NCAA Tournament Trends of the Day: Final Four

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NCAA Tournament Trends of the Day: Final Four

Number of No. 1 Seeds

Last year was the first year all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four.

In the last 20 years, a No. 1 seed has made the Final Four every year except 2006.

Only four times in those 20 years have three or more No. 1 seeds made the Final Four: 1993, 1997, 1999, and 2008. That means that in 15 of those 20 years, one or two No. 1 seeds made the Final Four.

Of those 15 instances, nine times did only one No. 1 seed make the Final Four, and six times did two No. 1 seeds make the Final Four.

Which Seeds Make It?

In 14 of 20 years, a No. 2 seed has made the Final Four.

But in only three of those 14 did two No. 2 seeds make it. (Never have three made the Final Four.)

A No. 1 seed and No. 2 seed have made the Final Four together 12 times.

In nine of 20 years, a No. 3 seed made the Final Four.

In three of those nine did two No. 3 seeds make it.

The No. 4 seed has almost an equal shot of making the Final Four as a No. 3 seed. In eight of 20 years, a No. 4 seed made the Final Four, but only once did more than one make it.

In six of 20 years, a seed lower than No. 4 made the Final Four; in 2000, three of the four Final Four teams were lower than No. 4, but in the other five years, only one made it.

Here are the distributions of each seed making the Final Four:  

Seed #/Year Freq.
1 1.70 95%
2 0.85 70%
3 0.60 45%
4 0.45 40%
5 0.20 20%
6 0.05 5%
7 0.00 0%
8 0.10 5%
9 0.00 0%
10 0.00 0%
11 0.05 5%
 

Sum of Seeds

One way to make sure you are not picking too many upsets or too many favorites is to sum up the seed numbers of all the teams predicted to make the Final Four. The lowest total in the past 20 years was four, when all four No. 1 seeds made it last year. The highest was 22, in 2000, when two No. 8 seeds and one No. 5 seed made the Final Four.

In the last 20 years, the average sum has been 9.7, but since 2000 that number rises to 10.7. (But if you take out the two years with a sum of 20 or more, in 2000 and 2006, those two numbers are 8.4 and 7.7, respectively.)

Nine out of 20 years has the sum been seven, eight, or nine. Another two times the sum was 11. No other total has occurred more than once.

Combination of teams

Here are the number of times each combination of seeds has reached the Final Four, looking at the top two, the top three, and all four seeds.  

Seeds #
1, 1 10
1, 2 7
1, 3 1
1, 5 1
2, 3 1
   
1, 1, 1 4
1, 1, 2 4
1, 2, 2 3
1, 2, 3 3
1, 1, 4 2
1, 2, 4 1
1, 3, 4 1
1, 5, 8 1
2, 3, 4 1
   
1, 2, 3, 3 3
1, 1, 1, 4 2
1, 1, 2, 3 2
1, 1, 4, 5 2
1, 2, 2, 3 2
1, 1, 1, 1 1
1, 1, 1, 2 1
1, 1, 2, 2 1
1, 1, 2, 5 1
1, 2, 2, 4 1
1, 2, 4, 6 1
1, 3, 4, 4 1
1, 5, 8, 8 1
2, 3, 4, 11 1

 

In (only) 12 of 20 years did both a No. 1 and No. 2 seed make the Final Four.

In the nine times only one No. 1 seed made the Final Four, a No. 2 seed has made it seven times, and three of those times did two No. 2 seeds make it. In six of those nine, a No. 3 seed made it, and in three of those six did two No. 3 seeds make it.

In the six times only two No. 1 seeds made the Final Four, a No. 2 seed made it, too, four times, and five teams ranked No. 4 or No. 5 made the Final Four (but it only happened twice, since both made it in 1996 and 2005).

In 15 of 20 years, either a No. 3 or No. 4 seed has made the Final Four, but only twice have they both made it.

In the eight years a No. 4 seed made the Final Four, another No. 4 seed or lower also made the Final Four five times.

Summary

Don't pick more than two No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. There's a higher chance of only one making it than only two making it.

Pick only one No. 2 seed.

Pick a No. 3 or No. 4 seed to make the Final Four, but don't pick both to make it.

The optimal Final Four combination should consist of one of the following:

    No. 1, No. 1, No. 2, No. 3;
    No. 1, No. 2, No. 2, No. 3;
    No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 3.

Those three combinations have occurred in seven of the 20 years.

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