Nothing makes casual NCAA bracket pool players — and perhaps even sharps — pause more than when they look at the No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed matchup in each of the four March Madness regions.
And there is good reason for that.
Since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams, the record for the 8 and 9 seeds is split as cleanly as Zion Williamson’s Nike: they are an even 68-68 against one another.
Who usually gets placed in the 8 vs. 9 game?
The 32 Division I conferences all receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which are awarded to the winners of the postseason conference tournaments.
After that, the selection committee picks 36 teams for at-large bids. These are teams that are not automatic qualifiers but that the committee believes possess the skill and pedigree to be worthy of an invitation.
Because most of the higher seeds go to automatic qualifiers of major conferences, and many of the lower seeds go to automatic qualifiers of lower-tier conferences, the middle-of-the-road 8-9 seeds often go to at-large teams from major conferences. Often times, 8-9 seeds are bubble teams that end up receiving a bid.
What happened last year?
Last year, No. 9 seeds went 3-1 against No. 8 seeds: Alabama beat Virginia Tech 86-83; Kansas State defeated Creighton 69-59; and Florida State topped Missouri 67-54. The only No. 8 seed to win in the first round in 2018 was Seton Hall, which beat North Carolina State, 94-83. Seton Hall was eliminated in the second round, making it a short tournament for No. 8 seeds.
No. 9 seeds were not only 3-1 straight up last year, but they were also 3-1 against the spread.
March Madness 8 vs. 9 matchups this year
Check back on Selection Sunday (March 15) when we’ll break down each of the 8 vs. 9 matchups on the 2020 bracket.
History and trends since 2000
We mentioned earlier that these matchups are even since 1985. However, since 2000, No. 8 seeds are 44-32 against No. 9 seeds in the first round. The average margin of victory in those 76 games since 2000 is 8.63 points. About 60 percent of the 8-9 games have been decided by single digits.
One of the biggest blowouts in 8/9 games came in 2014. One year after being knocked out by a No. 9 seed, Pitt stormed back in 2014 as a No. 9 seed itself to hand No. 8 Colorado the biggest upset between 9s and 8s, blowing out the Buffaloes, 77-48.
Perhaps the most memorable buzzer beater in recent memory in an 8-9 game came in 2011, when No. 8 Butler edged No. 9 Old Dominion on Matt Howard’s layup at the buzzer. Butler advanced all the way to the championship game that year, but lost to UConn 53-41 in the final.
The 2014 Kentucky Wildcats advanced to the championship game as an 8 seed in 2014, but just scraped by to defeat No. 9 Kansas State 56-49 in the first round.
Kentucky is tied with BYU for the most appearances as an 8 seed and has a 3-1 record compared with the Cougars’ 0-4 record.
In 2015, No. 8 N.C. State took down top-seeded Villanova 71-68 in the second round, before falling to 4-seed Louisville in the Sweet 16.
It is rare for all four 8 seeds to sweep the 9 seeds and it has happened only three times since 1985, including the 2015 tournament field of N.C. State, Cincinnati, Oregon and San Diego State. Since 2000, No. 8 seeds have gone 18-10-1 against the spread as underdogs.
Success of 8 and 9 seeds
In the history of the NCAA Tournament, seven No. 8 seeds have advanced to the Final Four, including a record two in 2000 (North Carolina and Wisconsin). Neither of those teams advanced to the title game. Three No. 8 seeds have reached the national championship game, including Villanova in 1985, Butler in 2011, and Kentucky in 2014.
Villanova is the only No. 8 seed to ever win a national title, upsetting Georgetown 69-64 in 1985. The Wildcats won the first tournament that expanded to 64 teams, and nearly a quarter-century later, they remain the lowest seed to ever claim the national championship. Villanova barely beat No. 9 Dayton in the first round that year, 51-49.
Only two No. 9 seeds have ever reached the Final Four — Pennsylvania in 1979 and Wichita State in 2013 — and none have advanced to the championship game. The Shockers beat No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Ohio State in their 2013 run before falling to Louisville, the eventual national champion, in the Final Four.