The biggest upset possible in March Madness is a 16 taking down a 1 seed. It was once thought to be impossible, until UMBC (University of Maryland – Baltimore County) stunned the world by upsetting the Virginia Cavaliers in 2018. Here we will look at 1 vs 16 seed history in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and look at the 1 versus 16 seed matchups for the 2023 college basketball tournament.
As millions of fans fill out their March Madness bracket and prepare to start betting on the biggest tournament of the year, bookmakers are setting lines on NCAA Tournament games with biggest point spreads in the 1 vs 16 matchups.
1 vs 16
Here are the 1 vs. 16 seed matchups for the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament along with the spreads for each game.
Alabama vs Texas A&M-Corpus Christi
Alabama, the No. 1 seed in the South Region, opened as a -24 favorite over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. They didn’t cover, but the Tide did roll pretty easily, 96-75.
Kansas vs Howard
The defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks opened as -21.5 favorite over Howard. After a tightly contested first half, the Jayhawks pulled away early in the second en route to a 96-68 win and cover.
Houston vs Northern Kentucky
Houston opened as -20.5 favorite over Northern Kentucky. They actually struggled quite a bit, laboring to a 63-52 win and never looking like they’d come close to a cover.
Purdue vs. FDU
Big Ten champion Purdue opened as a -22.5 favorite over Fairleigh Dickinson, winner of the First Four game against Texas Southern. The over/under opened at 145.5.
Bracket and odds
March Madness odds and the 2023 bracket was posted on Selection Sunday. Below is an interactive bracket with odds for each game, including the 1 vs 16 games.
1 vs 16 seed history
There was little drama when it came to 1 vs. 16 seed games last year as all 1 seeds prevailed by comfortable margins. Here is a look at those scores:
- 1 seed – Gonzaga 93, 16 seed – Georgia State 72
- 1 seed – Baylor 85, 16 seed – Norfolk State 49
- 1 seed – Arizona 87, 16 seed – Wright State 70
- 1 seed – Kansas 83, 16 seed – Texas Southern 56
Here are what 1 vs 16 spreads looked like last year.
- Gonzaga -22.5 vs Georgia State +22.5
- Baylor -20.5 vs Norfolk State +20.5
- Arizona -21.5 vs Wright State +21.5
- Kansas -22.5 vs. Texas Southern +22.5
Number 1 seeds went 4-0 straight up last year but 2-2 Against The Spread. Baylor was a 20.5 favorite against Norfolk State and covered with ease as it won by 36 points. Arizona and Wright State was the closest 1 vs 16 seed matchup last year as the Wildcats won by “only” 17 points.
NCAA basketball tournament 1 seeds are 147-1 versus No. 16 seeds since 1985.
Since 2000, those big favorites and No. 1 seeds are 87-1 SU. The history of the 1 vs 16 matchup finally had a stunning finish and result in 2018 when UMBC became the first 16 seed ever to upset a No. 1 seed.
Very few fans knew what UMBC stood for or the team’s name or conference. But the University of Maryland, Baltimore County from the American East conference were the talk of the sports world after the Retrievers upset the ACC champs and top seed Virginia, 74-54. UMBC had been a 20.5 point underdog. The Retrievers finished the season 25-11 after losing in the next round to Kansas State, while Virginia finished 31-3.
The 1 vs 16 match-ups are often blowouts with large spreads. Eight times since 2000 has a No. 16 seed stayed within 10 points of a No. 1 seed. Most recently, Syracuse held off UNC Asheville 72-65 in 2012, and in 2013 Kansas avoided the upset in a 64-57 win over Western Kentucky. In 2014, Arizona won by nine points over Weber State, 68-59.
Going back further for the other closest games – Michigan State beat Murray State 75-71 in 1991, and in 1996 – Purdue edged Western Carolina, 73-71. That was the last time a No. 1 versus 16 seed game had been decided by one possession – according to NCAA.com.
Success of 1 vs. 16 seeds
While UMBC is the only 16 seed to pull the historic upset, two other teams suffered 1-point losses to a top seed. They both happened in 1989. In the classic David versus Goliath, Princeton slowed down the game and used its smarts and motion offense to take Georgetown to the wire before falling 50-49. Then top seed Oklahoma stormed back from a 17 point deficit to avoid history and outlast East Tennessee State (ETSU), 72-71.
One year after losing as a top seed in the opening round, Virginia returned as a No. 1 seed again and won the school’s first national championship in 2019. The Cavaliers were the third straight No. 1 seed to cut down the nets and win the NCAA Tournament. Villanova swept through the 2018 tournament to win each game by double digits and reward bettors by going 6-0 ATS. North Carolina cut down the nets in winning the 2017 tournament.
Since 1979, North Carolina (17), Kansas (15), Duke (14), and Kentucky (12) have been a No. 1 seed the most times. A No. 1 seed has won the NCAA Tournament 24 times since 1985, and those teams have reached the Final Four 59 times.
Only once have all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four, and that was in 2008 when Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA all advanced to the national semifinals. There have been eight National Championship games pitting a 1 seed versus a 1 seed since 1985, including the Baylor versus Gonzaga showdown two years ago.
Who usually gets placed in the 1 vs. 16 game?
The NCAA committee selects NCAA Tournament teams based on a number of criteria, and the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) was added prior to the 2019 tournament. The NET relies on game results, strength of schedule, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, game location and the quality of wins and losses in determining NCAA Tournament teams and seedings.
The No. 16 seed teams don’t have the strength of schedule or quality wins over top teams, or what the committee considers Quadrant 1 wins. But those teams also don’t get the opportunity to schedule major conference teams during the regular season. The imbalance from athletic budgets, size, strength and skills of the players is wider overall compared to the major conference players and teams. Sixteen seeds are often winners of lower-tier conference tournaments.
The No. 1 seeds, meanwhile, are the dominant teams who won their conference and are most often from the Power-6 conferences. Gonzaga was an outlier last year as the Bulldogs have been an annual power out of the smaller West Coast Conference. They secured their fourth No. 1 seed in school history. Gonzaga was also set to be a No. 1 seed in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic caused the shutdown of that year’s tourney.
One seeds are typically ranked in the top 5 of the final Associated Press Poll. They possess the strongest stat profiles and have proven to be the best teams. The No. 16 seeds are from small conferences that won their conference tournament and secured the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Some of these weaker teams failed to win their regular season title, but got through their conference tournament to advance to the Big Dance.