My excuse to post the Trey Burke GIF
Last season, as the Michigan basketball team entered the NCAA Tourney as a four seed, we took a look at historically how the fours have fared in tournaments past. The analysis produced this incredibly scientific chart (since adjusted to include 2013 tourney results).
|1 Seed||2 Seed||3 Seed||4 Seed||Other|
|Final Four Appearances||47||25||14||13||17|
* - this 14% represents all Seeds higher than 4 that have made it to the Final Four, so while this number appears high, it's coming out of a much larger pool of participants. When you factor in the total pool, only about 1% of Seeds higher than 5 make it to the final weekend, with only about 0.1% of those teams winning it all (1985 Villanova, 1988 Kansas)
Yes, the answer was discouraging and as it turned out, almost irrelevant as Michigan proceeded to go on an epic run that saw them become just the 3rd four seed ever to make it to the Finals and then came damn close to winning the whole shebang. Through that assessment though, we came across a strange statistical anomaly that this season proves presciently relevant.
|Final Four Appearances||25|
What’s up with that? While 2 seeds make the Final Four at about half the rate of the one seeds, they win titles at less than a quarter of the rate as the ones. If you like nice, statistical symmetry, you’re probably experiencing one of those involuntary facial tics right about now. Why have 2 seeds historically fallen flat in the Final Four? Let’s have a look.
Diving deeper into the numbers the winning percentage for the Top 4 Seeds in the past 29 tournaments since 1985 for the Semi-Finals and Finals break down like this.
So in the Semi-Finals, the 2 Seeds don’t do too poorly; batting around .500. Plus, of the thirteen 2 Seeds that didn’t advance to the Finals, 10 of them lost to a 3 seed or higher, so it’s not like there are upsets galore grinding them up. Still, when we look at their winning percentage in the Finals? Woof. 2 Seeds have not fared well in the title game of years past. The big reason for this seems obvious, 6 of those 8 losses came against a 1 Seed. The other two losses were delivered by a 3 Seed, which judging by the numbers we’re showing, the discrimination between 2 and 3 seems to be much finer than 1 and 2.
As for those lucky four winners, 3 of those wins all were earned by defeating a 3 Seed. Only one 2 Seed since 1985 has taken home the Championship by defeating a 1 Seed (1986 Louisville over Duke)
So the math here draws some pretty reasonable conclusions. First, the Final Four is averaging just under a 2 Seed per season, so that’s nice. Year-to-year, you can expect at least one 2 Seed to advance to the final weekend. Second, if you are a 2 Seed, hope that the tournament gods deliver you from the evil of the 1 Seed, because you just don’t beat them much. The good news for Michigan this year is that there seems to more parity amongst the Top 16, which means 1 Seeds could be ripe for falling. Of course, that parity affects the entire Top 16 equally, and Michigan’s path seems particularly difficult with Duke sitting out there at the 3 Seed.
Still, compared to last season, the data delivers better news. It’s much better to be a 2 Seed than a 4 Seed (LOLSparty), so here’s to hoping we get to enjoy another deep and entertaining tourney run.