The NCAA Tournament is easily one of the biggest events on the sports calendar every year…well, minus 2020 anyway when March Madness was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For a span of about three weeks from mid-March to early April, the top teams in the country battle it out for the right to be called national champions in a single-elimination tourney that over the years has provided some of the greatest moments in college basketball history. And also some of the greatest upsets.
Now, while it obviously can’t be fun for those teams who get upset, watching some of the top seeds get knocked out of the NCAA Tournament is easily one of the most entertaining aspects of March Madness, isn’t it? Unless it’s the team you’re rooting for, of course.
But while those upsets from lower-seeded teams in the early rounds are great to watch, it’s obviously still better to be a higher seed as no team seeded lower than eighth has ever won a national championship. Sure, a select few have appeared in the Final Four, but no double-digit seed has ever emerged victorious in one of those games.
So just how far has every seed in the NCAA Tournament advanced?
Seeding didn’t begin in the NCAA Tournament until 1978
Before we get into how each specific seed has fared in the NCAA Tournament, it’s important to note that seeding wasn’t even a thing for the first four decades.
Seeding didn’t begin until 1978, and that was a flawed format as the 32 teams in that tournament were seeded differently. Sixteen conference winners were given the top four seeds in each region, while five other conference winners and the 11 “at-large” teams were seeded 1-4 in each region separately. For example, the eventual national champion Kentucky Wildcats were given the 2Q (automatic qualifier) seed in the Mideast Regional, and their first-round opponent, the Florida State Seminoles, had the 4L (“at-large”) seed.
Confusing, right? Luckily, this format was only used for one year, and the 40 teams in the 1979 NCAA Tournament were seeded 1-10 in each region. And it’s this ’79 tourney where we’ll start our process of tracking just how far each seed has advanced.
It should be noted that seeds 13-16 didn’t become a thing until the 1985 tourney when the tournament expanded to 64 teams. The 11 and 12 seeds were first used in 1980.
(Stats are current through the 2022 NCAA Tournament.)
All but one seed from 1-8 has won the NCAA Tournament
Let’s first take a look at seeds No. 1 through No. 8, all but one of which has won at least one NCAA Tournament title.
No. 1: Of the 43 tourneys played since real seeding began in 1979, a No. 1 seed has cut down the nets 26 times, the last being Kansas in 2022.
No. 2: Second-seeded teams have reached the national title game on 17 occasions, but less than half (seven) have won it. The most recent No. 2 seed to win the title was Villanova in 2016.
No. 3: Teams with a No. 3 seed have reached the national title game 11 times and have a 5-6 overall record. UConn was the last team to win as a No. 3 in 2011.
No. 4: Just three fourth-seeded teams have reached the NCAA Tournament final, and only the 1997 Arizona Wildcats won it.
No. 5: The No. 5 seed is the only one in the top eight never to have won a championship, and just three fifth-seeded squads have ever reached the national title game, the last being the Butler Bulldogs in 2010.
No. 6: Just three sixth-seeded teams have appeared in the national title game, but two of those won it, those being Jim Valvano’s 1983 NC State Wolfpack and the 1988 Kansas Jayhawks.
No. 7: Only one No. 7 seed has taken part in the NCAA Championship, and those 2014 UConn Huskies won the title by beating eighth-seeded Kentucky.
No. 8: Those 2014 Kentucky Wildcats were one of five No. 8 seeds to appear in the national final, only one of which walked away with a championship, that, of course, being the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, who remain the lowest seed ever to win the NCAA Tournament. The North Carolina Tar Heels were the most recent No. 8 to reach the title game in 2022.
Just eight teams seeded 9-16 have reached the Final Four
And here’s a look at how seeds 9-16 have fared in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 9: A ninth-seeded team has reached the Final Four twice. Penn was the first to do it in 1979, and Wichita State was the last in 2013.
No. 10: Just one No. 10 seed has gotten as far as the Final Four, that being Syracuse in 2016. Jim Boeheim & Co. lost to top-seeded North Carolina in the national semifinal.
No. 11: A total of five No. 11 seeds have reached the Final Four — LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011, Loyola-Chicago in 2018, and UCLA in 2021.
No. 12: The furthest any No. 12 seed has gone in the NCAA Tournament is the Elite Eight, and that’s happened twice. The Missouri Tigers were the first to do it in 2002, and the Oregon State Beavers pulled it off in 2021.
No. 13: While no No. 13 seed has ever gotten as far as the Elite Eight, a total of six 13th-seeded teams have reached the Sweet 16, the most recent being LaSalle in 2013.
No. 14: Only two 14th-seeded teams have reached the Sweet 16, those being Cleveland State in 1986 and Chattanooga in 1997.
No. 15: Just three No. 15 seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16, Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, Oral Roberts in 2021, and St. Peter’s in 2022. And St. Peter’s made it true March Madness, and became the first to advance to the Elite Eight.
No. 16: Since the No. 16 seed became a thing in 1985, just one has knocked off a No. 1 seed in the Round of 64, that being the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, who pummeled top-seeded Virginia in 2018 before losing to Kansas State in the Round of 32.
Stats courtesy of Sports Reference