March Madness: The History Of The 1 vs. 16 Matchup

March Madness: The History Of The 1 vs. 16 Matchup

September 28, 2020

It took 33 years for it to happen, but it finally did in 2018.

Last year, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), made history when it became the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed, shocking Virginia and the entire sports world when it clobbered the Musketeers 74-54.

But does that mean we are entering a new era of increasing parity in college basketball in which a No. 16 seed team beating a No. 1 seed will become more common in March Madness?

Probably not, but the No. 16 seed teams are certainly closing the gap.

16 seeds don’t usually win, or do well

Apart from the Retrievers’ stunning upset, close calls in the Nos. 1 versus 16 matchups have been few and far between in the past dozen years.

Just eight times since 2001 has a No. 16 seed has stayed within 10 points of a No. 1 seed, according to OddsShark.com. But seven of those times happened in the last seven years.

The 32 Division I conferences all receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which is awarded to the winners of the postseason conference tournaments.

The majority of No. 16 seeds are winners of lower-tier conference tournaments, such as UMBC in 2018, which was champion of the America East Conference.

No. 1 seeds are, at least according to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, the four best teams in the 68-team NCAA Tournament. Except for Gonzaga, they are almost always from major conferences.

What happened last year in the NCAA Tournament?

Last year, aside from UMBC’s historic win, No. 1 seeds had little problems with No. 16 seeds. Villanova beat Radford 87-61, Kansas defeated Penn 76-60 and Xavier took down Texas Southern, 102-83.

Xavier failed to cover the spread and Virginia, as we all remember, lost outright. Xavier became just the 19th No. 1 seed to lose in the round of 32, falling to No. 9 seed Florida State, 75-70.

History since 2000 of 1 vs. 16 in March Madness

Since 2000, No. 1 seeds are 75-1 against No. 16 teams in the round of 64. The average margin of victory in those games is 25 points.

While these games are typically blowouts with large spreads, backing the lower seed has been tricky lately. Since 2014, No. 16 seeds covered the consenus spread nine times in 20 games in terms of betting on March Madness. In 2014, No. 16 seeds covered the spread in three of the four games.

Syracuse in 2012 and Kansas in 2013 survived tough battles from No. 16 seeds. Syracuse beat UNC Asheville 72-65 and Kansas took down Western Kentucky 64-57.

Before Virginia’s loss last year, the closest a top seed had come to getting upset by a 16 was in 1989 — in two games — when Georgetown barely hung on to beat back-cutting Princeton 50-49 and Oklahoma came from behind to beat East Tennessee State 72-71.

In 1991, Michigan State beat Murray State 75-71, and in 1996, Purdue edged Western Carolina, 73-71. That was the last time a Nos. 1 versus 16 seeds game had been decided by one possession, according to NCAA.com.

Top seeds own a 135-1 all-time record against No. 16 seeds.

The highest-scoring matchup took place in 1987, with North Carolina’s 113-82 win over Penn.

The lowest point total in a Nos. 1 versus 16 seeds matchup is 99 points, which has occurred twice — Georgetown’s 50-49 win over Princeton in 1989, and UCLA’s 70-29 win over Mississippi Valley State in 2008.

The widest margin of victory in the matchup was in 1998 when Kansas dominated Prairie View A&M, 110-52.

The success of 1 and 16 seeds in NCAA Tourney

No. 1 seeds in March Madness have won 22 national championships since 1985. Over the past 14 years, top seeds have won nine NCAA titles.

Last season, top seeds Villanova and Kansas played each other in the Final Four, and Villanova went on to defeat Michigan for the national championship. Only seven title games since 1985 have been a No. 1 versus No. 1.

No. 1 seeds have made 56 Final Four appearances since 1985. But all four No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four just once. That was in 2008 when Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA all advanced to the national semifinals.

According to NCAA.com, three No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four 11.76 percent of the time, two top seeds have made it at a 38.24 percent rate, one top seed has made it 41.18 percent of the time, and zero No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four at just a 5.88 percent clip.