The 2022 NCAA tournament bracket is set. Let March Madness begin. It's Christmas in March, at least for some of us.
As you get set to fill out your ESPN Men's Tournament Challenge brackets, it's important that one thing is made clear about this column: It is not designed to be predictive in any way. It is full of facts and trends relevant to this year's field and is meant to be fun for those who love the college game. There are a few trips down memory lane below as well, so hopefully you are able to find some nuggets that you find interesting.
And with that, good luck with your picks. May your favorite school make a deep run and your bracket remain pristine.
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 Additionally, any historical reference to the "first round" relates to the round of 64, and "second round" to the round of 32. The First Four stands on its own for the purposes of this column to avoid confusion. In addition, all results mentioned do not recognize those that have been since vacated. For example, for the purposes of this column, we consider Louisville the winner of the 2013 national championship game, even though its appearance has been vacated by the NCAA.
How do overall No. 1 seeds fare?
The NCAA tournament selection committee has been announcing the overall No. 1 seed since 2004. Gonzaga earned that distinction for the second straight year, the first time that's been done. How have overall No. 1 seeds performed, you ask?
Last year, the Zags entered the tournament undefeated but fell to Baylor in the national title game.
It was the first time since 2015 that the overall No. 1 seed even reached the Final Four. The last time the overall No. 1 hoisted the trophy was nine years ago, when Louisville won it all.
In the 17 previous years the selection committee has announced an overall No. 1 seed, that team has failed to make it past the first weekend more often (four times) than it has won the championship (three times).
Will the West Coast finally be the best coast again?
Gonzaga and Arizona are No. 1 seeds, just the second time two West Coast schools have been 1-seeds in the same tourney. In 2000, Arizona and Stanford earned No. 1 seeds, but both lost in the second round to 8-seeds Wisconsin and North Carolina, respectively.
The Zags and Cats are definitely hoping for a different result, as they look to end a title drought for the left coast. The coaches will be rooting for each other, too - at least until they have to square off in the tourney. Arizona head coach Tommy Lloyd is in his first season in Tucson after being Mark Few's top assistant at Gonzaga.
The last school from west of the Central time zone to win the national championship was Arizona 25 years ago. That's also the only time a No. 4 seed has won the title. It feels like a good time to mention that UCLA is a 4-seed this year.
Why history says Arizona won't reach the Final Four
We don't find enjoyment in supplying negative facts, but after digging through the historical data, it was hard to ignore this tidbit that doesn't bode well for Arizona's chances of making a deep run.
The Wildcats are the only team in this year's field to be a top-two seed and reside in the top 10 of the AP poll after entering the season unranked.
None of the 33 teams to fit this profile in the modern tournament era have reached the Final Four, and 55% of them didn't survive the first two rounds. Virginia's first-round loss to 16th-seeded UMBC in 2018 is the most memorable example.
Specifically, the struggles of No. 2 seeds in this category are quite alarming, as nearly two-thirds of them (14-of-22) didn't make it out of the first weekend. Last year, Alabama was a No. 2 seed and lost in the Sweet 16.
Baylor beware: Early exits for defending champs have become the norm
Despite dealing with injury issues this season, Baylor is among the favorites to cut down the nets, after earning a No. 1 seed for the second straight year. History isn't on the Bears' side, though. There hasn't been a repeat champion since Florida in 2006 and '07.
Winning back-to-back titles is a tall task. And while roster churn is one reason, it's rather surprising the following is true:
Since that repeat by the Gators 15 years ago, no defending champion has advanced past the Sweet 16. Worse yet, in each of the past four tournaments, they were all eliminated in the first or second round (No. 4 seed Virginia in 2021, No. 6 seed Villanova in 2019, No. 2 seed North Carolina in 2018 and No. 1 seed Villanova in 2017). In fairness to Virginia last year, the Cavaliers were defending a title they won two years before (after the 2020 tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and none of the team's top five scorers from that 2018-19 team were still around.
At-large teams with losing conference records: One win (maybe), but rarely more
TCU, Iowa State and Indiana received at-large bids this year. They were the only teams with losing conference records to do so. Each year, there is debate about whether these teams deserve to make the field, but to their credit, they haven't been automatic one-and-dones.
Of the 47 teams with losing conference records to get at-large bids since 1985, more than half (24) won a first-round game. However, only six of them won again to reach the Sweet 16. In the modern era, the only team with a sub-.500 conference mark to advance any further was LSU in 1987, when the Tigers reached the Elite Eight as a 10-seed.
Of the past 22 teams in this category, Syracuse in 2018 is the only one to win more than one game (the Orange actually won three games to reach the Sweet 16, since they started their journey in the First Four).
What about at-large teams that were four games under .500 in conference play, like Iowa State?
This has happened only four times previously, but the results have been the same each time. All four teams won their first-round game and lost in the second round. No. 11 seed Iowa State (7-11 in the Big 12) becomes the fifth such team to make the field, so we'll see if the same holds true.
Losing your first conference tournament game = no national title
No team has ever won a national championship after losing its first game in the conference tournament. Last year, West Virginia (No. 3 seed) and Purdue (No. 4) were the only top-four seeds that lost their first conference tournament game. West Virginia lost in the second round to 11th-seeded Syracuse, while Purdue was bounced by North Texas in the first round.
This year, there is one team from each of the top four seed lines that will try to make this fact a thing of the past: Baylor (No. 1 seed), Auburn (2), Wisconsin (3) and Illinois (4) all lost their first conference tourney games.
Don't dismiss teams that play in the First Four
When you go to fill out your bracket and you see a No. 5 or 6 seed is facing "Team A/Team B" in the first round, don't go the lazy route and automatically advance the 5- or 6-seed to the second round. It's worth your time to put some thought into it.
Just because these final at-large teams have to play their way into the round of 64 doesn't mean they aren't capable of damaging your bracket.
In fact, since the creation of the First Four in 2011, at least one of the final four at-large teams to make the tournament field has advanced to the round of 32 in nine of 10 years. Last year, UCLA needed overtime to defeat Michigan State in the First Four, then went on to win four more games before falling to Gonzaga on Jalen Suggs' buzzer-beater in a classic Final Four game.
Ten years earlier, VCU became the charter member of the "First Four to Final Four" club. So while most bracket contests don't make you pick the First Four games, it's still worth paying attention to them.
This year's final four at-large teams to make the field were Rutgers, Notre Dame, Wyoming and Indiana. Not trying to scare you off of picking either No. 5 seed Saint Mary's or No. 6 seed Alabama, which could face these teams in the first round. Just setting the table.
Expect at least one top-four seed to lose in the first round
Pretty much every year, at least one top-four seed loses its first game. That doesn't mean it's easy to pick the right upset victim(s), but only once in the past 13 tournaments have the top four seeds in each region survived the first round, and just five times in the past 36 tourneys (1994, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2017). Last year, four such teams were upended: No. 2 seed Ohio State (by Oral Roberts), No. 3 seed Texas (by Abilene Christian), No. 4 seed Virginia (by Ohio) and No. 4 seed Purdue (by North Texas).
A pair of first-timers in this year's field
Bryant (16-seed) and Longwood (14-seed) are making their NCAA tournament debuts this season. As is the case this year, most first-timers are lower seeds, so winning a first-round game in their maiden voyage is quite rare. Since 1990, there have been 96 teams to make their NCAA tourney debut. Only six of those 96 won a first-round game in their first trip. The last to do it: Northwestern in 2017, which is the only team in this span to be a single-digit seed in its debut (No. 8). Before that, it was FGCU in 2013, the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.
History of first-round matchups
Below are seed-versus-seed facts for each of the first-round matchups, including recent trends that have developed.
1 vs. 16
Can you believe it has been four years since UMBC finally put a 16-seed in the win column by beating Virginia? While we've had only two tournaments since, things have already gone back to normal in this matchup.
Last year, No. 1 seeds swept the four meetings by an average margin of 28.0 points, improving to 143-1 all time vs. No. 16s.
In the past six tournaments, all 24 matchups have been decided by 14 points or more (including UMBC's amazing 20-point shocker). Dating back to 1998, only four of 92 matchups have been decided by single digits, all of which came in a three-year span (2012-14).
2 vs. 15
When Oral Roberts beat Ohio State by three points in overtime in last year's first round, it marked just the ninth time a 15-seed knocked off a No. 2 and the first since Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State in 2016. It was also the first time since 2012 that a 2-vs.-15 game was decided by fewer than seven points, so these matchups are rather lopsided most of the time.
Of those nine No. 15s to win, seven finished in the top two in their conference standings. The only exceptions are Santa Clara in 1993 (third in WCC) and Oral Roberts last year (fourth in Summit League).
Among this year's 15-seeds, three of the four finished the regular season in the top two of their conference (including ties), in terms of winning percentage: Jacksonville State was the regular-season champ of the ASUN, while CSU Fullerton (Big West) and Saint Peter's (MAAC) finished second in their conferences. The only No. 15 seed that didn't finish first or second is Delaware, which finished tied for fourth in the CAA.
3 vs. 14
No. 3 seeds have won 85% of meetings with No. 14 seeds, but last year their streak of three straight tourneys sweeping all four matchups came to an end when Texas fell to Abilene Christian. That Longhorns loss extended an interesting, albeit seemingly random, trend.
The past four No. 3s to lose in the first round all came from the Big 12 Conference, with no "repeat offenders": Texas (2021), West Virginia (2016), Baylor (2015) and Iowa State (2015). Guess what? There is a No. 3 seed from the Big 12 again this year (Texas Tech).
While the 1/16 and 2/15 matchups generally haven't been competitive, things start to get interesting here. In fact, at least one 3/14 matchup has been decided by single digits in each of the past 11 tournaments. Last year, there were two: ACU's one-point victory and Eastern Washington hanging with Kansas before losing by nine.
4 vs. 13
No. 4s have won 78% of these matchups, but the games have been much more interesting than that rate would suggest.
In the past three tourneys, eight of the 12 matchups were single-digit outcomes. And one of the double-digit margins was a 21-point win by a 13-seed (Buffalo over Arizona in 2018).
It makes sense to pick one of these upsets in your bracket, as a No. 13 seed has won at least one game in 26 of 36 years. Last year marked the second time in the past three tournaments that multiple 13-seeds won a game, something that happened just three times in the 33 years prior to that (1987, 2001, 2008).
Betting nuggets: Only twice has a No. 4 seed been favored by fewer than three points against a 13-seed in the first round. Both times that team lost straight up (2003 Dayton lost to Tulsa, 2010 Vanderbilt lost to Murray State).
Notable: No. 4 seed Providence opened as a 2-point favorite over South Dakota State.
On the other end of the spectrum, No. 4 seeds favored by more than 13 points against 13-seeds are 13-0 straight up (10-3 ATS), winning by an average of 20.9 points. Only one of the 13 games was decided by single digits -- Louisville over Manhattan by seven in 2014 -- and that was the matchup with the largest spread ever in a 4/13 game (16.5).
Notable: No. 4 seed UCLA opened as a 14-point favorite over Akron.
5 vs. 12
Since many fans who fill out brackets are apprehensive about bouncing any of the top four seeds in the first round, this matchup has long been the go-to for upset-seekers. A historical breakdown shows how much more unpredictable these matchups have become in the past 20 years.
In the first 17 years of the modern era, 5-seeds won at least three of the four meetings 71% of the time and never fared worse than a split. In the past 20 years, No. 5s have won at least three of four just 49% of the time and have fared worse than a split 26% of the time.
6 vs. 11
This matchup has become just as much of a toss-up as the 8/9 game recently. Not only have No. 6 seeds won at least three of the four meetings just once in the past seven tourneys, but since 2010, they have a losing record against No. 11s (21-23).
That's a drastic change from the first 25 years of the modern tournament era, when No. 6 seeds won 69% of the time.
While these matchups are tough to call year in and year out, one thing that hasn't changed is how unlikely it is for either seed to sweep all four games. The last time No. 6s did it was 2004, and the only time 11-seeds did so was in 1989.
Betting nugget: No. 11 seeds favored by more than two points are 5-0 SU and ATS (all winning by seven points or more). In three games when an 11-seed was favored by exactly two points, it won two of those three games SU and ATS. The only loss: No. 11 Texas to No. 6 Butler (56-48) in 2015.
Notable: No. 11 seed Michigan opened as a 2.5-point favorite against Colorado State.
7 vs. 10
Last year, only three of the four 7/10 matchups were played, as the Oregon-VCU matchup was ruled a no-contest due to COVID-19 protocols. No. 10s won two of those three meetings in 2021 after winning three of four in 2019. Before this recent success, No. 10s hadn't won a majority of the meetings since 2009-10.
Overall, No. 7s have won 60% of meetings in the modern era. You can almost always count on good games, though. Since 2010, 74% have been played within single digits (47% decided by five or fewer points, or in OT).
8 vs. 9
You likely already know this is an even matchup (9-seeds hold a 73-71 advantage all time), but despite No. 8s winning three of four meetings last year, they are just 8-12 vs. No. 9s in the past five tournaments.
Since it's a "coin flip" type of matchup, it's a bit surprising the last time these seeds split their four meetings in a tournament was nine years ago.
Sweet 16/Elite Eight
How do the top 16 seeds generally fare?
Earlier on, we explained how unlikely it is that all of the 1 through 4 seeds will survive the first round. Last year, there were four teams from the top four seed lines that got sent home in Round 1. The upsets didn't stop there, either, as four teams seeded 11th or worse reached the Sweet 16.
In just the past two Sweet 16s, we have seen the lowest total seed count in NCAA tournament history (49 in 2019) and the highest (94 in 2021). It's probably safe to say we'll land somewhere in between this year, but here are numbers on top-four seeds surviving the first weekend:
• On average, 9.9 of the top 16 seeds advance to the Sweet 16 each year. The past three tournaments have been an exercise in extremes. In both 2018 and 2021, only seven of the 16 made it to the second week of tourney play, which tied the record for the fewest in a single tournament. In 2019, 14 of the 16 made it, which tied for the most.
• Since 1985, the top four seeds in a region have reached the Sweet 16 in only 19 of 144 regions (13.2%). That means it happens about once every two years.
It's not very common for it to happen in multiple regions in the same tourney, though. It's occurred four times in the modern era (1989, 1991, 2009 and 2019).
• Only twice in the past 24 tourneys have we had a Sweet 16 in which all the 2-seeds were still alive, and five times total in the modern era (1989, 1995, 1996, 2009, 2019).
• Fewer than three No. 3 seeds have reached the Sweet 16 in eight of the past 11 tournaments. All four 3-seeds have made it three times (2008, 2009, 2019) and only once has there been a Sweet 16 without a No. 3 seed present (1997).
• At least two No. 4 seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 in eight of the past 10 tourneys. But the two instances in which fewer than two 4-seeds got there occurred in the past three tournaments (2018, 2021). All four No. 4s have survived the first weekend on two occasions (2014, 2017).
• 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 19 of 36 years. And in five of the past seven tournaments, we've had multiple teams seeded sixth or worse in the Elite Eight (including three last year, all from the Pac-12: No. 6 USC, No. 11 UCLA and No. 12 Oregon State).
• There has never been an Elite Eight without a No. 1 seed present, and 33 of 36 Elite Eights (92%) have featured at least two top seeds (2000, 2011 and 2013 are the only tourneys with just one No. 1 seed). For the curious, all four No. 1 seeds have reached the Elite Eight on eight occasions, but it has happened only once in the past 11 tourneys (2016).
• In each of the past 13 tournaments, we have seen one or two No. 2 seeds reach the Elite Eight. Overall, that has been in the case in 29 of 36 tourneys (81%). Two times there have been zero No. 2s in the Elite Eight (1990, 1999) and two times all four No. 2s made it (1995, 1996), but neither situation has occurred this century.
Pick at least one double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16
At least one team seeded 10th or worse has advanced to the second week of play in each of the past 13 tourneys and 34 of 36 overall in the modern era. Last year, four double-digit seeds did it, tied for the second most in history (five in 1999).
If you're looking for a range of 10-plus seeds to target as you fill out your bracket, between one and three have made the Sweet 16 in 31 of 36 years. Multiple double-digit seeds have reached the Sweet 16 in eight of the past 11 tourneys.
Look out for an 11-seed to escape the first weekend
No. 11 seeds are the most accomplished of the Cinderellas these days. Nine of the past 11 Sweet 16s have featured at least one 11-seed.
No. 12s used to be the upset darlings picked to win a couple of games, but no more. Since the First Four was introduced in 2011, No. 11 seeds have made 12 Sweet 16 appearances, the same number as all other double-digit seeds combined.
And once they've gotten there, No. 11s have had some success, too, while No. 12s haven't been so fortunate. To be fair, it has almost everything to do with the opposition.
No. 11 seeds are 9-15 overall in Sweet 16 games but just 3-14 when facing No. 2 seeds (they are 4-0 vs. No. 7s and 2-1 against No. 10s). Meanwhile, No. 12 seeds are 2-20 in Sweet 16 contests, with all 20 losses coming against No. 1 seeds. The only two wins came against No. 8 seeds (Oregon State over Loyola Chicago last year and Missouri over UCLA in 2002).
Life as a No. 6 seed hasn't been easy
It's been rough for No. 6 seeds for quite a while now. But last year, USC did its part to turn things around.
The Trojans became the first No. 6 seed to reach the Sweet 16 since 2016. That ended a streak of three straight tourneys without a 6-seed getting to the Sweet 16, something that had never happened before.
They also became just the fourth No. 6 seed in the past 19 tournaments to make the Elite Eight. (The Final Four drought remains, though. More on that in the next section.)
This year's No. 6s hoping to build on that success are Alabama, Colorado State, LSU and Texas.
How many No. 1 seeds normally make the Final Four?
If you're playing the percentages, you should pick one or two. That's been the case in 29 of the past 36 tournaments (81%).
At least one No. 1 seed has reached the Final Four in nine straight tourneys and in 13 of the past 14 (the only exception being 2011). Multiple 1-seeds have made the Final Four in four of the past six tournaments.
Three No. 1 seeds made it in 2015, but that's the only time that's occurred since 2000.
The 2011 tournament mentioned above represents the only time no 1-seeds or 2-seeds made the Final Four. If you're having a hard time picking against a No. 1 seed as you fill out your bracket, just let history be your guide and remember it's more likely that no top seeds reach the Final Four than all four of them doing so. The only time all four No. 1s got there was in 2008.
Here is a breakdown of how many No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four since 1985:
None -- 2 times (last instance: 2011)
One -- 15 times (last instance: 2019)
Two -- 14 times (last instance: 2021)
Three -- 4 times (last instance: 2015)
Four -- 1 time (2008)
Will yet another lower-seeded team reach the Final Four in 2022?
We have had at least one Final Four participant seeded fifth or worse in each of the past 11 tournaments. Arguably more impressive is the fact that we've had at least one team seeded seventh or worse reach the Final Four in seven of the past eight tourneys.
Since seeding began in 1979, only 18 teams seeded seventh or worse have reached the Final Four, but 10 of those appearances have come in the past 10 tournaments!
Last year, it was 11th-seeded UCLA going from the First Four to the Final Four. Who's gonna be this year's Cinderella? Or are you banking on the streak coming to an end in 2022?
• The last Final Four appearance by a No. 4 seed came in 2013, when both Michigan and Syracuse made it and met in the national semis.
• Among the seeds that have reached the Final Four at least once -- No. 11 or better -- the distinction for the longest streak without a Final Four appearance easily goes to the No. 6 seeds. Only three 6-seeds have made it to the Final Four (Michigan in 1992, Kansas in 1988 and Providence in 1987), and this is the 30th anniversary of the last time it happened.
• Only the 1 through 5 seeds have made more Final Four trips than No. 11 seeds (five). Hard to explain. Fun to know.
Since seeding began in 1979, the top three seeds have accounted for 70 of the 84 title-game appearances, and no other seed has been there more than four times (interestingly, by the No. 8s). So, while we discussed surprise teams reaching the Final Four above, the championship game participants have come from the top three seed lines 83% of the time.
Trying to narrow down the list of potential champions
KenPom has efficiency data dating back to 2002. In that 20-year span, 18 of 19 national champions have finished top 25 in adjusted offensive AND defensive efficiency. The only exception is the second-lowest-seeded champ of all time: UConn in 2014. That season, the Huskies finished 39th on offense and 10th on defense.
So, which teams fit the bill entering this year's tourney? There are six, half of which are No. 1 seeds, not surprisingly:
Gonzaga (No. 1 seed)
Kentucky, Villanova, Kansas, Illinois, Texas and UConn are reasonably close to qualifying as well, so they could do so by the end of the NCAA tournament.
Despite all the upsets, No. 1s usually win it all
Upsets are what make March Madness so exhilarating and they are fun to pick in your bracket. But when it's time to pick a winner, it's not a bad idea to lean on a top seed. Eleven of the past 14 champions have been No. 1 seeds, and no other seed has more than one title in that span.
Champions almost never come from low-bid conferences
In the modern tournament era, only two national champions came from a conference that received fewer than four bids ... and the last time it happened was 32 years ago. Those two teams: 1986 Louisville (from the three-bid Metro Conference) and 1990 UNLV (from the three-bid Big West Conference).
No. 1 seeds Gonzaga (three-bid WCC) and Arizona (three-bid Pac-12), No. 4 seed UCLA (Pac-12) and No. 5 seeds Houston (two-bid American) and Saint Mary's (WCC) are the highest-seeded teams capable of doing it this year.
5-seeds still seeking elusive first title
No. 5 seeds are the only top-eight seed yet to win a championship. The only three 5-seeds to reach the title game -- Florida (2000), Indiana (2002) and Butler (2010) -- all lost to No. 1 seeds. This year's 5-seeds are Houston, Iowa, Saint Mary's and UConn.
Will we get another first-time champion?
In the past two tournaments, Virginia and Baylor won their first national titles. That's the first time we've seen first-time champs in consecutive tournaments since 2002 (Maryland) and 2003 (Syracuse). Will we see another new champ in 2022? If so, it will be the first time three straight tourneys culminated with a team winning its first title since 1959-61 (California, Ohio State and Cincinnati, respectively). Here are the top-four seeds in this year's field still seeking that first trophy: Gonzaga, Auburn, Texas Tech, Purdue, Tennessee, Illinois and Providence.
Will the South region produce the champ yet again?
Five of the past six national champions (and eight of the past 12) have come from the South region. The top four seeds in the South this year are Arizona, Villanova, Tennessee and Illinois.
NOTE: References are since 1985, unless otherwise noted
Below are notes on each of the 32 conferences, as they pertain to tournament success or lack thereof.
The America East has just four first-round wins -- one in each of the previous four decades, and as different seeds each time (12, 13, 14 and 16). While the conference will forever hang its hat on UMBC being the first 16-seed to take down a No. 1, its teams have been competitive against other high seeds in recent years. Vermont kept things close against a pair of 4-seeds, Florida State in 2019 and Purdue in 2017, and Albany refused to go away easily three years in a row from 2013 to 2015 against No. 2 Duke, No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Oklahoma. This year, Vermont is back again as a No. 13 seed.
The American Athletic Conference has some of the more interesting NCAA tournament facts of any league recently. In the AAC's first season in 2014, No. 7 seed UConn won the national title and did so despite being an underdog in each of its final five games. No AAC underdog has won a tourney game since then (0-12). UConn won four games against higher seeds during that run. The conference's only other two victories against higher seeds came from 9-seeds in the first round over 8-seeds. Houston is the only conference team to win a game after the first round in the past six tournaments (reaching the Final Four in 2021 and Sweet 16 in 2019), and the weight is on the Cougars' shoulders again this year as a No. 5 seed. Memphis, the other AAC team in the field, is a 9-seed.
Remember when the Atlantic 10 put a team in the Sweet 16 in seven straight tournaments from 2008 to '14 (including a double-digit-seeded representative four straight years)? If you're young enough, maybe you don't. But it hasn't had a Sweet 16 team since then, easily the longest drought in conference history, and things just haven't worked out in general for the A-10 lately.
For the first time ever, the A-10 has failed to win a game in consecutive tournaments. It must be noted that Dayton was poised to be a No. 1 seed and national title contender in 2020, but the tournament was canceled. Then last year, VCU didn't get to play its first-round game because of COVID-19 protocols.
But these facts remain:
• The highest seed the A-10 has received in this span was a No. 7.
• Just once in the past six tournaments has the conference won multiple games in the first round (2016).
Both A-10 teams in the field this year are double-digit seeds: Davidson and Richmond.
For the second straight year, the ACC is down. The conference received five bids this year, its fewest since 2013. Once again, seed quality is an issue. Last year, the league experienced a couple firsts: no teams were seeded better than fourth, and five ACC teams lost in the first round.
This year, only Duke is seeded better than eighth.
Having said all that, no conference is more accomplished than the ACC. Here is a list of areas in which the ACC is the best of any conference in the modern era:
11 national championships
At least one Sweet 16 participant in all 36 tournaments
Multiple Sweet 16 teams in 31 of 36
At least one Elite Eight team in 32 of 36
At least one Final Four team in 24 of 36
At least one team in the title game in 17 of 36
However, there are a couple interesting oddities: In the past 26 tournaments, only one ACC team seeded worse than No. 1 reached the title game (No. 3 Georgia Tech in 2004). And in case you're wondering, a total of 25 non-No. 1 seeds have played for the championship in that span.
Since Duke is a No. 2 seed this year, it will try to become the first ACC team seeded No. 2 to reach the Final Four since North Carolina in 1995.
The ASUN Conference may be a one-bid league, but the teams representing the conference have been quite formidable during the past decade. FGCU became the first 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16 in 2013, 14th-seeded Mercer shocked Duke in 2014 and No. 12 seed Liberty knocked off Mississippi State in 2019. This year's ASUN rep is Jacksonville State, which won the regular-season title in its first season in the conference. The Gamecocks will face Auburn in the first round.
The Big 12 has underachieved in the tournament many times, but last year, Baylor did the conference proud by not only winning the second national title for the Big 12, but doing so by beating an undefeated Gonzaga team decisively.
The Big 12 has been very competitive all season and particularly strong at the top, so could we see back-to-back titles for the league? This is the 23rd time in 25 tournaments the Big 12 has had at least one team secure a top-two seed, which certainly helps the odds. It's also the eighth straight year with at least six teams in the field.
But despite having a team reach the championship game in each of the past two tournaments (Texas Tech in 2019), the conference has endured struggles in the early rounds. A top-four seed has lost in the first round both years (No. 3 Texas last year, No. 4 Kansas State in 2019) and the conference is 2-8 in second-round games. The only survivors of the second round went on to reach the title game, which saved the Big 12's bacon.
Topping off the feast-or-famine story here, the Big 12 has had a team reach the Final Four in three consecutive tournaments for the second time ever (also from 2002 to 2004), so at least the league's best representative has made serious noise. The conference has a trio of top-three seeds this year: Baylor, Kansas and Texas Tech.
Here's a positive thought about the Big East: The conference has two titles in the past five years (thank you, Villanova). Of course, if we're leading with a compliment, there's a "but" coming. So, might as well pay it off.
But ... other than those two championship runs, Big East teams have really struggled to survive the first weekend, with just five other Sweet 16 appearances and one Elite Eight in the past seven tournaments.
We reference the past seven tourneys because the 2013-14 season was the first for the Big East after its FBS football members left for the ACC or the newly created American Athletic Conference.
During this span, the conference has earned 36 bids, 10 of which were top-four seeds. Of those 10 top-four seeds, only three made the Sweet 16 (the two championship teams from Nova in 2016 and 2018, along with Butler in 2017) and the other seven lost in the second round.
The other 26 teams -- those which were seeded fifth or worse - are 0-3 in the First Four and 10-13 in the first round, although they have combined for more Sweet 16s (four) than the top-four seeds (three).
This year, the conference received six bids, including two top-four seeds (Villanova and Providence) with hopes of avoiding the troubles of many of their recent predecessors.
The Big Sky is just 3-36 in the NCAA tournament since 1985 and has just one win this century (12th-seeded Montana over Nevada in 2006). Last year, No. 14 seed Eastern Washington was impressive before falling to Kansas by 9 in the first round. That was just the second time in the past 10 tournament games a Big Sky team has covered the spread. This year, Montana State is a No. 14 seed, the 15th straight time the conference has earned a No. 13 seed or worse.
The Big South is still sitting on one first-round win in its history. That came in 2007 when the conference's best-ever seed, No. 11 Winthrop, defeated Notre Dame. Seeding has always been a hurdle, as this is the 28th time in 30 tournament appearances the league has received a 13-seed or worse. That's a tough hill to climb. This year, tourney first-timer Longwood enters as a 14-seed, the first time a Big South school other than Winthrop was seeded better than 15th.
The Big Ten's championship drought has been well-documented. It's been 22 years since Tom Izzo led Michigan State to the title. Even 17 bids in the past two years -- including four of the top eight overall seeds in last year's field -- didn't change things.
While there aren't as many perceived title threats from the Big Ten this season, all it takes is one team to bust this slump. Wisconsin, Purdue and Illinois are all top-four seeds this year.
Seven conference teams have reached the Final Four in the past nine tournaments, from five different seed lines: three No. 2s, along with a No. 1, 3, 4 and 7. With a conference-best nine teams in the field for the second straight tourney, is this the year a Big Ten team finally is crowned champion again?
When it comes to whether a Big West Conference team will be a handful or not, look no further than the seed. Since 2000, Big West teams seeded 13th or better are 5-6 in the first round, and half of those six losses were real tight: by 1, 2 and another in double-OT. On the other hand, conference teams seeded 14th or worse are 0-11 in this span, with each of the last five losses coming by 26 points or more. No. 15 seed CSU Fullerton hopes to change that.
The last two tourneys have featured very strong showings. In 2019, No. 13 seed UC Irvine took down Kansas State in the first round, and last year, No. 12 UCSB fell one point short against Creighton.
Colonial Athletic Association teams have long been a thorn in the side of higher-seeded opponents in the first round, but the league hasn't won a game in any of the past eight tournaments, twice as long as the CAA's longest previous winless streak. Much of that has to do with changes in the league's membership and the seeds it is receiving.
From 2005 to 2012 -- the CAA's NCAA tournament prime - the conference never got a seed worse than 12th (including three single-digit seeds) and turned it into a 6-6 record in the first round and a pair of Cinderella Final Four runs from George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011).
Since the start of this drought in 2013, this year marks the eighth time in the past nine tournaments that the CAA representative has been seeded 13th or worse (and never better than 12th). While four of those previous eight teams played their first-round opponent to within single digits, they have no wins to show for it.
This is the 20th anniversary of the last first-round win by a CAA squad seeded 13th or worse when Brett Blizzard and UNC Wilmington beat USC in OT. As a 15-seed, Delaware has its work cut out for itself against Villanova on Friday.
In terms of membership and high seeds, this isn't your parents' Conference USA (or maybe your much-older sibling's, at least), but the fact it has become a one-bid league hasn't stopped the conference from making March memories. It's safe to say no higher seed wants to see a C-USA opponent when the bracket is revealed.
The conference's representative has won a first-round game in five of the past six tournaments, despite never being seeded better than 12th. Of the 12 conferences with at least five wins from 12+ seeds in the modern era, no other conference compiled five such wins in fewer than 13 years. Conference USA has done it over a seven-year span (and that's including 2020, when there was no tourney).
Unfortunately, the second round hasn't gone so well for these five teams, as they lost by an average of 19.4 points. This year's C-USA tourney champ, UAB, earned a 12-seed and will face Houston in the first round.
Butler carried the Horizon League for a solid decade before the Bulldogs left the league after the 2011-12 season. Butler still has the Horizon's most recent NCAA tournament victory in 2011. It is the longest the league has ever gone without a win.
This marks the 10th straight tourney the league's representative has been a 13-seed or worse. Most games haven't been all that close in the previous nine tourneys, as just two have been decided by single digits.
Wright State is the first 16-seed in league history and the first to play in the First Four. Horizon League teams are 1-16 all time in the first round as a 14-seed or worse. The only such win came from Xavier in 1991, when the league was called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
It's good to welcome the Ivy League back to the NCAA tournament after taking last season off due to the COVID pandemic. Opponents aren't echoing these sentiments, though. Ivy League champions have proven quite formidable over the past decade-plus. Since 2010, Ivy teams are 4-6 in the first round, with the only double-digit loss coming in 2018 from a No. 16 seed (Penn by 16 to Kansas). Of the other five losses in that stretch, three came by exactly two points.
There has been a difference in competitiveness between the Ivy's 12- and 13- seeds and those seeded 14th or worse, as you might expect. In the first round, teams seeded 14th or worse are 1-14 with four single-digit losses. No. 13 seeds still have just one win (1-6), but with a pair of two-point losses to bluebloods in 2011 (Princeton vs. Kentucky) and 2015 (Harvard vs. North Carolina). No. 12s have had the most success (3-4, with all losses by single digits). Yale has earned three of the past five Ivy bids and has the league's last tourney win (2016 vs. Baylor). The Bulldogs are a 14-seed this year. They gave LSU a difficult time as a No. 14 in 2019.
The MAAC hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 2009 when Fran McCaffery's Siena squad beat Ohio State in double-OT as a No. 9 seed. This current drought is the longest in conference history. For the first time since 2015, Iona did not earn the MAAC's auto bid. That honor goes to 15th-seeded Saint Peter's this year. No MAAC team has ever won a first-round game as a No. 14 seed or worse.
The Mid-American Conference is looking to win a game in four straight NCAA tournaments for the first time ever. MACtion is real and this run is particularly impressive as a one-bid league. Last year, 13th-seeded Ohio beat Virginia, and in 2018 and 2019, Buffalo won games as a No. 6 and 13 seed, respectively. Akron is in the tourney for the first time in nine years. The Zips are a 13-seed and will play UCLA on Thursday in the first round.
The past three times the MAC representative was a 13-seed, it won in its first-round game (Ohio defeated Virginia in 2021, Buffalo defeated Arizona in 2018, Ohio defeated Michigan in 2012).
This marks the seventh straight tourney the MEAC has gotten a 16-seed, but the first time since 2016 its representative won't have to start in the First Four. Dating to 2011, the past five MEAC 16-seeds to play in the round of 64 lost by an average of 35.0 points. In fact, the conference has never lost a first-round game by single digits! But the MEAC does have three wins in the first round and this is the 10th anniversary of the last one, when Norfolk State stunned Missouri as a No. 15 seed. The Spartans are a 16-seed this time around and will face defending champion Baylor.
Not only has a Missouri Valley Conference team won a first-round game in eight of the past nine tournaments (11-3 mark in the first round in that span), the league has been a factor into the second weekend as well. During this span, the Valley has enjoyed two Sweet 16 runs (Loyola Chicago in 2021 and Wichita State in 2015) and the conference's only two trips to the Final Four in the modern era (Loyola Chicago in 2018 and Wichita State in 2013). Loyola is back in the Dance again and will face Ohio State in the first round.
There's just so much to say about the Mountain West's NCAA tournament history. Unfortunately, almost none of it is good. Since the formation of the conference in the 1999-2000 season, Mountain West schools are just 22-51 in tournament play (.301 win pct.) and the conference has never had a team get past the Sweet 16. To put that into perspective, 16 other conferences have had at least one team reach the Elite Eight in that span. The MW has failed to win a game in four of the past five NCAA tournaments.
Maybe the Mountain West finally joins the party this year, as the conference received four bids, the first time with more than two since 2015. But getting more bids hasn't made a difference in the past. Of the three times the MW got four or more bids (2010, 2012 and 2013), the conference totaled five wins in those three years and no team won more than one game in a single tourney. And there hasn't been even a hint of a Cinderella, either. Mountain West teams seeded 10th or worse are an unfathomable 1-22 all time (including 0-2 in First Four games) and have lost 19 straight games dating back to 2002, when No. 11 seed Wyoming beat Gonzaga in Albuquerque. Wyoming is a No. 12 seed and has to survive its First Four matchup with Indiana before it can try to bust this slump.
If you're looking to place a spread bet involving a Mountain West team, history says to simply go with the team you think will win the game. Of the 22 MW teams to win an NCAA tournament game, 18 of them also covered the spread. Of the 51 times a conference team lost in the NCAAs, only six of them covered (6-43-2). The conference was really strong this season, so hopefully at least one of these Mountain West representatives makes some noise in this year's Dance.
The Northeast Conference is the only conference that has never won a first-round game (0-31). Only once in the past 22 tournaments has an NEC team come within single digits of its opponent in the first round (Robert Morris lost to Villanova by 3 in overtime in 2010). As is usually the case, seeding is to blame. The NEC representative is consistently a 16-seed -- this marks the 10th straight tourney -- which is quite a barrier to overcome. Making matters worse, this is the ninth straight tournament the selection committee has sent the NEC champ (Bryant this year) to the First Four -- the only conference to have a streak of more than four straight appearances in the First Four -- so a trip to the first round is no certainty.
The Ohio Valley Conference has won just four first-round NCAA tournament games since 1990. The good news: all four have come as a 13-seed or better. Murray State is a No. 7 seed this year, the second-best seed in the modern era for the OVC and just the third single-digit seed in that span (also by Murray State in 1998 and 2012). The conference will look very different going forward, with league powers Murray State and Belmont leaving for the Missouri Valley Conference after this season. We'll see if the Racers can go out with a bang.
Last year's tournament was amazing for the Pac-12, especially when you consider the expectations entering it. While the conference's five bids were its most since 2016, none of the teams were top-four seeds. Despite that, three teams reached the Elite Eight (the only conference with more than one) and to top it all off, those teams were seeded sixth, 11th and 12th. So maybe this is a step in the right direction for a conference that has experienced uneven results in the Dance in recent years.
It has been 25 years since the Pac-12's last championship (Arizona in 1997). Since 31 of the past 32 national champions have been a top-four seed, it's important to point out the league has been fighting an uphill battle in its attempt to end that title drought. In the past 12 tournaments, the Pac-12 has the fewest bids of any power conference and has received considerably fewer high seeds. In this span, the conference has averaged fewer than one top-four seed per year, which pales in comparison to the other five power conferences (as you can see to the right). This year, though, the conference has multiple top-four seeds for the first time since 2017.
Poor seeding hasn't dampened the Pac-12's spirit in the early rounds. Using the same 12-tournament span, Pac-12 teams seeded 11th or worse are a remarkable 10-1 in the first round. And seven of those 10 winners also won the next game to reach the Sweet 16 (including UCLA and Oregon State last year).
The Patriot League has just three first-round wins to its credit and it's been 10 years since the last one. But that doesn't properly paint the picture of how tough the league has been in the past four tournaments. Last year, 14th-seeded Colgate was tied with Arkansas with less than 9 minutes left before faltering late. In 2019, Colgate was formidable again, as a 15-seed, losing to Tennessee by 7. The two years before that, Bucknell lost to Michigan State and West Virginia by four and six points, respectively. Colgate is back again as a No. 14 seed this year, hoping to put a dent in the win column. It will face Wisconsin in the first round on Friday.
It's been tough for the SEC to get over the hump and win a championship recently. Sure, the conference has had an Elite Eight team in 23 of the past 29 tournaments (including Arkansas last year), but it's been eight years since the last time an SEC team made it to the title game. A lot of it has to do with the performance of conference teams seeded No. 2, 3 and 4, since Kentucky won the SEC's last championship 10 years ago. None of the 12 teams seeded from second to fourth in that span have advanced past the Elite Eight. Fortunately, the conference has had a No. 5, 7 and 8 seed reach the Final Four during this span or else things would be looked at differently. The SEC did not get a No. 1 seed for the sixth straight tournament, tying for the longest span without a 1-seed in conference history (1987-1992). That said, Auburn and Kentucky are strong No. 2 seeds the conference can lean on and some feel No. 3 seed Tennessee deserved better.
It sure seems like the Southern Conference should have a better NCAA tournament track record. The SoCon has lost 10 first-round games by 5 points or fewer in the modern era. Overall, the conference is 4-32 in the first round and the only two wins by teams seeded worse than 10th came 25-plus years ago (Chattanooga in 1997 and East Tennessee State in 1992, both 14-seeds). The Chattanooga Mocs earned a No. 13 seed and will look to make new memories on this 25th anniversary of their Sweet 16 run. SoCon 13-seeds are 0-11 in the first round.
The Southland Conference has undergone some big changes to its membership in the past year, but the league hopes to pick up where Abilene Christian left off. ACU upset No. 3 seed Texas in last year's first round. It won't be an easy task, considering the 16-seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi received this year (the Islanders will start in the First Four). Ever since Karl Malone led fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech to the Sweet 16 in 1985, the Southland has received a No. 14 seed or worse in 30 of 35 years and never better than a No. 12. It should come as no surprise Southland teams are 4-31 in the first round in that span, and three of those four wins came from 14-seeds.
No conference has had to deal with tougher seeding than the SWAC. Only once this century has the conference's automatic qualifier not been a 16-seed (Texas Southern in 2015). So, it's no wonder the conference has just one first-round win in its history, which came nearly 30 years ago, when Southern surprised Georgia Tech as a No. 13 seed in 1993. Just twice in 36 tourneys in the modern era has the SWAC received better than a 15-seed. And many years, the conference has had to play in the First Four or -- before that -- the opening round just to get to the first round. When they have made it there, they've lost 18 straight first-round games. This year, they'll have to start in the First Four for the fourth straight tournament, as Texas Southern will face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday. If the Tigers win, they will meet Kansas in the first round.
Last year marked the first time since 2011 that the Summit League rep wasn't North Dakota State or South Dakota State. Needless to say, that worked out just fine, as Oral Roberts became the second 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16. It was just the second time in the past 22 tournaments that a Summit League team won a first-round game. This year, it's back to South Dakota State as the conference's automatic qualifier. The only time the conference has ever won a first-round game in back-to-back years was in 1986-87 (Cleveland State and Southwest Missouri State), when the league was called the AMCU-8. The Jackrabbits definitely have a shot to make it happen as a 13-seed. They will meet Providence in the first round on Thursday.
In 2015 and 2016, the Sun Belt won a pair of exhilarating first-round games. In 2015, it was 14th-seeded Georgia State taking down Baylor on R.J. Hunter's deep 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left. Then in 2016, No. 12 seed Little Rock upset Purdue in double overtime. But the past four tournaments haven't been as enjoyable for Sun Belt fans. Each year from 2017 to 2019, the conference's representative lost by 15 points or more and last year, App State lost by 1 in the First Four. Georgia State earned the conference's automatic bid this year. The Panthers are a No. 16 seed and will face Gonzaga in the first round.
Gonzaga continues to carry the West Coast Conference. In the modern era, the Zags have made 11 Sweet 16 appearances (all since 1999), while the rest of the conference has two (Loyola Marymount in 1990, Saint Mary's in 2010). The WCC has won at least one first-round game in 13 straight tourneys -- mostly thanks to the Zags -- and had a team reach the Sweet 16 a conference-record six straight times (all by Gonzaga).
So, let's talk about the rest of the WCC in the Dance. Not counting the First Four, WCC teams not named Gonzaga have just five wins in the past 25 years. It's been a strong year for the league, as it snagged three bids, tying for its most ever (also 2008 and '12). Only three times has the conference had two teams win first-round games in the same year (2000, 2010, 2017). Gonzaga (No. 1 seed), Saint Mary's (5) and San Francisco (10) are out to change that this year.
It's been 15 years since the Western Athletic Conference won an NCAA tournament game. Since that last win by Nevada in 2007, every WAC representative has been an 11th seed or worse, and this year is no different, as New Mexico State earned a 12-seed. In all, the WAC has lost 17 straight games as a double-digit seed, dating back to 2005.
Below are more notable facts about most (but not all) of the teams and coaches in this year's field. The schools are listed in alphabetical order, so finding one that interests you is easier.
Facts are from the modern era (since 1985) unless noted otherwise.
Head coach John Groce hopes he's the right guy for the job of bringing the first NCAA tournament victory to the Akron campus. You might remember his Ohio teams pulling upsets a decade ago. In 2010, his Bobcats beat Georgetown as a 14-seed in the first round. Then in 2012, they reached the Sweet 16 as a 13-seed. The Zips are a No. 13 seed and match up with UCLA in the first round.
This is the first time the Tide has made the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years since 2002-06 under Mark Gottfried. Last year, they received a No. 2 seed, tied for the highest in school history, and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004, but they were knocked out by UCLA in overtime. This year, during a season filled with peaks and valleys, Alabama is a 6-seed. Will the Tide get hot and make the Elite Eight for the first time in 18 years or reach the Final Four for the first time ever? A tough road lies ahead, but the talent is there.
On the 25th anniversary of the Wildcats' only national title, they are back in the Dance after missing consecutive tournaments for the first time in nearly 40 years. As a 1-seed, Arizona is obviously among the title contenders. While the Cats have been a top-two seed 13 previous times, they reached the Final Four in only three of those years. Remember, they were a No. 4 seed in the 1997 championship season. In their two most recent tourney trips -- as a No. 2 in 2017 and a No. 4 in 2018 -- they were eliminated by double-digit seeds. First-year head coach Tommy Lloyd hopes to avoid that this time around and lead Arizona to its first Final Four since 2001.
By reaching the Elite Eight in 2021, the Razorbacks won as many games in last year's tourney as they did in the previous 20. It was the furthest advancement for the Hogs since losing to UCLA in the 1995 championship game. If Eric Musselman can lead his team to consecutive Sweet 16s, it would be the first time it's been done in Fayetteville since 1993-96.
Bruce Pearl is doing his darnedest to make Auburn known for its basketball program. He has the Tigers in the tournament for the third time in the past four events, and this time they are a No. 2 seed, the second-highest in school history. Only the 1999 team, which was unranked in the preseason poll before having a magical season culminating in a No. 1 seed, was seeded higher. That Chris Porter-led team fell in the Sweet 16, but Pearl has already led Auburn further than that in his short time on the Plains.
In 2019, the Tigers were thisclose to reaching the title game as a No. 5 seed, only to have a late foul call go against them vs. Virginia. Kyle Guy proceeded to knock down all three free throws and the rest is history. This Auburn team has designs on making history of its own, but while Pearl has led less-heralded teams on deep runs (he took Tennessee to the Elite Eight in 2010 as a 6-seed), he'll have to prove he can do the same with the weight of larger expectations on his shoulders. In his only two tourney trips as a top-two seed -- both while at Tennessee -- his teams fell in the Sweet 16 in 2008 and in the second round in 2006.
Auburn opens against Jacksonville State on Friday in Greenville. The Tigers are 9-0 in the first round in the modern era. Only two other schools with multiple tournament appearances are unbeaten in the round of 64 (Loyola Chicago and Tulane, both 3-0).
The defending champs enter as one of the favorites again, but becoming the first team to repeat in 15 years won't be easy. In fact, just making it back to the Final Four has been rare recently. Only two teams this century have won a title one year and returned to the Final Four the next (Florida in 2006-07 and Michigan State in 2000-01). Scott Drew already has done what was thought to be impossible in Waco, Texas, so accomplishing that would be yet another feather in his cap. The Bears are a No. 1 seed in the East region and begin their journey on Thursday against Norfolk State.
Leon Rice has done some really good things during his 12 seasons in Boise, but there's one thing still missing: the school's first NCAA tournament victory. That's right, the Broncos are 0-7 in the Big Dance and, despite Rice taking Boise State to the tourney two previous times, the Broncos have lost in the First Four both times, so he's about to coach in the first round for the first time. Those losses in the First Four came to eventual Sweet 16 team La Salle in 2013 and to Dayton on its home floor in 2015, by one point. Boise State won the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles, and it hopes to get into the win column in the NCAA tournament to check another box. The Broncos are a No. 8 seed, best in school history.
Two of the Mocs' three NCAA tournament wins in school history came 25 years ago, when Johnny Taylor, Willie Young and Chris Mims led Chattanooga to the Sweet 16 as a No. 14 seed. This is just their fourth appearance since then and in the previous three trips, they lost by at least 16 points each time. Maybe this year will be different, as this is a talented team capable of pulling an early surprise.
This is the third straight tourney trip for the Raiders, but they are still looking for their first victory in school history. Despite being a 14-seed or worse in each of their four previous appearances, they have been competitive each time (last year's 17-point loss to Arkansas was much closer than the score indicated). Colgate earned a 14-seed again this year.
The Rams have four NCAA tournament wins in school history, half of which came in 1969 when they reached the Midwest regional final. In the modern era, though, this is just their sixth tourney appearance and their first in nine years. That 2013 team, coached by Larry Eustachy, earned the school's highest seed ever at the time (No. 8) and won its first-round game against Missouri before being dispatched by top-seeded Louisville. The Rams earned a No. 6 seed, the highest in school history. Niko Medved has done a fine job in Fort Collins and is making his first NCAA tourney appearance as a head coach. David Roddy, Isaiah Stevens & Co. have a date with Michigan on Thursday.
Last year as a 5-seed, the Bluejays reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in the modern era. This year's No. 9 seed is their lowest as a member of the Big East. The last time Creighton won a game against a higher-seed team was 2002, when they were a 12-seed and beat No. 5 Florida on Terrell Taylor's game-winning 3-pointer in double overtime.
The Titans reached the West regional final in their first NCAA tournament appearance in 1978. This is only their third trip since, however. Fullerton lost in the first round as a No. 14 seed in 2008 and a No. 15 seed in 2018.
Despite being a double-digit seed in all 10 previous tourney appearances in the modern era, the Wildcats and head coach Bob McKillop (who has helmed all but one of these appearances) have almost always proven to be a thorn in the side for opponents. That being said, it might surprise you that the only three tourney wins Davidson has in the past five decades came during the amazing 2008 run when Stephen Curry first made himself known to casual hoop fans. That year, the Wildcats received their best seed ever, a No. 10, and that's exactly what they are this year. They face Michigan State on Friday.
This is the sixth NCAA tournament appearance for the Fightin' Blue Hens, but just the second this century. Delaware is still seeking its first win, but its head coach, Martin Ingelsby, knows what it feels like to win a tourney game ... as a player. He was a senior starting point guard at Notre Dame in 2001 when the Irish reached the second round. Ingelsby played 79 of 80 minutes in the two games that year, averaging 7.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.0 steals.
Duke's streak of 24 straight NCAA tournament appearances was snapped last year, but the Blue Devils are back as one of the favorites this year in Mike Krzyzewski's final season. Remarkably, it's the 20th time in their past 24 appearances they have been a top-two seed. While it might seem like there wouldn't be much difference between a 1 and 2, Duke's tourney history says otherwise, particularly recently.
Being a No. 2 seed has not worked out as well as hoped for Coach K and his squad during the past two-plus decades. Duke has not reached the Final Four in any of its past seven appearances as a 2-seed, dating to 1997. The larger disappointment lies in the fact that it has failed to survive the first weekend in four of those seven instances, most recently in 2017 when Duke lost to South Carolina in the second round. If there is one positive here, it's that the Blue Devils have reached the Elite Eight two of the past three times as a No. 2 seed, including four years ago.
The Blue Devils have reached the Final Four just twice in the past 16 tournaments and their current streak of five straight tourneys without a Final Four appearance ties for the longest drought for Duke since its first trip to the Final Four in 1986. If you're looking for a positive sign for providing Coach K with the best possible going-away present, consider this: Duke won its first ACC regular-season title since 2010. That year, the Blue Devils won the national championship.
This is the third appearance in the past four tournaments for the Panthers. They have busted brackets before, as some of you may recall R.J. Hunter's deep 3-pointer in the closing seconds to upset Baylor in 2015, causing his dad and head coach, Ron Hunter, to fall off his stool on the sidelines. It will be a taller order this year, as the Panthers are a 16-seed and face the overall top seed, Gonzaga.
Gonzaga has won 12 straight first-round games and has reached the Sweet 16 in each of the past six tournaments, the longest active streak. The Zags are a No. 1 seed for the fourth time in the past five tourneys, but still in search of that elusive first national title. The past three times Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed, it lost in the championship game in 2017 and 2021 and in the Elite Eight in 2019. Mark Few has another impressive group, so we'll see if this is the year he gets the monkey off his back.
Before Kelvin Sampson arrived in Houston, all 26 of the school's NCAA tournament victories belonged to one head coach: Guy Lewis, who led the Cougars to five Final Fours, including three straight with those memorable Phi Slama Jama teams (including two runner-up finishes) from 1982 to '84. While Sampson still has a ways to go to catch Lewis, he has put Houston basketball back on the map with seven wins in the past three tourneys. Last year, as a No. 2 seed, the Cougars became the first team to reach the Final Four by defeating four double-digit seeds. Hey, you can't control the teams you face in the Dance and the Cougars simply beat the teams put in front of them. Oddly enough, all seven of Sampson's tourney wins at Houston have come against double-digit seeds.
In his coaching career, Sampson is 5-12 versus single-digit seeds, with two of those coming in 1999 as a 13-seed with Oklahoma. The other three wins came as a top-two seed. Barring another favorable draw this year, Houston will look to earn its first such win as early as the second round vs. Illinois (if it beats Chattanooga). Sampson last beat a single-digit seed in 2003 when his No. 1-seeded Sooners beat No. 8 Cal in the second round. The last time the Cougars beat a single-digit seed was in the 1984 national semifinals against No. 7 seed Virginia.
The Fighting Illini are making back-to-back tourney appearances for the first time since making eight in a row from 2000 to '07. Last year didn't go as planned, as the top-seeded Illini were upset by No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago in the second round. This year, they are a reasonably high seed again as a No. 4 in the South region and hope to reach the school's first Sweet 16 since 2005, when they reached the title game before losing to North Carolina. Illinois has never reached the Elite Eight when seeded worse than No. 2.
The Hoosiers are dancing for the first time in six years, making the field as a No. 12 seed (their lowest ever) after a strong showing in the Big Ten tourney. Indiana has never won an NCAA tournament game as a No. 8 seed or worse. The Hoosiers are 0-5 under this condition, despite being favored in four of the five games. Their last tourney trip ended in the Sweet 16 as a No. 5 seed under Tom Crean six years ago. They are now led by Mike Woodson, who starred for the Hoosiers from 1976 to '80 and averaged 19.3 PPG in four NCAA tourney games.
The Hawkeyes have just four NCAA tournament wins in the past 20 years, all coming in the first round. While Iowa has survived the first round in each of its four tourney trips under Fran McCaffery, the second round has been a trouble spot for more than three decades now. The Hawkeyes have lost 11 of 12 second-round games dating to 1989. It's important to note that they were the higher seed in just three of those 12 games, but clearly the challenge to reach the Sweet 16 has been real. Their only advancement to the second weekend in this span came in 1999, when the fifth-seeded Hawkeyes lost to eventual national champion UConn.
In the preseason, the Cyclones were picked to finish last by Big 12 coaches. T.J. Otzelberger had different ideas, helping to make Iowa State one of the nation's bigger surprises this season. The Cyclones landed an 11-seed in the Midwest region, their lowest seed since 1988. The past two times they were a double-digit seed, they won their first-round game (1992 and 2013). Otzelberger is looking to notch his first NCAA tournament victory (0-2 at South Dakota State).
In the Gamecocks' only previous appearance, they played well as a No. 15 seed, but lost to Louisville by 15. Jacksonville State head coach Ray Harper has put a scare into a top seed before. In 2013, his 16th-seed Western Kentucky team hung tough with Kansas before falling by 7.
The Jayhawks haven't missed an NCAA tournament since 1989. Their 32 consecutive appearances is the longest streak ever and this is also the 21st straight trip as a top-four seed, simply remarkable. Despite the positive seeding, Kansas has just one championship during this span and its last appearance in the title game was 10 years ago.
The Jayhawks are a No. 1 seed this year, the 10th time in the past 12 tourneys as a top-two seed. As a No. 1 seed at KU, Bill Self has reached the Sweet 16 seven of eight times (including winning the 2008 title). In his nine other appearances with the Jayhawks -- three each as a No. 2, 3 and 4 seed -- his teams have just three Sweet 16 trips. So the quality of seed has mattered quite a bit.
The Wildcats have reached the Elite Eight in seven of nine appearances under John Calipari. They are a No. 2 seed this year and Calipari has been rather consistent as a 2-seed in his coaching career. His teams have made the Sweet 16 each of the past five times as a No. 2 and reached the Elite Eight four of the past five times. However, he's never made the Final Four as a 2-seed.
Talk about a team that has made the most of its opportunities, the Ramblers have made the Sweet 16 in all three of their previous appearances in the modern era (including a Final Four trip in 2018 as a No. 11 seed). Last year as an 8-seed, they were impressive in knocking off top-seeded Illinois in the second round by 13. This time around, Loyola is once again a lower seed (10), a role it clearly embraces. Drew Valentine, the youngest head coach in Division I at 30, will try his hand at crafting his own version of March magic after replacing Porter Moser, who is now at Oklahoma.
This is the first time the Tigers have made three consecutive NCAA tournaments since they made 10 straight from 1984 to '93 under Dale Brown. LSU earned a No. 6 seed this year and will hope for a new fate in this role. The Tigers are 0-2 in the first round as a No. 6 seed in the modern era. The last time it got past the second round as a No. 5 seed or worse was 35 years ago, when Nikita Wilson, Anthony Wilson & Co. made a surprising run to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed.
Shaka Smart made "havoc" a part of the college basketball lexicon when his VCU team won five games to go from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011. Since then, his teams are just 2-7 in NCAA tournament games and have lost five straight first-round games, all by four or fewer points. His last win came in 2013, which is also the last time Marquette won an NCAA tournament game. After coming up empty in three trips with Texas, Smart looks to get back into the win column in his first season with the Golden Eagles, the No. 9 seed in the East region. Continuing with the parallels, the only time in the modern era Marquette won a tourney game as a No. 7 seed or worse was in 2011, when it joined Smart's VCU squad as 11-seeds to reach the Sweet 16.
It has been quite the roller coaster of a season for Penny Hardaway's Tigers, but here they are in the field for the first time in eight years. This is the 30th anniversary of Hardaway leading sixth-seeded Memphis State (as it was known at the time) to the Elite Eight by averaging 17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 5.5 APG. The last time the Tigers made the tourney, they were also in the 8/9 game. That year, Memphis beat George Washington in the first round before falling to top-seeded Virginia in the second round.
In 2006, Jim Larranaga's George Mason team won four games to reach the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. That's the same number of NCAA tournament victories he has in his first 10 seasons at Miami. Since Larranaga has had success as an underdog before, Hurricanes fans are hopeful that the double-digit seed they received is a good omen. However, the only two times "The U" been seeded worse than seventh and it lost in the first round (1998 as an 11-seed and 2017 as an 8-seed).
After earning a No. 1 seed and reaching the Elite Eight last year, expectations were high for Michigan this season. It took longer than anticipated for the many new pieces to mesh, but after an 11-9 start and then a suspension for head coach Juwan Howard, the team rallied to make the tournament as a No. 11 seed. While the Wolverines are looking to reach the Sweet 16 for the fifth straight tourney, life as a lower seed hasn't led to any Cinderella runs at Michigan, at least not yet. They have never won more than one game in a single tournament in their five previous trips as a No. 8 seed or worse.
This is the 24th straight NCAA tournament appearance for the Spartans. Last year, they received their lowest seed in school history and lost in overtime in the First Four, becoming UCLA's first victim in its out-of-nowhere dash to the Final Four and continuing a recent run of generally disappointing tourney outcomes.
Yes, the Spartans did reach the Final Four in 2019, so it's not all bad news in East Lansing. However, that is the only time in the past five tournaments that State has advanced beyond the second round (with two of those early exits coming as a top-three seed), previously unheard of territory under Hall of Famer Tom Izzo.
From 1998 to 2015, the Spartans advanced to the Sweet 16 or further in 13 of 18 tournaments and were seeded sixth or worse each of the five times they failed to do so. Michigan State has a much better seed to work with than last year, but still fall in that "sixth or worse" range as a No. 7 in the West region.
The last time the Bobcats were in the Big Dance, a freshman named Danny Sprinkle scored seven points in a first-round loss to Syracuse. That was 26 years ago and Montana State hasn't been back since. Until now, of course. Sprinkle is now the head coach at his alma mater, which is 0-3 in the tourney.
The Racers are dancing for the third time in the past four tournaments. They have won a tournament game in three of their past four appearances: as a 13-seed over Vanderbilt in 2010, as a 6-seed over Colorado State in 2012 and as a 12-seed over Marquette in 2019. In that Marquette victory, Ja Morant made March memories with a triple-double. Two freshmen starters from that 2019 team, KJ Williams and Tevin Brown, form a dangerous tandem and will make the Racers a tough out. They are a single-digit seed for the third time in school history and will face San Francisco in the first round Thursday.
New Mexico State
This is the ninth appearance in the past 12 NCAA tourneys for the Aggies. Unfortunately, they don't have any wins to show for it. New Mexico State's last win in the tournament came in 1993. Since then, this is the 12th straight appearance the Aggies have been a No. 12 seed or worse.
In their first NCAA tournament appearance 10 years ago, the 15th-seeded Spartans shot the lights out to shock Missouri in the first round, led by big man Kyle O'Quinn. Now Norfolk State is making back-to-back tourney appearances for the first time. Last year, they beat App State in the First Four before losing to Gonzaga.
Hubert Davis makes his NCAA tournament debut as the head coach at his alma mater. As a player from 1989 to '92, he was a part of teams that won 10 NCAA tournament games, including a Final Four trip in 1991. Last year, the Tar Heels lost in the first round for just the second time in the modern era. That was as a No. 8 seed, which tied for their lowest seed in school history. This year, UNC earned a No. 8 again and will meet Marquette in the first round.
The bar has been set high in Chapel Hill, so it's actually notable that the Heels have failed to reach the Elite Eight in each of the past three tourneys. Only once since the field expanded in 1985 has North Carolina missed the Elite Eight in four straight tournaments (2001-04). This team will have to outperform its seed to avoid doing so, but it has the talent to pull it off.
Mike Brey has Notre Dame back in the tournament for the first time in five years. The No. 11 seed the Fighting Irish received is their lowest in school history. Both previous times as a double-digit seed, they lost in the first round (1988 and '90). In seven appearances as a No. 6 seed or worse at Notre Dame, Brey's teams have advanced to the second week of play just once, reaching the Elite Eight in 2016 as a 6-seed.
The last time the Buckeyes reached the Sweet 16 was nine years ago. Last year's team, which was a No. 2 seed, seemed poised to end that dry spell, but Max Abmas, Kevin Obanor and Oral Roberts had other ideas, knocking the Bucks out in the first round. Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann has also had difficulty surviving the first weekend of tourney play. While last year's first-round loss was the first of his career (5-1), his teams at Butler and Ohio State are just 1-4 in the second round.
Ed Cooley's team is in unfamiliar territory as a top-four seed for the first time in school history. The Friars have just one NCAA tournament victory this century -- 2016 vs. USC on Rodney Bullock's layup off a baseline out-of-bounds play with 1.5 seconds left - and have lost in the first round both times they've been seeded better than ninth in this span (to Dayton as a No. 6 seed in 2015 and to Pacific as a No. 5 seed in 2004). Cooley has made Providence a part of the NCAA tournament discussion every year and is ready to take the next step with his program.
This is the 35th anniversary of Billy Donovan leading the sixth-seeded Friars to the Final Four under Rick Pitino and the 25th anniversary of Austin Croshere & Co. running all the way to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed. Few observers saw either of those runs coming. While this year's group may not be able to sneak up on anyone, it hopes to give Providence fans a new March memory to reflect upon nonetheless.
This is the fifth straight tournament in which the Boilermakers are a top-four seed, and this year's team has legitimate championship aspirations. However, Purdue has not fared well when highly seeded. In 10 previous trips as a top-three seed, it has advanced to the Elite Eight just twice and has lost in the second round five times. Matt Painter has done a tremendous job at his alma mater and this team appears poised to reverse the curse. Only time will tell if Purdue will reach its first Final Four since 1980 and its first title game since 1969.
This is Purdue's seventh straight NCAA tourney appearance and while it is just 3-3 in the first round in the past six trips, all three losses came in games that went to overtime (last year vs. No. 13 North Texas, 2016 vs. No. 12 Little Rock in double OT and 2015 to No. 8 Cincinnati). How this team handles the weight of expectation could be a big storyline in this tournament, as the Boilermakers seek their first national championship.
The Spiders were bid-stealers this year, winning the Atlantic 10 tourney on Selection Sunday. Their last NCAA tournament appearance came in 2011, when they advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 12 seed. Richmond is in the same position this year, as a 12-seed in the Midwest region. It's a role the Spiders are rather familiar with, as they have also won tourney games as a 13-, 14- and 15-seed in their history.
For just the second time in school history, Rutgers is playing in consecutive NCAA tournaments (also 1975-76). Last year, making their first appearance in 30 years, the Scarlet Knights won a tourney game for the first time since 1983. They did so as a No. 10 seed, beating Clemson in the first round before losing a hard-fought battle in the second round to eventual Final Four team Houston.
Steve Pikiell has done a great job turning this program around and he'll face a path of similar difficulty this season as a No. 11 seed, but the Scarlet Knights will have to get past Notre Dame in the First Four in order to meet Alabama in the round of 64. Rutgers hopes to win an NCAA tournament game in back-to-back years for the first time ever.
The Gaels reached the Sweet 16 in 2010 as a No. 10 seed, which accounts for two of their five tournament wins in school history (including their 2013 First Four victory). This year, they earned a 5-seed, the highest in school history. Saint Mary's has been a single-digit seed just three previous times -- No. 8 in 1989, No. 7 in 2012 and No. 7 in 2017 -- and it has one win in those appearances (2017 over VCU).
Peacocks head coach Shaheen Holloway knows all about the highs and the lows of March Madness. As a senior point guard at Seton Hall in the 2000 NCAA tournament, he went coast-to-coast to bank in a layup with 1.9 seconds left to beat Oregon in the first round. Then, in the second round he sprained his ankle eight minutes into the game vs. Temple and didn't return. While Seton Hall won that game, Holloway was unable to play in the next game, a Sweet 16 loss to Oklahoma State, which ended his college career. He has led Saint Peter's to its fourth NCAA tourney appearance and its first since 2011. The Peacocks are a No. 15 seed in the East region.
San Diego State
The Aztecs have six NCAA tournament wins in their history, all under former head coach Steve Fisher, including at least one in each of his final three trips with the team (2013-15). Brian Dutcher hopes to change that in his third tourney appearance at SDSU by beating Creighton in the first round on Thursday.
Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell led the Dons to back-to-back national titles in 1955 and 1956, so USF has a great history in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, a good number of fans today weren't even born the last time it won a tourney game in 1979. In fact, this is just the Dons' second NCAA tournament appearance in the past 40 years. They lost to eventual runner-up Utah in the first round as a No. 14 seed in 1998. Todd Golden is one of the bright young coaches in the game today and this team is capable of causing trouble as a No. 10 seed.
The Pirates have just one NCAA tournament win since 2005 (as a No. 8 seed in 2018 over NC State). In that span, their best seed is a No. 6 and they are facing a tougher path this time around, as a No. 8 seed in the South region.
Dating to 1994, this is the eighth time in its past nine tourney trips the Hall has been seeded eighth or worse.
South Dakota State
Head coach Eric Henderson is making his NCAA tournament debut, but it's worth noting the other two SDSU coaches to take the Jackrabbits to the Dance are also in this year's tourney: T.J. Otzelberger (Iowa State) and Scott Nagy (Wright State). This team can be dangerous, led by do-it-all star Baylor Scheierman (16.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 47% 3-pt FG). The Jackrabbits are still looking for their first tourney win (0-5).
Horned Frogs head coach Jamie Dixon was playing for TCU the last time it won an NCAA tournament game in 1987. He had 11 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in that win against Marshall and played all 40 minutes. However, this is only the school's third trip to the tourney since that win. In 1998 as a No. 5 seed, the Frogs lost to Florida State in the first round. Then in 2018, TCU earned a 6-seed only to fall to Syracuse in the first round.
It's considered a good thing to be on the top four seed lines, but Tennessee hasn't enjoyed the high-seed life. The Vols have been a top-four seed six previous times and not only have they lost in the second round in half of those appearances, but they have never advanced past the Sweet 16 under those circumstances.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes has also had trouble advancing deep into March Madness in recent years. Sure, he has been to the Elite Eight three times and the Final Four once in his career, but since his latest Elite Eight appearance 14 years ago with Texas, his teams have made it to the second week of tourney play just once in nine tries.
If the Vols do get that far, they are likely to face higher seeds, which has been a bugaboo for Barnes. Of his 24 career NCAA tourney wins, only one has come against a team seeded higher than his (2002 when No. 6 Texas defeated No. 3 Mississippi State in the second round). No coach with at least 10 NCAA tournament games against higher-seeded teams has a worse winning percentage (1-11, .083).
Shaka Smart was 0-for-3 in the first round in Austin, so in steps Chris Beard to try his hand at changing the Longhorns' fortunes.
Since reaching the Elite Eight in 2008, Texas has just three tourney victories (all in the first round). Meanwhile, Beard won at least three games in a single tournament twice in his three trips as Texas Tech's head coach (2018 Elite Eight, 2019 runner-up).
This is the sixth time in the past seven tourney appearances that the Tigers have been a 16-seed. In their past two trips, they won in the First Four, which accounts for the only two tourney wins in school history. They'll get a chance to make it three straight wins in the First Four on Tuesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Chris Beard quickly made his mark in Lubbock, taking the Red Raiders to heights never before reached. Mark Adams, who was Beard's top assistant at Texas Tech and Little Rock before that, hasn't skipped a beat since taking the reins at his alma mater. In fact, Tech earned a No. 3 seed this year, tied for the best in school history. The Red Raiders will be trying to reach the Elite Eight for the third time in the past four tournaments ... and maybe more than that. The last two times they were a 3-seed, they reached the championship game in 2019 and the Elite Eight in 2018.
Andy Kennedy is another man coaching his alma mater in the tournament this year. As a player at UAB, he scored nine points in a first-round loss to UCLA in 1990. As a coach at Ole Miss, his teams won two NCAA tourney games: in 2013 as a No. 12 seed in the first round and in 2015 as an 11-seed in the First Four. The last time the Blazers were in the Dance, they upset Iowa State in the first round as a No. 14 seed.
This time last year, UCLA had barely squeezed into the field as one of the last four teams selected. After an out-of-nowhere run to the Final Four, the Bruins returned almost everyone to try to run it back this season. Despite dealing with injuries, Mick Cronin has his team geared up in hopes of making consecutive Final Four trips for the first time at UCLA since 2006-08. While Cronin had some good teams during his time at Cincinnati, this is only the second time he's coached a top-four-seeded team. The first time didn't go so well, as his No. 2 seed Bearcats were upset by Eric Musselman's Nevada squad in the second round in 2018.
Last year, UConn earned a 7-seed in Dan Hurley's first tourney trip with the Huskies, but fell to Maryland in the first round. This year, they are a No. 5 seed in the West region, UConn's best seed since 2011 when it won the title as a 3-seed. Hurley will look to parlay the improved seed into his first Sweet 16 appearance as a head coach. The only time he reached the second week of the tournament as a player was his freshman season at Seton Hall, when he was a reserve on a team that lost to his brother Bobby's squad, eventual national champion Duke, in the Sweet 16.
The Trojans made the Final Four in their first two NCAA tournament appearances in 1940 and 1954. In the nearly 70 years since, USC has reached the Sweet 16 just three times, including last year's Elite Eight team led by Evan and Isaiah Mobley as a 6-seed. This is head coach Andy Enfield's fifth NCAA tournament appearance, it just seems like more because his teams have made it tough on opponents despite never being a high seed. In 2013, his FGCU team became the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16, beating both Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points. The Trojans are a 7-seed this year and will meet Miami in the first round.
The Catamounts have played very well as a No. 13 seed in their NCAA tournament history. Tom Brennan coached them to their only first-round win in 2005 when they knocked off Syracuse in overtime. And in their two most recent trips in 2017 and '19, current head coach John Becker had his team prepared and gave Purdue and Florida State a difficult time before falling short. Vermont is indeed a 13-seed this year and will meet Arkansas on Thursday.
It's been feast or famine for Jay Wright and Villanova in recent years. In the Wildcats' past 10 tournament appearances, they have two championships (2016 and 2018), one Sweet 16 (2021) and seven losses in the first or second round. Of those seven early exits, four came as a top-two seed (2010, 2014, 2015, 2017), which catches your eye. This team is trying to set the single-season record for free throw percentage, a quality that could serve the Wildcats well in inevitably tight tourney games.
The Hokies won their first ACC tourney title to clinch their fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance. Virginia Tech earned a No. 11 seed in the East region. Only once in the modern era has Tech won a game when seeded worse than fifth (1996 vs. Green Bay, as a No. 9 seed). Last year, the Hokies lost to Florida in overtime as a 10-seed.
This is the best seed the Badgers have earned since they were a No. 1 for the only time in school history in 2015. That year, they lost in the title game to Duke in Bo Ryan's final season in Madison. Greg Gard led Wisconsin to back-to-back Sweet 16s as a 7- and 8-seed in his first two seasons in 2016 and 2017, but hasn't escaped the first weekend since. This year could be different with a star to lean on in Johnny Davis, but the Badgers' history as a top-four seed is a bit checkered.
On one hand, you could point out they have reached the Sweet 16 in five of seven previous trips as a top-four seed. But on the other hand, you could say they have been eliminated by an opponent seeded at least four lines below them in four of those seven appearances (the other three losses came against No. 1 seeds).
This is the fourth NCAA tournament appearance for the Raiders. The first three were memorable for the experience, but forgettable for the results, as Wright State lost by an average of 30 points. Scott Nagy's team will look to earn the first tourney victory in school history against Bryant in the First Four on Wednesday. If they do that, the Raiders' reward would be a date with Arizona.
Most of you reading this don't remember Wyoming's national title 79 years ago. (How many of you non-Cowboys fans even knew that Wyoming won a men's basketball championship?) But college hoops fans of a certain age definitely remember Fennis Dembo. This is the 35-year anniversary of Dembo making a name for himself, teaming with Eric Leckner to lead 12th-seeded Wyoming to its only Sweet 16 appearance in the modern era. The Cowboys have just one NCAA tournament win since, an upset of No. 6 seed Gonzaga 20 years ago. In fact, this is only Wyoming's fifth NCAA tournament bid since the field expanded in 1985. Will Hunter Maldonado or Graham Ike be this generation's Fennis Dembo?
Yale is making its third tourney appearance under James Jones. In 2016, as a No. 12 seed, the Bulldogs upset Baylor in the first round before falling to Duke by just seven in the second round. In 2019 as a 14-seed, Yale gave LSU all it could handle, but lost by five. The Bulldogs will face Purdue in the first round Friday.
Special thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for its help.
Any references to odds courtesy Caesars Sportsbook.