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higher seeds

Five that could topple higher seeds

For some people, the NCAA Tournament is the most exciting sporting event of the year. Sixty-eight teams from across the country battle it out over three weeks until only one remains and confetti pours down.

For most fans, the unpredictable early rounds are the most compelling. Everyone has a favorite No. 12 seed over a No. 5 seed, or a 13-over-4 upset, and since UMBC stunned Virginia in 2018, there is even precedent for a 16th seed toppling a 1.

Here are five potential first-round upsets, at least according to seeds:

over No. 5 Villanova

Jay Wright has led Villanova to two of the past four NCAA championships and is a finalist for the Hall of Fame this year, but his current team appears ripe for an upset.

Villanova lost senior point guard Collin Gillespie to a season-ending knee injury, and crashed out in the Big East tournament quarterfinals to Georgetown after winning the three previous titles.

The Big South’s regular-season and tournament champion, Winthrop, is 23-1 and led by senior point guard Chandler Vaudrin, whom Jay Bilas of ESPN described as “Collin Gillespie at 6-7 and left-handed” with “great feel and great vision.”

Keep in mind that the 12th seed is 50-90 (.357) historically against the fifth seed, with three wins the last time the tournament was played.

No. 12 Georgetown

over No. 5 Colorado

This is a trendy upset pick because the Hoyas (13-12) looked terrific in winning four games in four days to capture the Big East Tournament last week at Madison Square Garden. Georgetown was picked last in the 11-team Big East, but came on strong to beat Marquette, Villanova, Seton Hall and Creighton to take the title. Now it is one of four Big East teams in the tournament.

The Hoyas’ length and height — they are led by 6-11 sophomore Qudus Wahab (12.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game) — has made it difficult for opponents to score. The Hoyas held Creighton to 48 points in the Big East tournament, Marquette to 49 and Seton Hall to 58. Top-seeded Villanova lost, 72-71.

The Hoyas are riding the momentum, and Coach Patrick Ewing wants to continue to show he hasn’t received enough credit as a head coach. “I’m here where a lot of people didn’t think I had the ability to,” Ewing said. “And I’m proving everyone wrong.”

No. 11 Syracuse over

No. 6 San Diego State

This should be a fascinating game. Syracuse was on the bubble down the stretch before winning three of four and narrowly losing to Virginia in the ACC Tournament, while San Diego State rolls in on a 14-game winning streak and has not lost since mid-January.

San Diego State is led by 6-6 senior forward Matt Mitchell, and it has good shooters in Jordan Schakel and Terrell Gomez. As a team, the Aztecs shoot 37% from beyond the arc.

Still, Syracuse can force deflections in its 2-3 zone that lead to transition buckets. On offense, Buddy Boeheim is shooting 37% from the three-point line and has made four three-pointers a game in his past eight games.

No. 11 seeds are 52-88 (.371) against sixth seeds, and in five of the past six tournaments, an 11 has advanced to the round of 32.

over No. 7 Clemson

Rutgers is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1991, when George H.W. Bush was in the White House. And they hope to stay for a bit.

The team has more ways to score than Clemson and seems primed for some magic. Ron Harper Jr. is a big, physical guard who can play to contact and is averaging 15.4 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. Geo Baker, the team’s emotional leader, averages 10.1 points, while 6-11 Myles Johnson protects the rim at 2.3 blocks a game.

Rutgers was a solid 10-10 in the challenging Big Ten Conference.

No. 10 Virginia Tech

over No. 7 Florida

Virginia Tech finished third in the ACC, but got just a 10th seed. The team features Keve Aluma, a 6-9 forward averaging 15.6 points and 8.0 rebounds, and has three players averaging six or more rebounds.

The Hokies are ranked No. 48 in the NET rankings, while Florida is ranked 31. Still, the Gators (14-9) have been inconsistent and come in as losers of three of four. They could be in for a short stay.

For some people, the NCAA Tournament is the most exciting sporting event of the year. Sixty-eight teams from across the country battle it out over three weeks until only one remains and confetti pours down.

How do seeds perform in the Final Four?

When filling out your bracket, it’s good to not get too caught up in the first-round upset picks. The deeper you go into the tournament, the more points you get per game. In fact, it’s often better to start your picks with the Final Four and work your way backwards. But when thinking about Final Four picks, what should you look for? Which seeds are the safest choices?

Take a look at the below chart, which detail the frequency of seeds making the Final Four, championship game and winning the national championship.

SEED FINAL FOUR CHAMP GAME NATIONAL CHAMP
1 57 34 22
2 29 12 5
3 17 12 4
4 13 3 1
5 7 3 0
6 3 2 1
7 3 1 1
8 5 3 1
9 1 0 0
10 1 0 0
11 4 0 0
12 0 0 0
13 0 0 0
14 0 0 0
15 0 0 0
16 0 0 0

Note: The data goes back to 1985, when the tournament was expanded to 64 teams.

Here are some takeaways from the data:

No. 1 seeds are No. 1 seeds for a reason.

Of the 35 champions since 1985, 22 of them are No. 1 seeds. Ten of the past 13 title winners have come from the top line. As crazy as March can be, the best teams of the regular season have the most success in the postseason.

Crazy upsets stick in our minds. They are some of the most memorable moments of the tournament and will show up on “One Shining Moment,” but even if a top seed is eliminated early, there are most likely three left.

But, expect at least some of the unexpected.

Even with the successes of No. 1 seeds in the Final Four and championship game, there has only been one Final Four in which all four top seeds from the field made it: 2008, when Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA were all there.

Other than that, three No. 1 seeds have made it just five times. Final Fours have had slightly more No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds (57) than No. 1 seeds (56). It’s good to keep an eye out for a potential powerhouse from those seed lines.

Picking a Cinderella to go to the Final Four probably isn’t worth it

It’s happened a few times. Four No. 11 seeds went to the Final Four – 1986 LSU, 2006 George Mason, 2011 VCU and 2018 Loyola Chicago. Villanova won the championship as a No. 8 seed in 1985. In 2016, Syracuse became the first No. 10 seed to make a Final Four. But even looking at data from millions of entries in the past six years of the Capital One Bracket Challenge Game, it’s OK to miss those.

The top four finishers in the Bracket Challenge Game in 2011 only got half of of the Final Four right. The key was that they got the championship game (Butler vs. Connecticut) and champion (Connecticut) right. In 2013, the top five finishers all missed Wichita State, which made the Final Four.

What the data shows us is that it’s important to get later rounds right, but it’s better to go with higher seeds, because even if Cinderella dances, the likelihood of having that right plus the other three teams correct is not very high. It happens, but it’s far from common. Of the 140 Final Four teams since 1991, just 14 (10 percent) have been seeded seventh or worse.

When filling out your bracket, it’s good to not get too caught up in the first-round upset picks. But when thinking about Final Four picks, what should you look for?