Tournament Stats Since 1985

Updated through the 2017 Tournament

Who should you pick? Well, the tables below might be of some assistance. Feel free to consult them for guidance if you wish. Or just for enjoyment. Or look at them and wonder when Walt is going to get a life.  One caveat though: using the stats below is no guarantee that your pool performance will improve; in fact, it could get worse! (Another caveat: these stats are from my personal records; I do not vouch for the absolute veracity of the numbers).

In addition to the summary stats below, you can now track the records of every single team that has made the 64-team field since 1985. You can see year-by-year seedings for each team and year-by-year wins. Plus, teams are ranked by various criteria such as total wins, sweet sixteens, final fours, high seeds, etc.  Check it out at the Tournament Teams Page.

The stats have been compiled since 1985, the year the tournament went to 64 teams: 33 years total (through 2017). For each of the pairings in the first four rounds there are 132 results (4 regions/year  x 33 years = 132). For the final game there are 64 results (2 teams x 32 years); of course, there have been 32 champions (as of the end of the 2016 tournament).
 

First round results since 1985. 128 games total (1 in each region x 4 regions/year x 33 years). The final column is % won and record predicted by a simple model explained below.
Seed Pairing
Record of favorite
% won by favorite
(actual)
Predicted favorite win %
(and predicted record)
1 vs. 16
132-0 
100.0 
94.1 (124-8) 
2 vs. 15 
124-8
93.9
88.2 (116-16) 
3 vs. 14 
111-21
84.1
82.4 (109-23)
4 vs. 13 
106-26
80.3
76.5 (101-31)
5 vs. 12 
85-47
64.4
70.6 (93-39)
6 vs. 11 
83-49
62.9
64.7 (85-47)
7 vs. 10
80-52
60.6
58.8 (78-54)
8 vs. 9 
67-65
50.8
52.9 (70-62)

Listed in the first table above is the frequency of wins by favorites (higher seeds) over the 132 first-round games between each pairing over the last 33 years.  The hardest games to pick are the first round upsets. How hard? For reference, in the right column is a predicted winning % and record over the 132 games by the higher seed based on a very crude model. The model works as follows: Notice that all seed match-ups add up to 17 (1 vs. 16, 8 vs. 9). Assume that the seed is an indication of how many times out of 17 that seed would be expected to lose. So, a #8 seed would be expected to lose 8 times (and win 9 times) every 17 games.

Remarkably, this simple model works amazingly well, outside of a couple exceptions. First, a #1 seed has never lost, though the model predicts 8 such losses since 1985; the number of #2 seed losses is also overestimated (16, double the actual 8). Until recently, the largest deviation from expected has occurred for the #8 vs. #9 match-up, where the underdog #9 seed actually won more total games through most of the history, until 2015; since then, the #8 seeds have faired better, winning 7 out of 8 in 2016 and 2017. However, actual results for seeds #3 through #7 are quite close to the statistically predicted results - within ~2-3% (2 or 3 games over 132 games for each seed pairing). Recently, there has been a skew in the 5 vs. 12 games, especially after 2013 and 2014 when three #12 seeds won each. A 4-0 run by #5s in 2015 brought things more in line, though #5 seeds still under-perform. However, overall the model only errs substantially for the most mismatched teams! One question might be, is this a statistical fluke that just comes out of a few years?  Perhaps, but I've updated this for many years now and the percentages haven't changed much from year to year.

Why does the model break down for the 1-16 and 2-15 match-ups? In terms of the mismatches, the worst 6-8 teams (#15, #16 seeds) are all automatic bids from very weak conferences; these teams are usually not anywhere near the top 57-64 teams (often their rated in the 100s); so there is much more of a mismatch than the seeds indicate. Why have the 8-9 and 5-12 match-ups been off? I have no idea! (It could be that committee simply mis-seeds the teams).

So, now you have the necessary information to decide which seeds are most likely to get upset. Of course, knowing that it's likely that at least one #5 seed will lose to a #12 seed this year doesn't help one determine which one of the #5 seeds will be the one to get upset!

Now, what about the second round? See below:

Number of seeds to win 2nd round games 
(i.e. to make the Sweet 16). The avg. frequency indicates, on average, how many teams of each seed (4 total) make it to the Sweet 16 each year.
Seed
# of occurrences
(of 132 possible)
%
Avg. Frequency per year
(max. 4 times per year)
1
114
86.4
3.45
2
83
62.9
2.52
3
68
51.5
2.06
4
63
47.7
1.91
5
43
32.6
1.30
6
42
31.8
1.27
7
24
18.2
0.73
8
13
9.8
0.39
9
5
3.8
0.15
10
23
17.4
0.70
11
20
15.2
0.61
12
20
15.2
0.61
13
6
4.5
0.18
14
2
1.5
0.06
15
1
0.8
0.03
16
0
0.0
0.00

Looking at the 2nd round winners (those making the Sweet 16), more intriguing things show up. While a #9 seed beats a #8 seed more often than not in the first round, don't pick a #9 to make the Sweet 16. #8 seeds are far more successful in the 2nd round (in absolute numbers even though they get to the 2nd round less frequently than #9 seeds). In fact, getting a #9 seed, while giving a team a chance to win one game, is a virtual guarantee that the team will be gone by the end of the first weekend. You're better off picking a #11, #12, or even a #13 seed to make the Sweet 16.

How does one explain this? A #9 seed, having just won a very tough first round game, faces a nearly impossible task of playing a #1 seed with only one day to practice for them. Lower seeds face an easier 2nd round opponent and have momentum and perhaps a psychological advantage (the Cinderella effect) on their side. Often, there may be multiple upsets, so that a #12 seed actually becomes a favorite against #13. In fact, once the #12 seed wins their first round game, close to 50% of the time (20 out of 46 through 2016) they've won their next game and gone to the Sweet 16. Picking a #15 or #16 is generally throwing money away, but in 2013 Florida-Gulf Coast became the first #15 to make the Sweet Sixteen. And now, the third round and beyond:
 

Number of seeds to win 3rd round games 
(i.e., to make the Final 8)
Seed
# of occurrences
(of 132 possible)
%
Avg. Frequency per year
(max. 4 times per year)
1
91
68.9
2.76
2
60
45.5
1.82
3
33
25.0
1.00
4
22
16.7
0.67
5
5
3.8
0.15
6
14
10.6
0.42
7
10
7.6
0.30
8
8
6.1
0.24
9
2
1.5
0.06
10
8
6.1
0.24
11
6
4.5
0.18
12
1
0.8
0.03

 
Number of seeds to make it to the Final Four and beyond 
(to date no seed lower than 11th has made it this far)
Seed
Reach Final Four
(132 total)
Reach Final Two
(66 total)
Win Championship
(33 total)
1
54
32
20
2
28
13
5
3
15
9
4
4
13
3
1
5
6
3
0
6
3
2
1
7
3
1
1
8
5
3
1
9
1
0
0
10
1
0
0
11
3
0
0

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