There is nothing quite like the thrill that is felt while watching the first round of March Madness. Anticipation has been building all week, and for many teams, it can all come crashing down in one final shot. For the big underdogs, the euphoria of a massive upset transcends the arena. That is certainly the case when it comes to 2 vs 15 seed games. Despite many upsets throughout the tournament, however, bookmakers set huge spreads on March Madness odds for the 2 vs 15 matchups.
2 vs 15 seed
Here are the 2 vs. 15 seed matchups and for the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament along with the spreads for each game.
Arizona vs Princeton
Arizona opened as -13.5 favorite over Ivy League champion Princeton. With a shocking late surge after they were down most of the game, Princeton rallied for a 59-55 upset victory.
Texas vs Colgate
Texas opened as a -13.5 favorite over Colgate. The Longhorns dominated from start to finish with an easy 81-61 win and cover.
UCLA vs UNC Asheville
UCLA opened as a -18.5 favorite over UNC Asheville. Much like Texas, the result both straight up and against the spread was never really in doubt as the Bruins rolled to an 86-53 win.
Marquette vs Vermont
Big East Tournament champion Marquette opened as a -11 favorite over Vermont. They covered with room to spare in a 78-61 win.
Bracket and odds
View our interactive NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket with live odds and more, including the 2 vs. 15 matchups.
2 vs 15 seed history
After No. 15 seed Oral Roberts took down No. 2 Ohio State two years ago, another 15 seed struck in last year’s tournament as St. Peter’s slayed No. 2 Kentucky, 85-79.
- 2 seed – Duke 78, 15 seed – Cal State Fullerton 61
- 15 seed – St. Peter’s 85, 2 seed – Kentucky 79
- 2 seed – Villanova 80, 15 seed – Delaware 60
- 2 seed – Auburn 80, 15 seed – Jacksonville State 61
Here are the 2 vs 15 seed odds from last year’s tournament:
- West: Duke vs. Cal State Fullerton +17
- East: Kentucky vs. St. Peter’s +17.5
- South: Villanova vs. Delaware +17
- Midwest: Auburn vs. Jacksonville State +16.5
Other than St. Peter’s, no other 15 seed covered the spread in 2022, although Cal State Fullerton got a push +17 vs. Duke. Duke eventually reached the Final Four where they lost to 8-seed North Carolina. Villanova also reached the Final Four where they lost to Kansas. Auburn was upset in the Round of 32 by 10-seed Miami.
Houston was the most successful of the 2 seeds in 2021, going all the way to the Final Four where it lost to eventual National Champion Baylor in the semi-finals. Iowa fell to 7-seed Oregon in the second round, Alabama made it to the Sweet 16 but lost to 11-seed UCLA, and Cinderella Oral Roberts also made it to the Sweet 16 but dropped a close one to 3-seed Arkansas.
The coronavirus pandemic caused the shutdown of the 2020 NCAA tournament. The previous two years saw No. 2 seeds go 8-0 SU and 5-3 ATS. That includes 2-2 ATS in 2019 when Kentucky (-20) blew out Abilene Christian 79-44, and fellow SEC member Tennessee (-17.5) held off Colgate, 77-70. Two Big Ten teams won as 2 seeds with Michigan (-15) covering against Montana 74-55, and Michigan State (-17.5) overcoming a halftime deficit and needing a late 9-0 run to put away Bradley, 76-65.
All four No. 2 seeds won in the Round of 32 with Michigan and Michigan State gaining double-digit covering victories. Kentucky and Tennessee won by single digits with the Wildcats 6-point win a narrow cover over upstart Wofford. Tennessee needed overtime to dispatch Iowa, 83-77, but the Volunteers lost in the Sweet 16 to Purdue, 99-94 in an overtime shootout. Michigan was shut down by Texas Tech 63-44 in the Sweet 16.
Michigan State and Kentucky then won to advance to the Elite Eight, and Michigan State made the Final Four with a 68-67 win over No. 1 Duke. Kentucky fell in overtime in the Elite Eight to fellow SEC team Auburn, 77-71.
- No. 2 seeds are 138-10 versus No. 15 seeds since 1985. Since 2000, those big favorites and No. 2 seeds are 81-7.
- Ten 15 seeds have upset 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, which means 15 seeds have a 10-138 record all-time against 2s.
Norfolk State pulled off arguably the second-biggest upset in NCAA tournament history in a 2 vs. 15 match-up in 2012 when they stunned Missouri 86-84 as a 21-point underdog. On that same day, No. 15 Lehigh dumped Duke 75-70 as an 11-point underdog when C.J. McCollum poured in 30 points for the Patriot League champs stunner over Duke.
The following year in 2013, Atlantic Sun conference winner Florida Gulf Coast made history. Florida Gulf Coast beat No. 2 seed Georgetown 78-68 as a 14-point underdog, and then FGC became the first No. 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to make the Sweet Sixteen after knocking off San Diego State 81-71 as a 7.5 point underdog. Florida Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfeld parlayed that success into the head coaching position at USC in the Pac-12, where he still coaches.
In 2016 No. 15 Middle Tennessee State never trailed as a 16-point underdog, and the Blue Raiders recorded the high-scoring upset win over No. 2 Michigan State 90-81.
Ten 2 vs 15 seed upsets in March Madness
2022 was the 10th time in NCAA Tournament history in which a No. 15 seed knocked out a No. 2 seed in the first round. Here are the scores.
|2022||Saint Peter's def. Kentucky||85-79|
|2021||Oral Roberts def. Ohio State||75-72|
|2016||Middle Tennessee def. Michigan State||90-81|
|2013||Florida Gulf Coast def. Georgetown||78-68|
|2012||Norfolk State def. Missouri||86-84|
|2012||Lehigh def. Duke||75-70|
|2001||Hampton def. Iowa State||58-57|
|1997||Coppin State def. South Carolina||78-65|
|1993||Santa Clara def. Arizona||64-61|
|1991||Richmond def. Syracuse||73-69|
Who usually gets placed in the 2 vs. 15 game?
The No. 2 seeds are most often from the major conferences and either won their league title or conference tournament, or finished runner-up. These are top-10 teams in the AP rankings at the end of the season with strong stat profiles and wins over many quality teams. The No. 15 seeds are from small conferences that won their conference tournament and secured the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Most college basketball fans and even many bettors know little about the longshots that makeup the No. 15 seeds. More than 95% of fans filling out brackets will pick the No. 2 seed to win and advance.
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. 15 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 don’t get the opportunity to schedule major conference teams during the regular season. The imbalance from athletic budgets, TV contracts to size, strength and skills of the players is wider overall compared to the major conference players and teams. But there are still many quality teams playing in and winning the small conferences.
Success of 2 and 15 seeds
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985, there have been just ten upsets in the 2 vs. 15 match-ups.
The first No. 15 seed to upset a No. 2 seed was in 1991 when Richmond shocked Syracuse 73-69. The Spiders never trailed in the game. Two years later, Steve Nash and Santa Clara overcame a 13-point second-half deficit to upset Arizona 64-61 in the 2 vs. 15 matchup. The largest margin of victory ever for a No. 15 was Coppin State’s 78-65 win over South Carolina in 1997. Coppin State was an astounding 30-point underdog and pulled off the improbable upset.
Four No. 2 seeds have scored at least 100 points in the 2 vs. 15 match-ups since 1996. In 2017 Arizona rolled to victory over North Dakota 100-82. North Carolina hit the century mark with a 102-87 win over Long Island in 2011. And in 2001 Arizona beat Eastern Illinois 101-76. But UCLA scored the most points ever in the 2 vs. 15 with a 109-75 win over Charleston Southern in 1997.
No 15-seed has ever made the Elite Eight or Final Four. But No. 2 seeds have gone all the way five times as the 1986 Louisville Cardinals, 1991 Duke Blue Devils, 1998 Kentucky Wildcats, 2004 UConn Huskies and 2016 Villanova Wildcats cut down the nets in April. Houston, a 2 seed last year, made it all the way to the Final 4.