How Far Can The Lower Seeds Go This Year?

  • Eric Goldschein

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If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re not about to become a billionaire. There were some major upsets on the first day of the NCAA Tournament, most notably Dayton (11) over THE Ohio State (6), Harvard (12) over Cincinnati (5) and North Dakota State (12) over Oklahoma (5). Pitt also technically upset Colorado, but they were a favorite going into the game and 8/9 seed games don’t really count.

We’ve got plenty more second-round basketball today, so a few more brackets are likely to be busted. But how successful will these low seeds be in moving past the Round of 32? A “second round” upset is nice, but it won’t mean much if you still go home after the first weekend.

Let’s look at some numbers on the history of 12-seeds, via Boston Magazine:

12 seeds that have advanced to the Round of 32 have beaten the winner of the “4-13” matchup more than 45 percent of the time (20-44). However, 12 seeds are 8-3 when playing against the 13 seed, but Harvard received no such luck as 4th-seeded Michigan State defeated 13th-seeded Delaware…

Unsurprisingly, 12 seeds have had far less success against four seeds, pulling off the upset 36 percent (12-33) of the time…

Beyond the Sweet 16, however, things appear especially bleak, as 12 seeds are 1-20 against all other seeds (and 0-19 against one seeds) with Missouri the lone 12 seed to advance to the Elite Eight more than a decade ago.

So wins by lower seeds are, more often than not, flashes in the pan. Even if they get past the first week of play, their chances of making a deep run are slim.

But past results tell us little about this year’s teams. Here are the win probabilities for each of the lower seeds to get past their next matchup into the Sweet 16, according to KenPom:

Dayton (v. Syracuse) — 28 percent
North Dakota State (v. San Diego State) — 34 percent (for what it’s worth, Doug Gottlieb said NDSU is a “bad matchup” for SDSU on-air last night.)
Harvard (v. Michigan State) — 36 percent (for what it’s worth, this number is probably exaggerated because of MSU’s in-season injuries, and the true odds are somewhere in the 27 percent range)

We’ll add other lower seeds to this list if/when it expands. But for now, you’ll have to keep crossing your fingers and hoping your alma mater/weird random upset choice/faux-brainy contrarian pick can pull the upset. The odds are against them.

Photo via Getty