Bracketology: NCAA Tournament Odds by Seed

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Earning a top seed in the NCAA Tournament is a huge advantage.  In fact, number one seeds are almost 4 times more likely to win the championship than the next-best seed.  Going back to the start of the modern bracket era, we have used the results of each round in the tournament so far to calculate the odds of each seed making it to each round.

This should be of good use when filling out your bracket.  Below you will find the probabilities for each seed to advance to that round based on historical win percentages.  So, 85% of number three seeds make it to the second round, but just over 11% make the Final Four, or about one every 2 years.

The final column is tabled “True Odds”.  These would be the fair odds for each seed to win the NCAA Tournament based on historical results.  In other words, these are the implied probabilities that one of the four teams at that seed wins the National Championship. There are many other factors that go into making truly expert bracket picks, but this is a good place to start, especially to guide you through later rounds.

Odds to Advance to Each Round of the Tourney by Bracket Seed

Seed 2nd Round Sweet 16 Elite 8 Final Four Champ Game Win Champ True Odds
1 99.3% 85.3% 69.1% 41.2% 24.3% 15.4% 61.8%
2 94.1% 62.5% 45.6% 20.6% 9.6% 3.7% 14.7%
3 84.6% 51.5% 25.0% 11.8% 7.4% 2.9% 11.8%
4 79.4% 47.1% 15.4% 9.6% 2.2% 0.7% 2.9%
5 65.4% 33.8% 5.9% 4.4% 2.2% 0.0% 0.0%
6 63.2% 30.9% 10.3% 2.2% 1.5% 0.7% 2.9%
7 61.8% 19.9% 7.4% 2.2% 0.7% 0.7% 2.9%
8 50.0% 9.6% 5.9% 3.7% 2.2% 0.7% 2.9%
9 50.0% 5.1% 2.9% 0.7% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
10 38.2% 16.9% 5.9% 0.7% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
11 36.8% 16.2% 5.9% 2.9% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
12 34.6% 14.7% 0.7% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
13 20.6% 4.4% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
14 15.4% 1.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
15 5.9% 0.7% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
16 0.7% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

Tournament Win/Loss Statistics by Seeding

While those numbers give us a broad look at the probabilities for teams at different positions in the tournament, it may also help to know the exact results for each seed.  You’ll find the records and win percentages in every bracket since 1985 in the tables below.  These differ from the table above in that they show how each team does in each round once they have reached it.

First Round

The opening slate is unsurprisingly the most predictable.  At seeds 1-4 we can advance teams in our bracket without much worry of an upset.  The only real surprise is that 12 seeds perform as well against 5 seeds as 11s do against 6 seeds.  Last year marked the first time in history a #1 upset a #16, kudos to you if you picked UMBC over Virginia! The odds are this won’t happen again for a long time. You are better off assuming all #1 seeds are going to advance past this round.

Seed Wins Losses Win %
1 135 1 99%
2 128 8 94%
3 115 21 85%
4 108 28 79%
5 89 47 65%
6 86 50 63%
7 84 52 62%
8 68 68 50%
9 68 68 50%
10 52 84 38%
11 50 86 37%
12 47 89 35%
13 28 108 21%
14 21 115 15%
15 8 128 6%
16 1 135 1%

Second Round

The second round is where you start to find a lot of variation versus what you would expect based strictly on seeding.  Number nine seeds have been terrible in their second game, while ten seeds win their second round games over 40% of the time.  Top ranked teams at this point in the tournament are still a safe bet with a #1 being upset only once every 3-4 years.

Seed Wins Losses Win %
1 116 19 86%
2 85 43 66%
3 70 45 61%
4 64 44 59%
5 46 43 52%
6 42 43 49%
7 27 57 32%
8 13 55 19%
9 7 61 10%
10 23 29 44%
11 22 29 43%
12 20 27 43%
13 6 22 21%
14 2 19 10%
15 1 7 13%
16 0 1 0%

Sweet 16

The Sweet 16 is where the better ranked teams really start to settle in.  If you are a 1-3 seed that has made it this far, chances are you are going to advance. One interesting note here is that 8 seeds that have made it this far are more likely to advance than 3-7 seed. The trick, of course, is picking which 8 seed is going to advance. A #8 has been in this situation in just 40% of the brackets in the last 34 years.

Seed Wins Losses Win %
1 94 22 81%
2 62 23 73%
3 34 36 49%
4 21 43 33%
5 8 38 17%
6 14 28 33%
7 10 17 37%
8 8 5 62%
9 4 3 57%
10 8 15 35%
11 8 14 36%
12 1 19 5%
13 0 6 0%
14 0 2 0%
15 0 1 0%
16 0 0 0%

Elite 8

This round appears to be the biggest equalizer.  Teams who reach this point in the tournament are obviously talented and have either had an easy bracket thus far or have overcome some obstacles.  This makes the Elite 8 ripe for upsets.

Seed Wins Losses Win %
1 56 38 60%
2 28 34 45%
3 16 18 47%
4 13 8 62%
5 6 2 75%
6 3 11 21%
7 3 7 30%
8 5 3 63%
9 1 3 25%
10 1 7 13%
11 4 4 50%
12 0 1 0%
13 0 0 0%
14 0 0 0%
15 0 0 0%
16 0 0 0%

Final Four

Similar to the Elite 8, teams who make it this far, regardless of seed, are going to be a tough out.  All this means is that if you select a non-number-one to make the Final Four, you shouldn’t feel obligated to pick them to lose at this point.

Seed Wins Losses Win %
1 33 23 59%
2 13 15 46%
3 10 6 63%
4 3 10 23%
5 3 3 50%
6 2 1 67%
7 1 2 33%
8 3 2 60%
9 0 1 0%
10 0 1 0%
11 0 4 0%
12 0 0 0%
13 0 0 0%
14 0 0 0%
15 0 0 0%
16 0 0 0%

Championship Game

No surprise here that #1s win the Championship more often than any other, especially considering seven championship games have featured two number one teams.  No team seeded higher than 8th has reached the title game as of yet, but at some point one would have to assume a 9 or 10 can break through.

Seed Wins Losses Win %
1 21 12 64%
2 5 8 38%
3 4 6 40%
4 1 2 33%
5 0 3 0%
6 1 1 50%
7 1 0 100%
8 1 2 33%
9 0 0 0%
10 0 0 0%
11 0 0 0%
12 0 0 0%
13 0 0 0%
14 0 0 0%
15 0 0 0%
16 0 0 0%

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