The anticipation of March Madness is unlike any other postseason in sports. As millions of fans fill out their brackets and prepare to start betting on the biggest tournament of the year, the bookmakers are setting lines on NCAA Tournament games with big favorites in the 2 vs. 15 match-ups.
March Madness 2 vs. 15 matchups
The NCAA revealed the No. 2 vs. No. 15 matchups on Selection Sunday. Here’s a look at what’s in store for 2022, higher seed listed first:
- West: Duke vs. Cal State Fullerton
- East: Kentucky vs. St. Peter’s
- South: Villanova vs. Delaware
- Midwest: Auburn vs. Jacksonville State
Let’s see how the market rates each of these matchups.
Kentucky Vs. St. Peter’s
Kentucky was looking headed for a No. 1 seed before they fell at the hands of Tennessee in the SEC tournament. As it was, though, they finished No. 3 in the KenPom efficiency rankings and still profile as an inner-circle contender.
St. Peter’s had several cracks at tough teams in their non-conference schedule but finished just 3-6. They recovered for a second-place finish in the MAAC and won the conference tournament behind their 34th-ranked defense.
Auburn Vs. Jacksonville State
Auburn ascended to No. 1 overall after a fiery 22-1 start but had a lackluster finish including a loss to Texas A&M in the conference tournament. They still rate out (barely) top 10 according to KenPom but must find their best form again if they hope to make a deep run.
Jacksonville State won the Atlantic Sun regular season title but fell to Jacksonville in the conference tournament. Things broke fortunately for them as ineligible Bellarmine won what would have been the automatic bid, meaning the bid fell to the regular season champs.
Villanova Vs. Delaware
Jay Wright’s Villanova squads have been among the best performers in the tournament recently, with two titles since 2016. They did not perform well outside of the Big East, losing to arguably their three toughest opponents, though they did beat Tennessee. They recovered to win the conference tournament.
Delaware did not have a particularly inspiring season finishing five games out of first place in the CAA. But, they snagged the automatic bid in somewhat unlikely fashion and now get to face one of the nation’s premier programs.
Duke Vs. Cal State Fullerton
Duke has played out perhaps the highest-profile season in the nation on Coach K’s farewell tour. They posted two of the strongest non-conference wins, beating Gonzaga and Kentucky, but the ACC was notably down this season and Duke still failed to bring home the tournament title. KenPom has them as the weakest No. 2 seed.
Big West champs Cal State Fullerton will try to end Coach K’s run in ignominious fashion. The Blue Devils have dropped one of these games before (see below). Everyone will be tuned in to see if it happens again.
Bracket and odds
Check back here for a March Madness bracket soon after Selection Sunday. We will provide betting odds for each game that has been set.
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.
2 vs. 15: Results from recent tournaments
Last year’s tournament provided upsets galore, but none were more shocking than 15 seed Oral Roberts knocking off 2 seed Ohio State in the first round. Here is a look at all of the 2 seed versus 15 seed final scores from 12 months ago.
- 2 Iowa 86, 15 Grand Canyon 74
- 2 Alabama 68, 15 Iona 55
- 15 Oral Roberts 75, 2 Ohio State 72
- 2 Houston 87, 15 Cleveland State 56
Houston was the most successful of last year’s 2 seeds, 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.
How many times has a 2 seed upset a 15 seed?
No. 2 seeds are 135-9 versus No. 15 seeds since 1985. Since 2000, those big favorites and No. 2 seeds are 78-6.
Nine 15 seeds have upset 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, which means 15 seeds have an 9-135 all-time record 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.
Success of 2 and 15 seeds
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985, there have been just nine 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 match-up. 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.