It's been two years since we could say this: We have a bracket. And we will have an NCAA tournament in 2021. Now it's time to dig in and go through whatever process you use to pick your March Madness winners.
This column is long enough, so I'll keep the intro short. What is important to point out is this column is not meant to be predictive in any way. I'll leave that to our great ESPN college basketball writers and analysts.
It's supposed to be fun, and hopefully, you will find topics that interest you as you fill out your ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets. Maybe you'll learn a few things along the way too and reminisce a little about tourneys past.
Let's get to it, and as always, I hope you enjoy arguably the best three weeks in sports!
NOTE: All stats referenced are since 1985, unless otherwise noted. Additionally, any historical reference to the "first round" relates to the round of 64, and "second round" to the round of 32. The First Four stands on its own for the purposes of this column to avoid confusion. In addition, all results mentioned do not recognize those that have been since vacated. For example, for the purposes of this column, we consider Louisville the winner of the 2013 national championship game, even though its appearance has been vacated by the NCAA.
Will Gonzaga complete an unbeaten season?
This is the first NCAA tournament without Duke and Kentucky since 1976. That's also the last time we had a team cap off a perfect season with a national championship, as Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers finished 32-0. I don't know if members of that team celebrate like players from the 1972 Miami Dolphins -- the last NFL team to go undefeated -- when the final unbeaten team loses each season, but if so, they've had to wait well into March a few times in recent years.
That's the case this year, as Gonzaga -- the No. 1 overall seed -- enters the NCAA tournament 26-0. Since that Indiana team sealed the deal, this is the fifth time a team has entered the tourney without a loss. Obviously, none of the previous four won the title, but three of them made it to the Final Four. Only Larry Bird and his Indiana State Sycamores came up just one win short when they lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in 1979.
Curse of the overall No. 1 seed?
As if Gonzaga doesn't have enough history working against it ... it has been six years since the last time the No. 1 overall seed reached the Final Four and eight years since it won the championship.
In 2019, Duke survived UCF in the second round and Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 before losing to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. In the two prior years, Virginia became the first No. 1 to lose to a 16-seed and Villanova lost in the second round.
In the 16 years the selection committee has announced an overall No. 1 seed, that team has failed to make it past the first weekend more often (four times) than it has won the championship (three times).
Why history says Alabama won't reach the Final Four
If you're looking for a high seed to bounce before we get too deep into the madness, there is some historical data that points in the direction of a particular team: No. 2 seed Alabama.
Let's be clear, this note has nothing to do with Nate Oats or the talented squad he coaches; the Crimson Tide is dangerous and among the most fun-to-watch teams in this year's Big Dance. This is simply about how they were perceived entering the season.
Alabama is the only team in this year's tournament field to be a top-two seed and reside in the top 10 of the AP poll after entering the season unranked.
None of the 32 teams to fit this profile in the modern tournament era have reached the Final Four, and 56% of them didn't survive the first two rounds. Virginia's first-round loss to 16th-seeded UMBC in 2018 came under these circumstances, as the most memorable example.
Specifically, the struggles of No. 2 seeds in this category are quite alarming, as exactly two-thirds of them (14 of 21) didn't make it out of the first weekend.
Last year, Dayton and San Diego State would have met this criteria, but sadly, we'll never know how things would have played out.
Big Ten in uncharted territory
The Big Ten received a pair of No. 1 seeds (Illinois, Michigan) and a pair of No. 2 seeds (Ohio State, Iowa) this year. It is the first time a conference has earned four top-two seeds in a single NCAA tournament. Seven previous times a conference has grabbed three top-two seeds, but the eventual champion came from that conference in only three of those seven instances (all by the ACC).
Defending champions have failed to last long
There hasn't been a repeat champion since Florida in 2006-07. But forget repeating; it's been hard enough for defending champs to win more than a game or two.
Since Florida's repeat 14 years ago, no defending champion has advanced past the Sweet 16. In each of the past three tournaments, they have been eliminated in the second round (No. 6 seed Villanova in 2019, No. 2 seed North Carolina in 2018 and No. 1 seed Villanova in 2017). In fairness to Virginia, it is defending a title it won two years ago, and the top five scorers on that 2019 team are gone. The Cavaliers are a No. 4 seed in the West region this year.
At-large teams with losing conference records
Maryland and Michigan State, both of which were 9-11 in Big Ten play, received at-large bids this year. They were the only two teams with losing conference records to do so. Each year, there is debate about whether these teams deserve to make the field, but for what it's worth, they haven't been automatic one-and-dones.
Of the 45 previous teams with losing conference records to get at-large bids since 1985, more than half (23) won a first-round game. However, only six of them won again to reach the Sweet 16. In the modern era, the only team with a sub-.500 conference mark to advance any further was LSU in 1987, when the Tigers reached the Elite Eight as a 10-seed.
Of the past 20 such teams, Syracuse in 2018 is the only one to win more than one game (the Orange actually won three games to reach the Sweet 16, since they started their journey in the First Four).
Losing your first conference tournament game = no national title
No team has ever won a national championship after losing its first game in the conference tournament. Prior to the last tournament that was held in 2019, a trio of teams that landed No. 3 seeds lost their conference tourney opener (LSU, Texas Tech and Purdue). All three won multiple games in the tournament, and Texas Tech nearly put an end to this trend before falling short in the championship game in overtime against Virginia. This year, West Virginia (3) and Purdue (4) are the only top-four seeds that lost their first conference tournament game.
Don't discount teams that play in the First Four
All good things must come to an end. And in 2019, a fun trend involving the winners from the First Four did just that.
The 2019 tournament marked the first time since the inception of the First Four in 2011 that none of the final four at-large teams to make the tournament field advanced to the round of 32. Belmont looked like it would be the team to keep the streak alive, but the Bruins faltered down the stretch and allowed Maryland to come back to win their first-round matchup by two points in Jacksonville.
In the previous eight years, four First Four participants went on to reach the second round before being eliminated, three more advanced to the Sweet 16, and VCU shocked everyone by going from First Four to Final Four in 2011.
So, while most bracket pools don't count the First Four games, it's still worth paying attention to them. This year's final four at-large teams to make the field were Wichita State, Drake, Michigan State and UCLA.
Expect at least one top-four seed to lose in the first round
Just about every year, at least one top-four seed loses its first game. It's difficult to pick the right one(s), but history says it's very likely to happen. Only once in the past 12 tournaments have the top four seeds in each region survived the first round, and just five times in the past 35 tourneys (1994, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2017).
History of first-round matchups
Below are seed-versus-seed facts for each of the first-round matchups, including recent trends that have developed.
1 vs. 16
Who knows if or when it will happen again, but we'll always have UMBC from 2018.
In 2019, we went back to the No. 1 seeds sweeping the 16s, by an average margin of 22.8 points. That means the No. 1s are 139-1 all time in this matchup and, as you would expect, games haven't been close very often.
In the past five tournaments, all 20 matchups have been decided by 14 points or more (including UMBC's amazing 20-point shocker against Virginia). Dating back to 1998, only four of 88 matchups have been decided by single digits, all of which came in a three-year span (2012-14).
2 vs. 15
Only eight times in history has a No. 15 seed beaten a 2-seed, and three of those wins came in 2012 and 2013. In the six tournaments since, No. 2 seeds are 23-1, with the only upset being Middle Tennessee over Michigan State in 2016. Most games haven't been close, either, as 21 of those 23 wins by No. 2s came by double figures. In 2019, the Tennessee-Colgate game, which the Vols won by 7, was the closest 2/15 game since 2012.
Of the eight No. 15s to win a game, seven finished in the top two in their conference standings. The only exception was Santa Clara in 1993, which finished third in the West Coast Conference.
Among this year's 15-seeds, three of the four finished the regular season in the top two of their conference (including ties), in terms of winning percentage: Grand Canyon and Cleveland State won or shared their regular-season titles, while Iona tied for the second-best win percentage in the MAAC. The only No. 15 seed that didn't is Oral Roberts, which finished fourth in the Summit League.
3 vs. 14
No. 3 seeds have won 85% of meetings with No. 14 seeds and have swept all four matchups in each of the past three tourneys. It's only the third time No. 14 seeds have failed to win a game in three straight tournaments (also 2007-09 and 2000-04).
But these games are not all blowouts. In fact, at least one 3/14 matchup has been decided by single digits in each of the past 10 tournaments. In 2019, LSU held off an upset bid by Yale to win by five in Jacksonville.
The past three No. 3s to lose in the first round all came from the Big 12: West Virginia (2016), Baylor (2015) and Iowa State (2015). Guess what? There are not one, not two, but three Big 12 teams as No. 3 seeds this year: Kansas, Texas and West Virginia.
4 vs. 13
No. 4s have won 79% of these matchups, but the games are generally much more competitive than that rate would suggest. In the past 10 tournaments, more than half of the meetings were decided by single digits. And in the past two tourneys, five of the eight matchups were single-digit affairs. One of the double-digit outcomes was a 21-point win by a 13-seed (Buffalo over Arizona in 2018).
It's reasonable to pick one of these upsets in your bracket, as a No. 13 seed has won at least one game in 25 of 35 years.
5 vs. 12
Many bracket-filler-outers are a bit shy about picking against any of the top four seeds, so this is where upset discussions often begin. While No. 5s have won 64% of the time overall, results in this matchup have been all over the place in recent years.
The 2019 tournament marked the third time in the past seven tourneys that No. 12 seeds won three of the four meetings. In that same seven-year span, No. 5s have swept the four matchups twice, though.
6 vs. 11
The 2019 tournament was the first time since 2013 that No. 6 seeds won at least three of the four meetings with 11-seeds. At least for one year, that showing slowed down a recent trend favoring the lower seed in this matchup.
In the first 25 years of the modern tournament era, No. 6 seeds won 69% of the time. But in the past 10 tournaments, they have won just 47.5% of meetings.
While the pendulum has swung in the other direction in this matchup recently, one thing that hasn't changed is how unlikely it is for either seed to sweep all four games. The last time No. 6s did it was 2004, and the only time 11-seeds got out the brooms was 1989.
Games have been exciting the past two years as well, as six of the eight games were decided by five points or less.
7 vs. 10
In 2019, No. 10 seeds won three of four meetings with 7-seeds for the first time since 2010 and just the fifth time ever.
Overall, No. 7s have won 60.7% of meetings in the modern era and had taken three of four in this matchup five of the previous six years.
8 vs. 9
Overall, this is the toss-up you would expect it to be, but No. 9s have been in control in recent years to take a 72-68 advantage.
In 2019, No. 9 seeds won all four meetings for the first since 2001 -- by an average margin of 16.0 points, to boot -- and they are 7-1 in the past two tournaments. We all know better than to read anything into this, but it's fun to note these things regardless.
Sweet 16/Elite Eight
What should we expect from the top 16 seeds?
Earlier on, we explained how unlikely it is that all of the 1 through 4 seeds will survive the first round. While that held true in 2019 -- No. 4 Kansas State lost to UC Irvine -- there was only one upset (according to seed) in the second round: No. 5 Auburn over No. 4 Kansas.
Because of that, the 2019 Sweet 16 tied for the lowest total seed count in NCAA tournament history (49), as all of the 1s, 2s and 3s advanced, along with a pair of No. 4s, a No. 5 and a No. 12. The way this season has gone, it's hard to imagine that happening again, but it'll be fun to watch it unfold.
Here are some numbers on top-four seeds with regard to reaching the second week of the tournament. As you'll see, 2019's chalky bracket put an end to a lot of trends:
• On average, 9.97 of the top 16 seeds advance to the Sweet 16 each year. The past two tournaments couldn't have been any different, though. In 2018, only seven of the 16 made it to the second week of tourney play, which tied the record for the fewest in a single tournament. Then the next year, 14 of the 16 made it, which tied for the most.
• Since 1985, the top four seeds in a region have reached the Sweet 16 in only 19 of 140 regions (13.6%). Essentially, that means it happens approximately once every two years on average.
In 2019, the top four seeds in TWO regions advanced past the first weekend in the same tournament for just the fourth time in the modern era (also 1989, 1991 and 2009).
• 2019 also marked the fifth time we had a Sweet 16 in which all the 2-seeds were still alive (also 1989, 1995, 1996, 2009).
• While fewer than three No. 3 seeds have reached the Sweet 16 in seven of the past 10 tournaments, 2019 marked the third time all four 3-seeds made it (also 2008, 2009). Only once have they been shut out entirely (1997).
• Multiple 4-seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 in eight of the past nine tourneys. All four No. 4s survived the first weekend on two occasions, both recently (2014, 2017).
• Only three times have all Elite Eight participants been seeded fourth or better (1995, 2007, 2009). In fact, there have been multiple teams seeded worse than fourth in the Elite Eight in 18 of 35 years. And in four of the past six tournaments, we've had multiple teams seeded sixth or worse in the Elite Eight.
• There has never been an Elite Eight without a No. 1 seed present, and 32 of 35 Elite Eights have featured at least two top seeds (2000, 2011 and 2013 are the only tourneys with just one No. 1 seed). In case you're wondering, all four No. 1 seeds have reached the Elite Eight on eight occasions, although that has happened only once in the past 10 tourneys (2016).
• In each of the past 12 tournaments, we have seen one or two No. 2 seeds reach the Elite Eight. Overall, that has been in the case in 28 of 35 tourneys (80%). Two times there have been zero No. 2s in the Elite Eight (1990, 1999) and two times all four No. 2s made it (1995, 1996), but it's been more than two decades since either has occurred.
Pick at least one double-digit seed to make the Sweet 16
You can expect at least one team seeded 10th or worse to advance to the second week of play. It has happened in 33 of the 35 tournaments -- including 12 straight -- since the field expanded to 64 teams.
Look out for an 11-seed to escape the first weekend
In 2019, for just the second time in the past 10 tournaments, none of the No. 11 seeds reached the Sweet 16, and only one won a first-round game. Despite that, the 11-seeds remain the most accomplished of the Cinderellas since the First Four began in 2011.
No. 12s used to be the upset darlings picked to win a couple of games, but no more. In the First Four era, No. 11 seeds have made 10 Sweet 16 appearances, the same number as all other double-digit seeds combined.
And once they've gotten there, No. 11s have had a reasonable amount of success. No. 12s have not. It has almost everything to do with the opposition, though.
No. 11 seeds are 8-14 overall in Sweet 16 games, but just 2-13 when facing No. 2 seeds (they are 4-0 vs. No. 7s and 2-1 against No. 10s). Meanwhile, No. 12 seeds are 1-20 in Sweet 16 contests, with all 20 losses coming against No. 1 seeds (the only win coming in 2002 when Missouri beat No. 8 seed UCLA).
The picture has been bleak for No. 6 seeds for quite a while now. For the first time ever, zero No. 6 seeds have reached the Sweet 16 in three consecutive tournaments. Some of it has to do with the success of the No. 11s, as mentioned above, but in 2019 three of the four No. 6 seeds won in the first round, only to fall to a No. 3 seed in round 2. Prior to this drought, only once before had No. 6s been absent from the Sweet 16 in back-to-back years (2008-09).
With regard to the Elite Eight, only three 6-seeds have gotten there in the past 18 tournaments, and just one of them defeated a better seed in the Sweet 16 to get there. The only seeds with fewer Elite Eight appearances since 2002 are the 12s through 16s, which have combined for one Elite Eight trip ever. Yeah, it's been that bad.
This year's No. 6s are USC, BYU, Texas Tech and San Diego State.
How many No. 1 seeds usually make the Final Four?
The percentage play is to pick one or two. That's been the case in 28 of the past 35 tournaments (80%).
At least one No. 1 seed has reached the Final Four eight straight tourneys and in 12 of the past 13. Multiple 1-seeds have made the Final Four just three times in the past 10 years.
Three No. 1 seeds made it in 2015, but that's the only time that's occurred since 2000. And only once in the past 13 tourneys has there been a Final Four without a No. 1 seed present (2011).
In that 2011 tournament, no 1- or 2-seeds made it for the first time. As you go through your bracket, it may be hard to eliminate a No. 1 seed, but remember that history shows it's more likely that no top seeds reach the Final Four than all four of them do. The only time all four No. 1s got there was 13 years ago.
Here is a breakdown of how many No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four since 1985:
None -- 2 times
One -- 15 times
Two -- 13 times
Three -- 4 times
Four -- 1 time
Expect one lower-seeded Final Four participant
The remarkable streak of six straight NCAA tournaments in which at least one team seeded seventh or worse reached the Final Four came to an end in 2019.
But we've still had at least one Final Four participant seeded fifth or worse in each of the past 10 tournaments, thanks to Auburn two years ago. The Tigers were the first No. 5 seed to make the national semis since 2010.
So take a good, hard look at the bracket to see if any lower seed catches your eye as Final Four material. Or decide that all good things must come to an end.
• For just the second time, we have had three consecutive Final Fours involving at least one No. 3 seed. It also happened from 1989 to 1991.
• The last Final Four appearance by a No. 4 seed came in 2013, when both Michigan and Syracuse did it and squared off in the national semis.
• Among the seeds that have reached the Final Four at least once -- No. 11 seed or better -- the distinction for the longest drought by far goes to No. 6 seeds. Only three 6-seeds have made it to the Final Four, and it has been nearly three decades since the last time it happened (Michigan in 1992, Kansas in 1988 and Providence in 1987).
• No. 11 seeds have actually made more Final Four trips (four) than 6, 7, 9 and 10 seeds in the modern tournament era.
Since seeding began in 1979, the top three seeds have accounted for 68 of the 82 title game appearances, and no other seed has been there more than four times (interestingly, by the No. 8s). So, while we discussed Cinderellas reaching the Final Four, the championship game participants have come from the top three seed lines 83% of the time.
The cream rises to the top
Upsets are exciting (and plentiful) in March, but when it's time to pick a winner in your bracket, No. 1s have been the way to go. Ten of the past 13 champs have been top seeds, and no other seed has more than one title in that span.
Champions rarely come from low-bid conferences
In the modern tournament era, only two national champions came from a conference that received fewer than four bids ... and it's been more than 30 years since it's happened. Louisville won in 1986 from the three-bid Metro Conference, and the highly entertaining UNLV Runnin' Rebels won it all in 1990 out of the Big West Conference, which also received three bids.
No. 1 seed Gonzaga (West Coast Conference) and No. 2 seed Houston (American Athletic Conference) are the two obvious teams capable of doing it this year, as their conferences received just two bids each. The last champion to come from a conference that got fewer than three bids was Michigan State (Big Ten) in 1979, when there were just 40 teams in the field.
5-seeds still seeking elusive first title
No. 5 seeds are the only top-eight seed yet to win a championship. The only three 5-seeds to reach the title game -- Butler (2010), Indiana (2002) and Florida (2000) -- all lost to No. 1 seeds. This year's 5-seeds are Creighton, Colorado, Villanova and Tennessee.
NOTE: References are since 1985, unless otherwise noted
Below are notes on each of the 31 participating conferences, as it pertains to tournament success or lack thereof. The Ivy League canceled winter sports for the 2020-21 season and we will miss its representative, at the very least, giving a higher seed all it can handle (and then some) later this week.
The America East has just four first-round wins in modern tournament history, one in each of the past four decades. While the conference will long be known for UMBC slaying the giant named No. 1 Virginia in 2018, it has often been competitive against other high seeds in recent years. Vermont kept things close against a pair of 4-seeds, Florida State in 2019 and Purdue in 2017, and Albany refused to go away easily three years in a row from 2013 to 2015 against No. 2 Duke, No. 1 Florida and No. 3 Oklahoma. This year, Hartford makes its NCAA tournament debut as a No. 16 seed, with hopes of following the UMBC blueprint against Baylor.
Success has been hard to come by for American Athletic Conference teams in recent years. In 2019, Houston became the first conference team to reach the Sweet 16 since the league's first season back in 2014. UCF nearly joined them as a No. 9 seed, but fell short of upsetting top-seeded Duke when Aubrey Dawkins' tip-in attempt rolled off the rim. In the past five tourneys, AAC teams are 7-6 in the first round, but just 1-6 in the second round. In the past two tournaments, all three second-round defeats have come by one or two points. This year, it's No. 2 seed Houston and 11th-seeded Wichita State, which will play in the First Four. American teams are 0-2 in the First Four.
Much like the AAC above, the Atlantic 10 has also been going through quite a rough patch, and that was exacerbated by last year's NCAA tournament being canceled when the conference had a legitimate national title threat in Dayton.
• The last time an A-10 team reached the Sweet 16 was seven years ago, the longest dry spell in conference history. It's only fair to note that the A-10's highest seed in this span was a No. 7.
• Just once in the past five tournaments has the conference won multiple games in the first round (2016).
• 2019 marked the first time in conference history with zero NCAA tournament wins in a year in which it received multiple bids. The only three other times the A-10 went winless (1977, 1990, 2005), it had just one representative.
While the A-10 got just two bids for the second straight tournament after getting three or more in the previous 11 -- which makes it more challenging to snap the conference's Sweet 16 drought -- don't count out 10th-seeded VCU. After all, the past four Sweet 16 teams from the A-10 have been double-digit seeds -- one each in four straight years from 2011 to 2014. In the modern tournament era, no conference has more wins from teams seeded 10th or worse, not including First Four games.
The following two things are true: 1.) It's a down year for the ACC. 2.) The ACC has seven teams in the field of 68. Let's explain No. 1, in case you're not sure why.
This is the first time the league has no teams seeded better than fourth (Virginia, Florida State are No. 4s this year). Heck, it's only the second time in 42 years of seeding the conference doesn't have at least one top-two seed (1990 is the other time). That's quite a contrast from the last time we had an NCAA tournament in 2019, when the ACC had three No. 1 seeds and five teams reached the Sweet 16.
The ACC has the most national championships in the modern era (11), so even in a year with no clear title threat, it's hard not to expect someone to get hot. Here is how strong the conference has been through the years:
• At least one Sweet 16 team in all 35 years
• At least one Elite Eight team in 32 of 35 years (multiple teams in four of past five)
• At least one Final Four team in 24 of 35 years
• At least one team in the title game in 17 of 35 years
All of these represent the best of any conference, but it's been a little more of a roller coaster of sorts in recent years. For example, the ACC has had multiple Sweet 16 teams in 30 of 35 years -- including an impressive average of 4.2 over the past five tourneys -- but all five years in which it had just one representative have come since 2007.
One oddity: In the past 25 tournaments, only one ACC team seeded worse than No. 1 reached the title game (No. 3 Georgia Tech in 2004). And, in case you're wondering, 25 non-No. 1 seeds have played for the championship in this span.
Atlantic Sun teams have acquitted themselves quite well recently. Many of you may remember 14th-seeded Mercer's upset of Duke in 2014 and FGCU becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 in 2013. And in 2019, 12th-seeded Liberty took advantage of the best seed for an ASUN team since 2001 and knocked off Mississippi State in the first round. The Flames are back again, as a No. 13 seed, and are a threat to cause bracket unrest once again.
It's surprising the Big 12 has just one championship in its history, especially considering the conference has had at least one top-two seed in 21 of those 23 tournaments.
Make that 22 of 24, as Baylor finds itself on the top line this year. The Bears are the first Big 12 team not named Kansas to grab a No. 1 since 2003, which is the only time the Big 12 had multiple teams as No. 1s (Oklahoma and Texas). That year, both Oklahoma (Elite Eight) and Texas (Final Four) were eliminated by Carmelo Anthony and No. 3-seeded Syracuse, the eventual national champion.
One encouraging sign for the conference centers around Sweet 16 success the past two tourneys. In those two years, Big 12 teams are 4-1 in the Sweet 16, and only one of those five teams was a top-two seed. That's much better than the 3-8 mark in the same round the five years prior.
If you're looking for the real bugaboo for the conference, though, the Elite Eight is where it's at (or not at). In a 12-year span from 2006 to 2017, the league was a paltry 3-11 in Elite Eight games. So while the 2-2 mark the past two tournaments may not seem like much, it's progress. In fact, the Big 12 has had a team reach the Final Four in consecutive tournaments for the first time since five teams got there in a three-year span from 2002 to 2004. It's hard to believe that half of the conference's 10 Final Four appearances came in those three years.
In 2019, Texas Tech carried the conference on its back as a No. 3 seed, reaching the championship before losing in overtime. This is the seventh straight tourney in which the Big 12 has received at least six bids and more is expected from the league, as five teams earned top-four seeds. Will it deliver?
No major conference has been more reliant on one school in the past handful of years than the Big East. Dating back to the 2013-14 season, which was the first after the conference's FBS members split for the ACC or newly created American Athletic Conference, almost all of the weight of tournament expectation has fallen on Villanova ... for better or worse.
In the past six tournaments, the Big East earned 32 total bids, 10 of which were top-four seeds. However, the league has done very little with those quality seeds, and the best way to encapsulate it is by making it a game of "Villanova vs. everyone else."
Villanova's tourney results have been feast or famine. It has been a top-two seed in five of those six years, and while the Wildcats won two national titles, they lost in the second round in each of the other four years. The rest of the conference has combined for the same number of wins as Villanova in this span and has earned just three trips to the Sweet 16. And to make matters worse, this group of "others" earned a top-three seed on three occasions and lost in the second round each time. So, yeah, underachieving has been a theme, which is so hard to say for a conference with two of the past four championships.
The conference received four bids for the second straight tourney. That's the first time the Big East has gotten four or fewer bids in consecutive tournaments in the modern era. Villanova and Creighton are the Big East's highest seeds (No. 5). With co-Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie (knee) out for the season, it may be unfair to ask the Villanova to carry the conference this year. Will Creighton and UConn step up?
The Big Sky is just 3-35 in the NCAA tournament since 1985 and has just one win this century (12th-seeded Montana over Nevada in 2006). The conference's representative has scored 61 or fewer points in 11 of its 13 first-round games since that win in 2006. This year, Eastern Washington is a No. 14 seed, the 14th straight time the conference has earned a No. 13 seed or worse.
The Big South has just one first-round win in its history. That came in 2007 when 11th-seeded Winthrop dropped Notre Dame. That was the only time the conference got a seed better than 13th ... until this year. Winthrop, which is 23-1 this season, is a No. 12 seed this time around, and they'll face Villanova on Friday.
In 2019, the Big Ten earned a conference-record eight bids. This year, it outdid itself and received nine bids. As the league hopes to put an end to its 20-year championship drought, it doesn't hurt to have four of the top eight overall seeds in the field.
Michigan and Illinois are both No. 1s, just the third time in the modern era the Big Ten has had two teams on the 1-line (Michigan and Indiana in 1993; Michigan State and Illinois in 2001). Neither of those years resulted in a championship for the conference, but all four teams advanced to at least the Elite Eight (Michigan State lost in the Final Four, Michigan in the title game).
Since Michigan State's title in 2000, the seven Big Ten teams to reach the title game have come up empty. Getting off to a good start can't hurt, and conference teams are 11-1 in the first round the past two tournaments.
The Big West Conference has caused some first-round trouble in two of the past four tourneys, in the form of a pair of No. 13 seeds. In 2016, Hawaii knocked off Cal, and two years ago UC Irvine beat Kansas State. Those wins represent the two lowest-seeded Big West teams to win a first-round game. Conference teams seeded 14th or worse are 0-13, the past five of which each lost by more than 25 points. This year, UC Santa Barbara is a 12-seed. Big West teams are 3-3 in the first round as No. 12 seeds in the modern era.
Through the years, Colonial Athletic Association teams have given opponents a hard time in the Big Dance, even if they don't have the wins to prove it. The league hasn't had a team win in any of the past seven NCAA tournaments, its longest streak in the modern era. However, 18 of the past 23 first-round games involving CAA teams have ended in victory or a single-digit loss (14 by five points or less). During the conference's heyday, George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011) were 11-seeds when they reached the Final Four. No such luck this year, as Drexel is a No. 16 seed. The last first-round win by a CAA outfit seeded 13th or worse came 19 years ago when Brett Blizzard and UNC Wilmington upset USC in OT.
In 2019, Conference USA saw its impressive streak come to an end: four straight years winning a tournament game -- once each as a 12, 13, 14 and 15 seed. That's despite being a one-bid league each year, which has become the norm. Will North Texas get a new streak started for the conference? The Mean Green are a No. 13 seed and will face Purdue on Friday.
In each of the past eight tournaments, the Horizon League representative was a 13-seed or worse, and in all eight years that team lost in the first round. It's the most years without an NCAA tournament win in conference history, and most games haven't been all that close, as just two have been decided by single digits. It's another year with a poor seed, as Cleveland State is a No. 15. Horizon League teams are 1-15 in the first round as a 14th seed or worse. The only such win came from Xavier 30 years ago, when the league was called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
The MAAC has five first-round wins in its history, but none since 2009. This is the fifth straight tournament in which Iona has represented the conference, but its first with Rick Pitino at the helm. In each of the previous four years the Gaels lost their first-round game by an average of 16.5 points. This year, they are a No. 15 seed. No MAAC team has ever won a first-round game as a No. 14 seed or worse. But did you know ... the last time a MAAC team played to within single digits in the first round was against Pitino, when 13th-seeded Manhattan fell to Pitino's Louisville's squad by 7 points in 2014.
The Mid-American Conference has won a tourney game in consecutive tourneys for the first time since 2001 to 2003. Both years it was Buffalo, in 2018 as a No. 13 seed and 2019 as a No. 6, the highest seed for a MAC team since 1979. Will there be more MACtion this year? It's all up to Ohio, a No. 13 seed. The Bobcats will face defending champion Virginia on Saturday. The past two times the MAC representative was a 13-seed, it won in the first round (Buffalo defeated Arizona in 2018, Ohio defeated Michigan in 2012).
Escaping the First Four has been a problem for the MEAC lately. Specifically, it's been NC Central's problem, which has lost in that round each of the past three tournaments. The same task lies ahead for Norfolk State this year, as it faces App State in the First Four. This marks the sixth straight tourney the MEAC has gotten a 16-seed. Dating back to 2011, the past four MEAC 16-seeds to play in the first round lost by an average of 33.0 points. How about a positive memory, though: Norfolk State is the last MEAC team to win in the first round, when they shocked Missouri as a No. 15 seed in 2012.
All good things must come to an end. The 2019 tourney marked the first time the Missouri Valley Conference lost a game in the first round since 2012 (Valley teams were 9-0 the previous six years). It was also the first time the Valley failed to win a tournament game since 2011. This recent run of success included a Sweet 16 (Wichita State in 2015) and the conference's only two trips to the Final Four in the modern era (No. 11 Loyola Chicago in 2018 and No. 9 Wichita State in 2013). While Drake will have to win in the First Four just to reach the first round, Loyola will try to get a new streak started for the league, as a No. 8 seed, the highest for a Valley team since 2015. Twisted stat alert: The MVC has won nine straight first-round games when seeded seventh through 11th.
Since the formation of the conference in the 1999-2000 season, Mountain West schools are just 22-49 in the NCAA tournament (.310 win pct.) and the conference has never had a team get past the Sweet 16. To put that into perspective, 16 other conferences have had at least one team reach the Elite Eight in that span. We'll never know if San Diego State would've exorcised the conference's Big Dance demons last year (the Aztecs were sure to be a No. 1 or 2 seed). This is the fifth straight tourney with one or two bids for the Mountain West (San Diego State and Utah State this year). History is not on the side of the 11th-seeded Aggies, to say the least. Mountain West teams seeded 10th or worse are an abysmal 1-21 all time (including 0-2 in First Four games) and have lost 18 straight games dating back to 2002, when No. 11 seed Wyoming beat Gonzaga in Albuquerque.
The Northeast Conference is the only conference that has never won a first-round game (0-31). Only once in the past 21 years has an NEC team come within single digits of its opponent in the first round (Robert Morris lost to Villanova by 3 in overtime in 2010). Consistently being a 16-seed -- this is the ninth straight tourney -- is quite the historical hurdle to clear. Making matters worse, this is the eighth straight tournament the selection committee has sent the NEC champ (Mount St. Mary's this year) to the First Four - the only conference to have a streak of more than four straight appearances in the First Four -- so a trip to the first round is no certainty. On a positive note, NEC teams have won two of their past three First Four games.
The 2019 tourney was memorable for the Ohio Valley Conference. The league put two teams in the field of 68 and won a first-round game for the first time since 2012. This year, it's back to one bid for the OVC (Morehead State is a No. 14 seed). The conference has lost 18 straight games as a 14-seed or worse, and the last such win came in 1988.
The five bids the Pac-12 earned this year are its most since 2016. Results have been a bit uneven, though. The Pac-12 hasn't had a champion since Arizona in 1997 and just one Final Four team in the past 11 tournaments. Much of the lack of success has to do with volume: fewer bids than any other power conference and considerably fewer high seeds. Using the 11-year span just mentioned, the Pac-12 has averaged just one top-four seed per year ... yes, just 11 of its 46 total bids have been top-four seeds (23.9%), easily the lowest rate among the Power Six conferences. That's how this year's bids played out as well, with no Pac-12 team receiving a top-four seed -- Colorado is the highest as a No. 5.
The league's lower-seeded teams have been strong in the early rounds. Once again since 2009, Pac-12 teams seeded 11th or worse are 8-1 in the first round (that one loss came in 2019 when Arizona State lost to Buffalo). Five of those eight teams won the next game, too, to reach the Sweet 16 (like No. 12 Oregon did in 2019). Oregon State is a 12-seed and UCLA is a No. 11, but has to win its First Four matchup with Michigan State in order to reach the first round. It's the fourth tournament in a row that the Pac-12 has had at least one team play in the First Four.
Don't be fooled by the fact Patriot League teams haven't won a first-round game in nine years and have just three such wins ever. The past three tourneys paint a different picture. In 2019, No. 15 seed Colgate hung tough with Tennessee before losing by 7. The two years before that, Bucknell lost to Michigan State and West Virginia by four and six points, respectively. Colgate is back again this year and equally capable of posing problems for higher seeds.
The past few NCAA tournaments have been interesting for the SEC. In 2017, despite just five bids, a conference-record-tying three reached the Elite Eight. In 2018, it received a conference-record eight bids, but only two made the Sweet 16 and none made the Elite Eight. Then in 2019, the SEC turned seven bids into four Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights and a No. 5 seed (Auburn) reached the Final Four. While the conference has had at least one team in 22 of the past 28 Elite Eights, it hasn't had a team reach the title game in seven years and it's been nine years since the league's most recent championship. Will that change this year? Alabama, a No. 2 seed, will bear most of the weight of expectation along those lines, although Arkansas' late-season surge could make it a popular pick from outside of the top two seed lines.
In 2019, Wofford broke an 11-year winless streak for the Southern Conference as a No. 7 seed, the highest for the conference in the modern era. This year's SoCon rep, 13th-seeded UNC Greensboro, doesn't enter with the same expectations the Terriers did, but make no mistake, the Spartans will be a tough out.
Being competitive in the Dance is nothing new for the SoCon, but its tournament history can be summed up by saying "close, but no cigar." Six of the past nine conference teams to lose in the first round did so by eight or fewer points (all of those teams were seeded 12th or worse). Since 1985, Southern Conference teams are just 4-31 in the first round, but only two of those four wins came from teams seeded worse than 10th (Chattanooga in 1997, East Tennessee State in 1992 were both No. 14 seeds). SoCon teams seeded 13th, like UNCG is, are 0-10 in the first round.
In the past 35 years, Southland Conference teams not named Stephen F. Austin haven't been very competitive in the NCAA tournament. They are 1-26 in first-round games, losing by an average of 22.6 points. Seeding is certainly a factor here, as the last time a team other than SFA got a seed better than 14th was 1995 when Nicholls was a No. 13 and lost to Virginia by 24. Abilene Christian, in its final season in the Southland before heading to the WAC (along with fellow Southland members SFA, Sam Houston State and Lamar), has the potential to be a bracket-busting No. 14 seed.
It hasn't been pretty for the SWAC in the NCAA tournament. The conference has just one first-round win in its history, and that was 28 years ago, when Southern upset Georgia Tech as a No. 13 seed. Unfortunately, that's the last time a SWAC team wasn't a 15- or 16-seed in the Big Dance. Just getting to the first round has been an issue, as the conference is 2-9 in the First Four and opening-round games. And when SWAC teams have gotten there, they've dropped 17 straight first-round games, by an average of 29.0 points per game. This year, the conference has yet another date in the First Four (the ninth time in the past 12 tourneys), as Texas Southern will face Mount St. Mary's on Thursday. If the Tigers win, they will meet Michigan in the first round.
This is the first time since 2011 that neither North Dakota State nor South Dakota State is the Summit League's automatic qualifier. That honor goes to Oral Roberts, which is a No. 15 seed making its first appearance since making three straight trips between 2006 and '08. The league has just one first-round win in the past 22 years -- No. 12 North Dakota State beat Oklahoma in 2014 -- and Summit teams seeded 15th or 16th have lost their 11 first-round games by an average of 26.0 points.
A handful of years ago, the Sun Belt claimed exciting first-round wins in back-to-back years. In 2015, 14-seed Georgia State shocked Baylor on R.J. Hunter's deep 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left. Then in 2016, No. 12 seed Little Rock upset Purdue in double overtime. The past three tournaments haven't been so magical, as the conference's three representatives have lost their first-round games by at least 15 points, all as No. 14 or 15 seeds. App State surprised by winning four games in as many days to win the conference tourney and, as a result, are the fourth Sun Belt team to get a No. 16 seed. The Mountaineers will face Norfolk State in the First Four on Thursday.
Where would the West Coast Conference be without Gonzaga? Since this is the "conference" section, we can state how the WCC has won at least one first-round game in 12 straight tourneys and had a team reach the Sweet 16 a conference-record five straight times. But in reality, we know this is all about Gonzaga carrying the conference.
Not counting the First Four, WCC teams not named Gonzaga have just five wins in the past 24 years. There is hope that will change this year, as BYU earned a No. 6 seed, the highest by a WCC team not named Gonzaga in the modern tournament era. Only four times has the conference had two teams win first-round games in the same year (2000, 2010, 2017).
New Mexico State almost brought an end to the Western Athletic Conference's losing ways in 2019, but the Aggies fell to eventual Final Four team Auburn by one point in the first round. A WAC team hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 2007. Seeding is a factor, as the league hasn't received anything better than an 11-seed since that win by Nevada over Creighton 14 years ago. For just the second time in the past 10 tournaments, the WAC is not represented by New Mexico State. Instead, it's tourney first-timer Grand Canyon, coached by Bryce Drew, who hopes to make more March memories. The six previous WAC teams to be seeded 14th or worse all lost by at least 12 points in the first round. The Lopes are a 15-seed in the West region.
Below are more notable facts about most (but not all) of the teams and coaches in this year's field. The schools are listed in alphabetical order, so finding one that interests you is easier.
Facts are from the modern era (since 1985) unless noted otherwise.
The Crimson Tide are a No. 2 seed, which ties for their highest seed ever, done two previous times. In 1987, they were knocked off in the Sweet 16 by Rick Pitino's sixth-seeded Providence Friars, who were led by standout guard Billy Donovan and wound up reaching the Final Four. In 2002, Bama was upset in the second round by Antonio Gates, Trevor Huffman and No. 10 seed Kent State, whose Cinderella run took them to the Elite Eight.
Will this Alabama team make school history? It has never reached the Final Four and its only Elite Eight appearance came 17 years ago as a No. 8 seed under Mark Gottfried.
Nate Oats' teams at Buffalo won first-round games in each of the past two tournaments as a No. 6 and 13 seed. Needless to say, expectations are higher this time around.
The Razorbacks are a top-three seed for the first time since 1995, when they lost in the national title game to UCLA as a No. 2. They are 10-0 in the first round when seeded sixth or better.
The last time the Hogs reached the Sweet 16 was in 1996 as a No. 12 seed. They have lost five straight second-round games. Eric Musselman, who took Nevada to the Sweet 16 in 2018 as a No. 7 seed, hopes to do some damage in his first tourney trip at Arkansas.
The Bears enter as one of the title favorites, and this is the first time the Bears have ever earned a No. 1 seed. Their previous best seed was a No. 3 on four occasions under Scott Drew, reaching the Elite Eight twice (2010, 2012), Sweet 16 once (2017) and losing to 14th-seeded Georgia State in the 2015 first round.
Will Baylor cut down the nets for the first time? The last time they won a regular-season conference title -- as the Bears did this season in the Big 12 -- is also the last time they reached the Final Four. That was 71 years ago, and two years before that, in 1948, was the school's only national championship game appearance, a loss to Kentucky.
It's been a struggle for BYU in the tournament, as the Cougars are 2-9 in the first round since 1995. Their only Sweet 16 appearance in the modern era came in 2011 when Jimmer Fredette was all the rage. This is the first time they've been a single-digit seed since then. And if you're into history, the only other time they were a No. 6 seed (as they are this year) was 1981, when they reached the Elite Eight on Danny Ainge's coast-to-coast layup to upset Notre Dame.
The last time the Tigers made the Big Dance in 2018, they put their first-round demons to rest and played very well, reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 5 seed before falling to top-seeded Kansas. It was the first time they won a first-round game since 1997.
The only time Clemson advanced further -- they also reached the Sweet 16 in 1990 and 1997 -- was in their first NCAA tournament appearance in 1980, when they reached the Elite Eight as a No. 6 seed.
This is only the Vikings' third NCAA tournament appearance, but they have made the most of their two previous opportunities. Cleveland State is one of six schools to win a game as a No. 13 and No. 14 seed. Back in 1986, the Vikings became the first 14-seed to reach the Sweet 16, where they fell one point short against David Robinson and Navy. And in 2009, the backcourt of Cedric Jackson and Norris Cole proved to be too much for fourth-seeded Wake Forest. It's a tall order, but if CSU can upset Houston, they would become the second school to win as a 13, 14 and 15 seed, joining Richmond.
The Raiders are still seeking their first NCAA tourney victory (0-3). They were an extremely tough 15-seed in 2019, losing by just seven points against Tennessee. This year, they are a No. 14 seed, the highest in school history.
In the past five decades, the Buffaloes have just two NCAA tournament wins (1997 and 2012). Colorado is a No. 5 seed, its highest in school history (previous best was eighth). The only time the Buffs won more than one game in a single NCAA tournament was 1955, when they lost in the national semis but won the third-place game.
In the modern tournament era, the Bluejays have never advanced past the second round. They are a No. 5 seed this year, only the second time they've been seeded better than sixth. The other time was in 2014 when they were a No. 3 seed but lost by 30 to Baylor in the second round, the third-worst loss by a No. 3 seed in the round of 32.
This is just the second appearance for the Bulldogs since they last won an NCAA tournament game in 1971. In 2008, Drake earned a No. 5 seed, only to see its magical season come to an end in heartbreaking fashion when No. 12 seed Western Kentucky pulled the first-round upset on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Ty Rogers in overtime. This year, they were one of the final four at-large teams selected, as an 11-seed playing in the First Four on Thursday.
It's the 25th anniversary of Drexel's only NCAA tournament victory, when Malik Rose led the 12th-seeded Dragons to a 12-point decision over Memphis. This is Drexel's first tourney appearance since then. The seed isn't as favorable, as head coach Zach Spiker and the Dragons are a No. 16 and face Illinois on Friday.
Shantay Legans is making his NCAA tournament debut as a head coach 20 years after he did the same as a player at California. In that 2001 first-round loss to Fresno State, Legans, a sophomore point guard, led the Golden Bears with 15 points. He will attempt to lead the Eagles to their first tournament victory as a No. 14 seed against Kansas.
The last time the Gators were a No. 7 seed, the made a run to the Elite Eight in 2012.
Florida is 3-0 in first-round games under Mike White. Overall, the Gators have won seven straight first-round games and 10 of their past 11, dating back to 2005. The only loss in this span came against Jimmer Fredette and BYU in double overtime in 2010.
The Noles have advanced to at least the Sweet 16 in back-to-back tournaments for the second time in school history (also 1992-93). They will be expected to make it three years in a row as a No. 4 seed this year.
This is the Yellow Jackets' first tourney trip since 2010 and head coach Josh Pastner's first since 2014 with Memphis.
The last time the Jackets won more than one game in a single tournament, they went all the way to the title game in 2004, losing to UConn. Pastner, on the other hand, will be looking to advance past the second round for the first time as a coach.
The Hoyas are making their first tourney appearance in six years, but in an unfamiliar situation. This is their lowest seed in school history. The last time they were a double-digit seed was 20 years ago, when they advanced to the Sweet 16 as a No. 10 seed by beating Arkansas and Hampton. Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing reached the championship game three times in four years as a player with the Hoyas, winning it all in 1984.
Gonzaga has won 11 straight first-round games and has reached the Sweet 16 in each of the past five tournaments, the longest active streak. As a No. 1 seed for the third time in the past four tourneys, the Zags' aspirations are much larger, as Mark Few tries to win his first national championship. The past two times Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed, it lost in the title game in 2017 and in the Elite Eight in 2019.
The Antelopes are making their NCAA tournament debut, but their coach is not new to this. Bryce Drew gave us a moment we'll never forget with his buzzer-beater to fell Ole Miss in 1998, the first step in propelling Valparaiso to the Sweet 16. But as a head coach, he's still looking for his first tourney win (0-3 at Valparaiso and Vanderbilt).
In 2019, Kelvin Sampson took the Cougars to the Sweet 16 for the first time since Phi Slama Jama went to three straight Final Fours (including two runner-up finishes) from 1982-84. It was Sampson's first Sweet 16 since 2003, as a No. 1 seed at Oklahoma. Expectations are high again this year, with the Cougars earning their highest seed since those glory days. The only two previous times Houston has been a top-two seed resulted in those aforementioned runner-up finishes in 1983 and 1984. Will Sampson be able to do what Guy Lewis couldn't and raise a championship banner in Houston?
This is the first tournament appearance for the Fighting Illini since 2013. That year, as a No. 7 seed, they beat Colorado before falling to Miami. Things are different this time around, though, as Illinois is a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2005 when they lost to North Carolina in the title game. In its other two appearances as a top seed, Illinois lost in the Final Four in 1989 and the Elite Eight in 2001.
This is the first time Brad Underwood will coach a single-digit seed in the tournament. He is 2-2 in the first round as a double-digit seed, winning as a No. 12 and 14 seed at Stephen F. Austin in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
This is the fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance for the Gaels, but the first with Rick Pitino as the head coach. Pitino is the third coach to take five different schools -- also Boston University, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville -- to the NCAA tournament, joining Lon Kruger and Tubby Smith. While Pitino has won 54 NCAA tournament games as a coach, Iona has just one win. That came in 1980, under Jim Valvano, against Holy Cross.
The Hawkeyes haven't been to the Sweet 16 since 1999, which is the only time they've gotten that far in the past three decades. Iowa has just four NCAA tournament wins since 2000, but has the talent to match or exceed that total in this year's tourney. They are a No. 2 seed, which ties for the best in school history with the 1987 team that reached the Elite Eight, led by Roy Marble and B.J. Armstrong.
Make it 31 straight NCAA tournament appearances for the Jayhawks, which extends their record. However, after nine straight trips as a top-two seed from 2010-18, this is the second consecutive appearance outside of that elite seed range for KU.
It says a ton about what Bill Self has done at Kansas that his teams have earned a top-four seed in all 17 of his seasons there. Self has experienced a mix of great success (one championship, three total Final Fours, four Elite Eights) and notable disappointment (three second-round losses) as a top-two seed during his tenure.
But this year, the Jayhawks are a No. 3 seed, and while the sample size is much smaller -- and most instances occurred more than a decade ago -- when his teams aren't on the top two lines, they have mostly underwhelmed.
The Flames pulled an upset as a No. 12 seed the last time we had a tournament in 2019, beating Mississippi State in the first round. It was their first NCAA tournament victory. This time they are a 13-seed, as they look to pull another early surprise.
Who can forget the late-game heroics from Donte Ingram and Clayton Custer during the Ramblers' amazing run to the Final Four as an 11-seed three years ago? And, of course, Sister Jean! Well, this Loyola team can also be a handful like that 2018 squad, which won its first three matchups by a total of four points and busted brackets everywhere. It's safe to say that Loyola has made the most if its six previous NCAA tournament appearances, with a national championship (1963), a Sweet 16 (1985) and that Final Four trip to show for it.
In 2019, the Tigers made the Sweet 16 for the first time since their Final Four run in 2006. LSU will look to make it back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1986-87, when it did so despite being a double-digit seed both years.
The Terrapins have won 13 of their past 14 first-round games, but have lost six of their past seven in the second round. Their head coach has had a similar tournament experience in his career. In Mark Turgeon's previous nine tournament appearances at Wichita State, Texas A&M and Maryland, his teams are 7-2 in the first round, but just 2-5 in the second round.
Only once has Turgeon beaten a team seeded better than eighth (2006 with Wichita State, defeated No. 2 Tennessee in the second round). As a No. 10 seed, the Terps will have to do that right out of the gate against UConn. And if they are going reach the second week of play, something they have done just once since 2004, they'll likely have to do it again in the second round.
In his three years as a player at Michigan, Juwan Howard played in the title game as a freshman and sophomore and reached the Elite Eight in his junior season. All three years, Michigan lost to a No. 1 seed.
Now he's the head coach of the No. 1-seeded Wolverines. John Beilein certainly left some big shoes to fill, as Michigan has made three straight Sweet 16s for the first time since Howard and the Fab Five were doing their thing from 1992-94. They'll be looking to make it four in a row for the first time in school history ... and a whole lot more, as they are among the favorites to cut down the nets. Michigan has reached the title game seven times, but 1989 remains as its only championship. The last time the Wolverines were a No. 1 seed was in 1993, when they lost in the title game to North Carolina. And for those of you who remember that game, I refuse to disparage Chris Webber in this space. He played so well that night.
After missing the Sweet 16 three straight years for the first time under Tom Izzo, the Spartans went to the Final Four in 2019. This year, Michigan State needed a strong finish just to make the Big Dance and the Spartans' No. 11 seed is their lowest in school history. They have never won a game as a double-digit seed (0-3), nor advanced past the second round when worse than a No. 7 seed. They'll start in the First Four against UCLA.
The Tigers haven't won a first-round game since 2010 (four straight losses). This is Cuonzo Martin's fourth trip as a head coach (second with Mizzou). All three of his career wins came in his first appearance, when he led 11th-seeded Tennessee from the First Four to the Sweet 16 in 2014.
It's the 10th anniversary of the Eagles' first-round upset of Louisville, when Demonte Harper drilled a 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left for a 62-61 victory, their only round-of-64 win in school history. They were a 13-seed that day and this time they are a No. 14.
The Spartans' only previous NCAA tournament appearance was rather memorable, as they upset No. 2 seed Missouri in 2012, led by Kyle O'Quinn's 26 points and 14 rebounds. They are one of eight No. 15 seeds to win in a first-round game. Norfolk State opens with App State in the First Four on Thursday for the right to face Gonzaga.
The Tar Heels are a No. 8 seed in the tournament, tying for their lowest in school history. Each of the previous three times as a No. 8 (1990, 2000, 2013), they won their first-round game. They reached the Sweet 16 in 1990 and went to the Final Four in 2000. In his Hall of Fame career, Roy Williams is 29-0 in the round of 64, with 24 of those coming as a top-four seed, three as a No. 6 and two as a No. 8. North Carolina's only first-round loss in the modern era came against Weber State in 1999, thanks to 36 points from Harold "The Show" Arceneaux. The Heels face Wisconsin on Friday.
The Mean Green are 0-3 in NCAA tournament play and have lost as a No. 15 seed each time. This year, they have a more favorable No. 13 seed and will face Purdue on Friday.
The last time the Bobcats made the NCAA tournament, they made a run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 13 seed in 2012, knocking off Michigan and South Florida to get there. Their only other win in the modern tournament era came as a No. 14 seed in 2010 when they beat Georgetown. Those two Ohio teams had a dynamic point guard named D.J. Cooper. This year, the Bobcats have another special one running the show in Jason Preston.
It's been eight years since the Buckeyes' last trip to the Sweet 16. That's also the last time they were seeded better than fifth (they were a No. 2 in 2013, as is the case this year). In their previous eight appearances as a top-two seed, they have advanced to the Elite Eight or further four times but have reached the championship game just once (2007 vs. Florida).
This is the highest-seeded team Chris Holtmann has coached. He is 5-0 in the first round but just 1-4 in the second round in his career. His lone Sweet 16 appearance came during his time at Butler as a No. 4 seed.
Lon Kruger has the Sooners back in the tournament, but Oklahoma's sputtering finish to the regular season and the resulting drop in seed is cause for concern. History would agree. The Sooners haven't had a ton of success when seeded outside of the top three. Of the 15 times they have been seeded fourth or worse, they are 5-10 in the first round and reached the Sweet 16 just twice (1987 as a 6-seed, 1999 as a 13-seed). The lowest seed Kruger has taken to the Sweet 16 was No. 7 UNLV in 2007. The Sooners are an 8-seed this year.
The Cowboys haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 2009 and last advanced to the second week of play in 2005. They have lost five straight first-round games, having been seeded between fifth and 10th for all of them. Getting a top-four seed -- their highest since 2005 -- helps. Six of the seven times Oklahoma State earned a 4-seed or better it reached the Sweet 16. The last time the Cowboys were a No. 4 seed (as they are this year), "Big Country" Bryant Reeves and Randy Rutherford led them all the way to the Final Four in 1995.
The Golden Eagles' only two NCAA tournament wins came in 1974 when they reached the Elite Eight, but this entry is all about making sure you can properly pronounce the name of the nation's leading scorer, Max Abmas: It's ACE-muss. The 6-1 sophomore guard forms a legit one-two punch with versatile 6-8, 225-pound forward Kevin Obanor for ORU, making its first tourney appearance since 2008.
The Ducks are 6-0 in first-round games under Dana Altman despite an average seed of 7.2. They have advanced to at least the second week of play in each of their past three trips to the tournament. Oregon reached the Elite Eight as a No. 1 seed in 2016, the Final Four as a No. 3 in 2017, and the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed in 2019. This year, the Ducks are a 7-seed.
The Beavers surprised many by winning the Pac-12 tournament, and they'd like to keep the surprises coming by winning their first NCAA tournament game since 1982, when they reached the Elite Eight as a No. 2 seed. Since then, they are 0-6 in tourney play with each loss coming by single digits.
Matt Painter has Purdue aiming for a school-record fourth straight Sweet 16 appearance. The Boilermakers have won 17 of their past 19 first-round games, dating back to 1994. Both losses came in games that went to overtime, in consecutive years (2015 vs. No. 8 Cincinnati and 2016 vs. No. 12 Little Rock in double OT).
It's been a minute, Rutgers. Like, 30 years. The Scarlet Knights are making their first NCAA appearance since 1991 and looking for their first win since 1983. In that 1991 tournament, Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell was a senior at UConn, scoring 9 points in three games in the Huskies' run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed.
The Bonnies' only tournament victory in the past 50 years came in the 2018 First Four over UCLA. This is Mark Schmidt's third trip to the Dance with St. Bonaventure, most by any coach in school history. It's also the first time the Bonnies are a single-digit seed.
San Diego State
San Diego State is 6-12 all time in the NCAA tournament and has never won more than two games in a single tourney. Unfortunately, we'll never know how much damage last year's special Aztecs squad would've done. That's in the rearview now, and Brian Dutcher hopes to become the second coach in SDSU history to win a tournament game, joining his mentor, Steve Fisher.
The Orange have become the poster team for the bubble during the past handful of years and they didn't disappoint in that regard this season, either. But to Jim Boeheim's credit, his team has taken advantage of the clean slate provided by inclusion in the field of 68. In 2016, they made a Final Four run as a No. 10 seed. And in 2018, Cuse went from the First Four to the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed. Wash, rinse, repeat, as the Orange are an 11-seed once again.
It's a little twisted, but on one hand, you could say maybe it's better if the Vols aren't a high seed. In four previous appearances as a top-three seed, they have lost in the second round twice and haven't advanced past the Sweet 16. In 2019 as a 2-seed, Tennessee lost in overtime to Purdue in the Sweet 16 in one of the most entertaining games in recent years. And the year before as a No. 3, the Vols fell to Loyola Chicago in the second round on Clayton Custer's game winner with 3.6 seconds left.
Tennessee's two most successful tournament appearances came when the expectations weren't so high. The Vols went from the First Four to the Sweet 16 in 2014 before falling short against Michigan by 2. And in 2010, they made their deepest run in school history as a No. 6 seed, reaching the Elite Eight and losing to Michigan State on a free throw with 1.8 seconds left.
On the other hand, Rick Barnes' teams aren't known for overachieving in the Big Dance. He has just one career win against a team seeded higher than his (2002 when No. 6 Texas defeated No. 3 Mississippi State in the second round). Of the 57 coaches who have at least 10 NCAA tournament games against higher-seeded teams, Barnes has the worst winning percentage (see list to the right). With regard to Tennessee being a No. 5 seed this year, Barnes is 4-11 in the first round as a No. 5 seed or worse, with 10 of the 11 losses coming by single digits.
Since 2007, Tennessee's losses have almost all been nerve-wracking. In that span, six of their eight defeats in the tournament have come by one or two points, or in overtime.
Shaka Smart took VCU from the First Four to the Final Four back in 2011, winning five games to get there. Since then, Smart has just two tournament victories in six appearances (and none in his two prior trips as the Longhorns' head coach). Between VCU and Texas, his teams have lost four straight first-round games, as Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 10 seeds. Texas hasn't won a first-round game since 2014, so it's safe to say both the coach and school are desperate to dent the win column. This is the Longhorns' highest seed since 2008, which is also the last time they advanced to the second week of tourney play.
Chris Beard has led the Red Raiders to eight NCAA tournament wins in the past two tournaments, which equals the number of tourney wins Texas Tech had in its history before Beard arrived. After being a 3-seed each of the past two trips, it is a No. 6 seed this year.
Most of UCLA's tournament damage in its storied history has come as a highly regarded team, but there is recent precedent for a Sweet 16 run as a lower seed, as the Bruins are this year. In 2015, they escaped the first weekend as a No. 11 seed by edging SMU, thanks to a controversial goaltending call on a Bryce Alford 3-pointer, and then beating No. 14 UAB in the second round. This is Mick Cronin's first tournament trip with the Bruins. In his previous six appearances as a No. 7 seed or worse, he is 1-5 in first-round games, and four of the six games were decided by four points or fewer.
The Huskies are dancing for the first time in five years, which ends their longest tournament drought since not making an appearance for the entire decade of the 1980s. They could be a trendy sleeper pick because of how well they played when James Bouknight was healthy. We may be about to find out if seven is indeed UConn's lucky number. Its only other time as a 7-seed culminated in the Huskies' fourth national championship back in 2014, led by Shabazz Napier.
UC Santa Barbara
This is the first appearance for the Gauchos in 10 years. They are a No. 12 seed, which is their highest since 1990, when they recorded their only NCAA tournament victory as a No. 9 seed over Houston. In the second round that year, they pushed top-seeded Michigan State before falling by 4 points.
Wes Miller has his Spartans in the NCAAs for the second time in the past three tournaments. In 2018 as a 13-seed, they proved to be a handful for Gonzaga before falling 68-64. Six-foot senior guard Isaiah Miller is tough to slow down and impacts the game at both ends, which could make UNCG one of the more popular upset picks, once again as a No. 13.
Andy Enfield knows all about excitement in the tournament. He first became a known quantity nationally in 2013 when his "Dunk City" squad from FGCU became the first No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16, beating both Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points. He then came to USC, where both of his first-round games have been decided by one point. The Trojans last advanced to the second week of the tournament in 2007 as a No. 5 seed. The path will be similar to that this year, as they earned a 6-seed.
In 2019, Craig Smith led the Aggies to their highest seed (No. 8), but it didn't change their NCAA tournament fortunes, as Utah State fell to 1-16 over the past 50 years by losing to Washington. This is the 20th anniversary of that one victory, in overtime against Ohio State as a No. 12 seed. Star center Neemias Queta is back to try again to make some noise as an 11-seed.
The Rams haven't survived the first weekend since their incredible First Four-to-the-Final Four journey in 2011. In their past five appearances, they are 1-4 in the first round, with the only win coming in 2016 against Oregon State as a No. 10 seed. The Rams are a 10-seed this year as well.
There has been no in-between for Jay Wright's Wildcats during the past decade. In nine tournament appearances since 2010, Villanova has won the championship twice (both in the past four tournaments) and failed to escape the first weekend each of the other seven times. What's alarming is the fact that four of the early exits came as a No. 1 or 2 seed. The other three came as a No. 9 seed twice and a No. 6 seed in 2019. Their seeding is decent again this year, but how it plays out is anyone's guess, especially after the injury bug struck late in the season.
In 2019, you could say Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers bounced back rather nicely from their shocking first-round defeat to 16th-seeded UMBC in 2018. The Hoos won their first national championship, as a No. 1 seed. This is just the second time in the past seven tourneys they aren't a top-two seed. This might surprise you, but the last time the Cavaliers made it past the first weekend when they weren't a No. 1 seed was 1995, when they were a No. 4 and advanced to the Elite Eight.
In 2019, the Hokies won two games in a tournament for the second time in school history (the first was in 1967) and came up just short of beating Duke in a great Sweet 16 game. This year, Virginia Tech is a No. 10 seed. In the modern tournament era, the Hokies have just one win when seeded worse than fifth (1996 vs. Green Bay, as a No. 9 seed). Head coach Mike Young has plenty of experience as a lesser seed in the tourney from his five trips at Wofford. His teams put a scare into a few teams during the 2010s before finally notching a win in 2019 against Seton Hall and hanging tough with Kentucky in the second round.
Bob Huggins has had an interesting NCAA tournament history. In a five-year ,span from 1992 to '96, Huggins' Cincinnati Bearcats were a top-four seed three times, and they went to two Elite Eights and one Final Four. In the next eight seasons (1997 to 2004), the Bearcats were a top-four seed six times and lost in the second round each time -- and at least once as each seed. Since coming to Morgantown, Huggins has led the Mountaineers to a top-four seed three times. Those trips ended in a Final Four (2010 as a No. 2), a first-round loss (2016 as a No. 3) and a Sweet 16 (as a No. 1). All of this is to say it's been quite a roller coaster for him, which makes it difficult to know what to expect from this No. 3 seed that is certainly talented enough to do damage.
It's been eight years since the Shockers' dash to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed. Since then, Wichita State has had trouble getting past the first weekend, despite being a top-four seed twice in its past five appearances. Historically, it has simply been better as a lesser seed, so we'll see if that continues this year as a No. 11 seed. They'll have to win their First Four matchup with former Missouri Valley Conference rival Drake just to get to the first round.
The Eagles are the first one-loss team to receive a double-digit seed in NCAA tournament history. It's not surprising, since they played just four nonconference games, none of which came against high majors. Pat Kelsey's team is deep and talented and will not be taken lightly. Winthrop's only tourney victory came in 2007 as a No. 11 seed, when the Eagles beat Notre Dame in the first round.
In 2019, the Badgers lost in the first round for just the second time in their past 12 tries. Both first-round defeats in this span came as a No. 5 seed. Generally speaking, it's been tough to keep Wisconsin out of the Sweet 16 in recent years. Dating back to 2011, the Badgers have advanced to the second week of play in six of their past eight appearances, including as a No. 7 and 8 seed in 2016 and 2017, respectively. They are a No. 9 seed and face North Carolina in the first round.
Special thanks to ESPN Stats & Info for their help.