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NCAA Tournament 2017: How successful are 1-seeds in the tournament?

The numbers stack up well for teams on the top line.

NCAA Basketball: Brigham Young at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few days, a lot of column inches and twitter rants have been dedicated to the appropriate seeding for the nation’s top basketball teams. With the official bracket finally unveiled, the committee has spoken and all of our opinions on the matter are now moot.

Now that Gonzaga—along with Villanova, Kansas, and North Carolina—has officially landed on the top line, let’s see how well similarly seeded teams have done since the tournament expanded to a 64-team format in 1985.

Overall tournament record of No. 1 seeds

Opponent Seed Record Percentage
Opponent Seed Record Percentage
#1 21-21 50%
#2 38-34 52.80%
#3 20-13 60.60%
#4 48-22 68.60%
#5 42-8 84%
#6 11-5 68.80%
#7 5-1 83.30%
#8 66-16 80.50%
#9 66-7 90.40%
#10 6-1 85.70%
#11 3-3 50%
#12 19-0 100%
#13 4-0 100%
#14 0-0 --
#15 0-0 --
#16 128-0 100%

The No. 1 seeds, as you can imagine, have done well for themselves with an overall tournament record of 477-131 (78.5%). If you were also hoping to get a round-by-round breakdown of the success rate of a No. 1 seed, today is your lucky day.

Round by Round Record for #1 Seeds

Round Wins Losses Percentage
Round Wins Losses Percentage
First 128 0 100.0%
Second 111 17 86.7%
Sweet 16 89 22 80.2%
Elite 8 52 37 58.4%
Final Four 23 17 57.5
Championship 15 9 62.5%
1v1 games were not counted

It should come as no surprise that teams bestowed with a 1-seed in the tournament tend to perform fairly well. The odds for a team with a No. 1 seed to win the championship are 14.8%. Those odds are significantly better than any other seed line. For context, 2-seeds come in more than three times less likely to win the tournament at just 4.1% odds.

Obviously, a top seeding does not guarantee the chance to cut down the nets in April. However, keep in mind that seven of the last 10 national champions were 1-seeds in the tournament.

There is not a direct correlation between being a 1-seed and winning the title. But, teams are chosen to be 1-seeds because they have proven over the course of the season to be really, really good at basketball. Thus, there is a direct correlation to being a 1-seed and being really, really good at basketball. Gonzaga is really, really good at basketball and has earned the #1 next to its name. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

You may not find much solace in statistical probability. After all, the Zags account for one of the 17 losses that 1-seeds have suffered in the second round. And, we could argue all day about the relevance of these numbers to Gonzaga’s—or any other team’s—pending tournament run.

I’ll readily admit that match-ups specific to each team, an untimely injury, a blown call or bad bounce are all more impactful to the outcome of any single game than a number on a graphic next to a team’s name. However, the numbers are helpful predictors for how things can unfold in the tournament. And the numbers very much favor the Zags to have as good a chance as just about any other team to make the Final Four.