So now that the brackets are out and Michigan has drawn a 4 seed in the South Region, I thought I'd take a look at how 4 seeds have fared in tournaments past, going back to when the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Surprisingly, Googling "Historical Performance of Seeds in NCAA Tournament" yields a plethora of data that just begs to be analyzed statistically and have conclusions drawn over which one can agonize. I wish the news were better.
The News Is Bad? How Bad?
In the 28 years since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, squads seeded fourth have won grand total of 167 games for a per tournament average of 5.96 wins, give or take 2.06 wins. Essentially this falls in line with confirming chalk. If you're a 4 seed, you're a great bet to win your first game, a 50/50ish bet to win your 2nd, and then you're probably ewww. This probably doesn't come as a surprise, since if you're a 4 seed coming out of the first weekend, you're probably facing the 1 seed, and beating a one seed is hard.
So It's Hopeless Then?
Well no, it's not hopeless. Being a 4 seed is definately better than being a 5 or higher; as the numbers show that fortunes for teams not seeded in the Top 16 of the tourney fall precipitiously. For all the romance that media-types assign to "Cinderellas" in the tounament; runs like George Mason or Villanova are very much the exception.
Since 1985, 11 four seeds have advanced to the Final Four in 10 separate NCAA Tournaments (The 1990 Tournament saw 4 seeds Georgia Tech and Arkansas both advance to the Final Four). Of those 11 teams that managed to make it the Final Four, 2 of them advanced to the Finals (Syracuse 1996, Arizona 1997), with only Lute Olsen's 1997 Arizona Wildcats having the stuff to find themselves hoisting the championship trophy.
The only precedent we have to lean on, but there is a precedent
Only One Champion In 28 Seasons? That Sounds Pretty Hopeless.
Well, it does occur to me that this only has any real meaning if there is something to compare it against, say the 1 - 3 seeds. This sounds like a perfect opportunity for a...
|1 Seed||2 Seed||3 Seed||4 Seed|
|Final Four Appearances||46||25||14||11|
|FF Success Rate||41%||22%||13%||10%|
|Champ. Success Rate||61%||14%||14%||4%|
Lest we forget, one of those four 3 seeds is 1989 Michigan, woo!
So yeah, big surprise here. One and two seeds make up 2/3rds of all the teams that have appeared in the Final Four and have won 75% of all the titles since 1985. This can mean one of two things. One, that the Selection Committee is very good at seeding teams based on their relative strength or two, the path of the one and two seeds is conducive for advancing. Personally, I tend to think it's more Door #2 than Door #1. The real takeaway from this with regards to Michigan 2013 is that the distinction between a 3 and 4 seed seems to be pretty small.
[EDIT: I would like to point out the anomaly that while 2 seeds appear in the Final Four about half the rate of 1 seeds and twice the rate of 3 and 4 seeds, they only come away with a quarter of the titles, a disproportionately low number. Y U no pull your weight in the Finals two seeds?]
So What Does This All Mean For Our Guys?
Well, I'd rather see us as a 3 seed personally, and was a bit miffed to find us slide from a predicted 2 seed to a 4 based upon one loss to Wisconsin (F#*k, Wisconsin), but then I think the Selection Committee has undervalued the competitiveness of the B1G in general with the brackets. I am looking forward to seeing Michigan play some non-Big Ten competition. I think we'll be pleasantly surprised at how good we suddenly look again, assuming the guys haven't completely lost their confidence.
Still, Michigan has it's work cut out for it as the four seeds have historically had tough sledding in the NCAA Tournament. I do take some comfort in the words of my old Econ professor who liked to remind his class that, "past performance is no guarantee of future earnings". Here's to a deep, entertaining, and trend-bucking tournament run from the 2013 Wolverines. Go Blue!