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NCAA Tourney Facts and Figures

   by Matt Fargo - 03/13/2009

The brackets for the NCAA Tournament will be announced on Sunday night and the analysis will begin taking shape. Taking a look at the regular season, it was very similar to 2006-2007 as there were a lot of changes at the top of the rankings. Last year, only four different teams held the top ranking in the country but this year, no one wanted to keep it. North Carolina started and ended the season (prior to the end of the conference tournaments) as the top ranked team but there was a lot of flip-flopping in between.

The Tar Heels held the top spot for the first eight weeks and then it was musical chairs the rest of the way. Pittsburgh was next (2 weeks) then Wake Forest for a week, Duke for a week, Connecticut for three weeks, back to Pittsburgh, back to Connecticut before the Tar Heels regained the top spot. This is not because of a lack of power teams but it is due to there being so many power teams. Heading into the tournament, there is a lot of debate as to which four teams will get the top seeds in each region and the results of the conference tournaments this weekend will go a long way in determining that.

Taking a look at some prior years can tell us a lot heading into this tournament. 2008 was the first year we saw all four number one seeds make it to the Final Four. Prior to this, the closest was back in 1999 when three number ones made it to Indianapolis and it was top seed Connecticut that won the whole thing. 2006 was the first year since 1980 that no number one seed advanced as it was number two seed Louisville that held off a five, six and an eight seed back then. At least two number ones have made it to the semis in 18 of the last 30 years while at least three have made it surprisingly only four times.

In the first 32 games last season, the higher seed advanced in 24 of those contests. Two of those upsets were minor with the nine seed beating the eight and we also saw one 10 seed beating a seven and one 11 seed beating a six. There were two 12 seeds that took out a five as Villanova and Western Kentucky defeated Clemson and Drake respectively. There were also two 13 seeds to advance as Siena defeated Vanderbilt while San Diego defeated Connecticut.

2007 was a postseason that was slightly off mark considering the amount of favorites that won in the first round. Of the first 32 games, only five lower seeds won and three of those were 9th seeds over 8th seeds. The other two were 11th seeded VCU over Duke and 11th seed Winthrop over Notre Dame. It didn’t end there. While only two top seeds made it to the Final Four, it was the first year since 1993 that all four teams consisted of #1 and #2 seeds.

2006 was the second straight season that both a 13th and 14th seed upset a 4th and 3rd seed respectively. Northwestern St. took out Iowa while Bradley beat Kansas with the latter making it all the way to the Sweet 16. Overall, there were nine lower seeds that won in the first round but that was the most that we have seen over the last four tournaments. However, the most shocking aspect was that no number one seed made it to the Final Four, the first time that has happened since 1980.

2005 had its share of opening round upsets but it was not a bracket full of shockers. Of the 32 opening round games, only eight lower seeds won outright and three of those were nines over eights. 13th seeded Vermont and 14th seeded Bucknell were the two biggest upsets. Two top seeds, North Carolina and Illinois, made it to St. Louis but Louisville and Michigan St. also broke through as four and five seeds respectively. It was the first year since 2002 that teams lower than a 3rd seed made it to the Final Four.

In 2004, it was even more sided toward the favorite as only four lower seeds advanced with 12th seeds Manhattan and Pacific leading the way. UAB and Nevada took out Washington and Michigan St. respectively as the only other upsets. Those two teams actually made it to the final 16 and along with Alabama, were the only two teams seeded lower than 5th to advance that far. Of the final four teams, only one team, Georgia Tech, was seeded lower than a two and the Yellow Jackets were not far back with a three seed.

2003 saw only eight lower seeds advance past the first round with three of those being the nine seeds. Of the five other upsets, 13th seeded Tulsa and 12th seeded Butler were the two biggest shockers. The four top seeds, Kentucky, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma, advanced to the final eight but Texas was the only team to make it to New Orleans. Third seeded Syracuse won the title by taking out two number one seeds and the Orange were the only non-number one or two seed to win it all over the prior eight years.

Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been plenty of major upsets but none involving a number one seed. It will happen some year but it's anyone's guess if it's this year or 20 years from now. Since 1985, four number two seeds have fallen in the first round with the most recent being Iowa St. in 2001. The three seed has lost 15 times, Iowa being the latest victim in 2006 while the four seed has gone down 21 times, including twice last year. Five times we have seen at least three 13th or lower seeds advance past the first round, 2001 being the last year of that occurrence.

Past tournament history can tell you a lot but it can also tell you nothing. Upsets just happen and they can come out of nowhere but some can be seen coming. The higher seeds clearly advance more but the trick is finding the ones that won't. Part II will take a look at the actual teams, seedings and matchups in this year’s tournament after everything is put into place on Selection Sunday.

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