desire to pick Nevada to make a mini-run, do they?
This marks the fifth straight year the Northeast Conference representative has been sent to the First Four in Dayton to start their journey. The NEC is the only conference to have never won a game in the round of 64, and only once in the past 18 years has an NEC outfit come within single digits of its opponent in that round. This marks the 15th straight year the conference has gotten a 15 or 16 seed, so the odds are certainly stacked against them. Mount St. Mary's will have to win on Tuesday before it can set its sights on breaking new ground for the conference.
The Ohio Valley Conference has had its success in bundles, or not at all. Since 1985, the OVC has won six first-round games, all occurring via a pair of three-year streaks (one win each from 1987-89 and 2010-12). In all other years, the conference is 0-26 in the first round. NCAA tournament first-timer Jacksonville State is not expected to get a new streak started as a 15 seed this year.
Not only has it been 20 years since a Pac-12 team won a championship (Arizona in 1997), but we haven't even seen a Pac-12 squad reach the Final Four in nine years (UCLA in 2008). Each of the other four power conferences, as well as the Big East, has supplied at least one Final Four team in the past two years alone. Is this the year we can finally celebrate the "Conference of Champions" in men's basketball? After all, in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA, the Pac-12 has a trio of top-three seeds for just the fourth time ever (1981, 1992, 2007).
The Patriot League representative the past three years has lost its first-round game by an average of 40 points. The league has just three wins in the first round in its history (2005, 2006 and 2012), and hasn't had a first-round loss decided by single digits since 2003, when Holy Cross gave Dwyane Wade and Marquette a scare. Bucknell, a 13 seed in the West region, is a strong candidate to put up a good fight in the first round this year.
At least one SEC team has reached the Elite Eight in 20 of the past 25 years. Last year, no one in the conference got that far for the first time since 2009. This isn't about the great depth of the conference, though. It's all about Kentucky and Florida, as they've accounted for 10 of the SEC's 11 Elite Eight appearances in the past 10 years. Things are likely no different this year, as the conference's best bets to get that far are the 'Cats and Gators once again.
Southern Conference teams have given higher seeds trouble in the tourney for years, but they have surprisingly few wins to show for it. Would you believe the only wins the conference has in the past 19 years are the three that Stephen Curry and Davidson collected on the way to the Elite Eight in 2010? Until last year when 12th-seeded Chattanooga was outclassed by Indiana in the first round, the previous five SoCon teams seeded better than 15th lost by no more than eight points. East Tennessee State is back in the tourney for the first time since 2004, and fits that seeding criteria, as a No. 13.
For the first time in four years, someone besides Stephen F. Austin snagged the Southland Conference's automatic bid. The Lumberjacks won a first-round game in two of the past three years, which is one more win than the entire conference's total in the round of 64 the previous 28 years! This year, it's up to New Orleans to try to build on SFA's recent accomplishments. It won't be easy as a 16 seed playing in the First Four, though.
It's been 24 years since the SWAC last won a first-round game. In 1993, 13th-seeded Southern knocked off Georgia Tech 93-78. That's also the last time the conference received better than a 15 seed. Nothing new on that front again this year, as Texas Southern was given a 16 seed and a date with North Carolina.
The Summit League has just one NCAA tournament first-round win in the past 18 years. That came in 2014, when 12th-seeded North Dakota State knocked off Oklahoma in OT. South Dakota State returns this year, making it six straight years that either the Jackrabbits or North Dakota State has won the Summit League's automatic bid.
Last year, Little Rock upset Purdue in double-overtime to give the Sun Belt a first-round win in back-to-back years for just the third time in more than a quarter century (1992-93, 2008-09). If Troy does the impossible and knocks off Duke, it'll mark just the second time the conference has won at least one game in the round of 64 in three straight years (1985-87).
The West Coast Conference has won at least one first-round game each of the past nine years, and it has almost everything to do with Gonzaga. The Zags are the only WCC team to win in the round of 64 the past six years. The rest of the conference has just four wins in the past 20 years, not counting the First Four (Saint Mary's won two in 2010, San Diego in 2008, Pepperdine in 2000). Seventh-seeded Saint Mary's is the other WCC representative this year, and they've got "havoc" on their hands in the form of VCU in round one.
It's been a decade since a WAC team won a tournament game, when Nevada beat Creighton in OT in 2007. As the WAC has become far less imposing in recent years, one bid and a double-digit seed are to be expected. Since that's the current reality -- New Mexico State is a 14 seed this year -- it is worth noting the last time a double-digit seed from the WAC won a game was in 2004, when 10th-seeded Nevada reached the Sweet 16.