UMBC made history last season when it knocked off Virginia to become the NCAA Tournament’s first No. 16 seed to win a game. The Retrievers didn’t just survive the Cavaliers, they obliterated them on the way to a 74-54 blowout victory. Moving forward, UMBC’s upset win raises some interesting questions. Is the chasm between the game’s elite and its lower-tier programs shrinking? Was that night of never-before-seen chaos in Charlotte a sign of things to come? More specifically, could we see a No. 16 seed pull another unthinkable upset this year?
The answer, in a word, is no. Here’s three things to know before locking in your pools or doing any March Madness betting. For those of you in New Jersey, here’s our list of the best NJ sportsbooks for March Madness.
A History Lesson
As we learned last season, history doesn’t always foreshadow what’s to come, but in this case, history comes pretty damn close. No. 16 seeds are only 1-135 all-time in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament (a 0.74% winning-percentage). If this historical sample merely repeats itself, we should see one additional No. 16 seed win a tournament game at some point between now and the 2053 NCAA Tournament.
It’s More Than The Bad Record
It’s not just the overwhelmingly poor record of No. 16 seeds, it’s how they lose. Even with Virginia’s 20-point loss last season, the average margin of victory for No. 1 seeds since 1985 is 24.36 points per game. Sure, Georgetown needed this heroic block from Alonzo Mourning in 1989 to survive a 50-49 scare from Princeton:
And Oklahoma avoided embarrassment that same year when they erased a halftime deficit to outlast ETSU:
Still, those games have been the exception to the rule. Since 1996, only 15 games have been decided by 10 points or less. In fact, none of them have even been a one-score game.
Last Year’s Other Three 1 vs. 16 Games Matter
Sure, this happened:
But so did this:
Xavier 102, Texas Southern 83
Villanova 87, Radford 61
Kansas 76, Penn 60
The point? Despite Virginia’s unprecedented loss, the other remaining No. 1 seeds still won by 19, 26, and 16 points. That’s more than a 20-point average margin of victory. Throw in the UVA game and it’s still a double-digit average margin of victory for No. 1’s. And it’s not like one or two insane blowout wins are skewing the numbers. Over the last 20 years, it’s more than twice as likely that a No. 1 seed wins by 25+ points than it is they win by 10 or fewer.
If I’m depressing you Cinderella-seekers out there, I apologize. Allow me to offer this helpful note to make you feel at least a little bit better. No. 16 seeds may be a bad play for your bracket, but they’re not always a bad bet. Over the last 14 NCAA Tournaments, No. 16 seeds are 1-55 straight-up, but a respectable 26-29-1 against the spread. Over the last five seasons, they are 9-10-1 ATS. Not great, but at least in this situation, unlike in this upcoming weekend’s games, these teams have a chance.