There are many interesting storylines for this year’s men’s basketball tourney, one of which is the excitement around there being no clear favorite to cut down the nets, making an already unpredictable event feel even more difficult to get a read on. In addition, this is also the first NCAA tournament in 40 years without Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams on the sidelines!
Since many of our fine ESPN college basketball analysts will be breaking down all the key matchups and making their picks in the days to come, this column is designed to occupy a different lane, one based only on historical facts.
There are so many fun nuggets to discuss — about seeds, conference success (or lack thereof) and notable trends for specific schools and coaches in the 2023 tourney. In honor of the number of teams in the field, we will narrow it down to 68 of our favorites below, with additional information and context provided for each as it pertains to this year’s bracket.
Just to be clear, this column is not intended to be predictive. That said, as you fill out your ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets — you can submit as many as 25 of them — decide whether any of the facts below speak to you and make you lean in a particular direction. At the very least, hopefully you will find something interesting to discuss while you watch the Big Dance with your family and/or friends.
NOTE: All stats referenced are since 1985 (also called the “modern era” throughout the column), unless otherwise noted. Additionally, any historical reference to the “first round” relates to the round of 64, and “second round” to the round of 32. The First Four stands on its own to avoid confusion. In addition, all results mentioned ignore any subsequent vacating. For example, we consider Louisville the winner of the 2013 national championship game, even though its appearance has been vacated by the NCAA.
First Four/Early Rounds
1. In 10 of the 11 tournaments the First Four has existed, at least one of its at-large participants has advanced to the second round.
• Two have advanced to the Final Four (UCLA in 2021 and VCU in 2011)
• Three others reached the Sweet 16
• This year’s First Four at-large teams are Mississippi State, Pittsburgh, Arizona State and Nevada
2. At least one top-4 seed has lost in the first round in 13 of the past 14 tournaments (32 of 37 overall).
• Last year, No. 2 seed Kentucky was the only victim when it was upset by Saint Peter’s
3. Each of the past four No. 3 seeds to lose to a No. 14 seed came from the Big 12 Conference.
• Texas (2021), West Virginia (2016), Baylor (2015), Iowa State (2015)
• Big 12 teams Baylor and Kansas State make up half of the No. 3 seeds in this year’s tourney
4. In the past four tourneys, 12 of the 16 matchups between No. 4 and No. 13 seeds were decided by single digits, the most of any first-round seed pairing.
• Interestingly, only four of the 16 matchups between 8- and 9-seeds were single-digit affairs
• No. 13 seeds have won at least one game in 26 of 37 tournaments
5. At least one No. 12 seed has defeated a No. 5 seed in 32 of 37 tournaments.
• Last year, a pair of 12-seeds pulled upsets (Richmond def. Iowa, New Mexico State def. UConn)
6. There has never been a run of three straight tournaments with a win by a No. 15 seed.
• The past two years, we have seen a 15-seed win multiple games
• Last year, Saint Peter’s advanced to the Elite Eight, and Oral Roberts made the Sweet 16 in 2021
• No. 15 seeds are 10-138 in first-round games. Eight of those 10 winners finished in the top two in their conference standings.
• This year, all four 15-seeds finished first or tied for first in their conference standings: Colgate, UNC Asheville, Vermont and Princeton
7. Odd but true: At-large teams that finished four games under .500 in conference play are 5-0 in the first round.
• Last year, 11th-seeded Iowa State became the first such team to reach the Sweet 16
• West Virginia (7-11 in the Big 12) is the only at-large team in this year’s field to finish four games under .500 in conference play
8. Second-round surprise: No. 3 seeds dominating No. 6 seeds but struggling vs. No. 11s
• 3-seeds are 9-1 in the past 10 meetings against 6-seeds
• They are 4-6 in the past 10 meetings against 11-seeds
9. All four No. 2 seeds have reached the Sweet 16 just twice in the past 25 tournaments.
10. In the past five tournaments, only once has a No. 6 seed reached the Sweet 16.
• USC went on to reach the Elite Eight in 2021
11. At least one No. 11 seed has reached the Sweet 16 in 10 of the past 12 tournaments.
12. A double-digit seed has advanced to the Sweet 16 in 14 straight tournaments and 35 of 37 overall.
• Four teams seeded 10th or worse have made it in each of the past two years. In the previous 35 tourneys, four or more double-digit seeds survived the first weekend just twice!
13. In six of the past eight tournaments, at least two teams seeded No. 6 or worse have reached the Elite Eight.
14. There has never been an Elite Eight without at least one No. 1 seed.
• Only once in the past 12 tourneys did all four No. 1 seeds reach the Elite Eight (2016)
15. At least one No. 1 seed has reached the Final Four in 10 straight tourneys and 14 of the past 15.
• Either one or two No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four in 30 of 37 tournaments (81%)
• The only time all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four was 2008
16. It’s been 31 years since the last time a No. 6 seed made the Final Four, easily the longest drought among seeds that have a Final Four appearance.
• The only 6-seeds to make it: Michigan (1992), Kansas (1988), Providence (1987)
17. At least one team seeded No. 7 or worse has reached the Final Four in eight of the past nine tourneys.
• Comparatively, in the first 32 years of seeding (1979-2010), this happened only eight times total
18. Of the 34 teams that were a top-2 seed and in the AP top 10 after entering the season unranked, none reached the Final Four.
• Purdue began the season unranked but earned a No. 1 seed and is currently ranked fifth in the AP poll
• Five of the 12 teams seeded No. 1 to meet these criteria lost in the first or second round
• Marquette began the season unranked but earned a No. 2 seed and is currently ranked sixth in the AP poll • 14 of the 22 teams seeded No. 2 to meet these criteria lost in the first or second round
19. Since seeding began in 1979, 71 of the 86 teams to reach the title game have been top-3 seeds.
• Surprisingly, No. 8 seeds account for five of the other 15 appearances, the most by any other seed
20. Each of the past five champions have been No. 1 seeds, and 12 of the past 15.
• No other seed has more than one title in that span
21. However, it has been 10 years since the last time the overall No. 1 seed won the title (Louisville in 2013).
• Seven of the 18 previous overall No. 1s lost in the Sweet 16 or earlier
• They have been more likely to lose during the first weekend (four) than to be champions (three)
• This year’s overall No. 1 seed is Alabama
22. It’s been 33 years since the last time a champion came from a conference that received fewer than four bids.
• UNLV in 1990 (three-bid Big West Conference) and Louisville in 1986 (three-bid Metro Conference) are the only schools to do so in the modern tournament era
• This year, No. 1 seed Houston (two-bid American) and No. 3 seed Gonzaga (two-bid WCC) are the highest-seeded teams looking to end this streak
23. No team has ever won a national championship after losing its first game in the conference tournament.
• Baylor (No. 3 seed) and Kansas State (No. 3 seed) are the only top-4 seeds that lost their conference tourney opener this year
24. Florida is the last school to repeat as champion (2007). Since then, no defending champ has advanced past the Sweet 16.
• Only two of the 14 defending champs since then even reached the Sweet 16
• In each of the past five tourneys, they lost in the first or second round
• Defending champion Kansas is a No. 1 seed this year
25. Since 2002, when KenPom began tracking it, 19 of 20 national champions have finished top 25 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.
• The only exception is UConn in 2014 (39th on offense, 10th on defense)
• Houston, Alabama, Texas, UConn and UCLA currently meet these criteria entering this year’s tourney
• Purdue, Kansas, Creighton, Texas A&M, FAU, Maryland, Memphis and Saint Mary’s are reasonably close to qualifying as well (top 40 in both), so they could do so by the end of the tournament
26. A No. 5 seed has never won a championship, the only top-8 seed that hasn’t done so.
• Only three 5-seeds have reached the title game: Butler (2010), Indiana (2002), Florida (2000), all of which lost to No. 1 seeds
• This year’s No. 5s are Duke, San Diego State, Miami (Fla.) and Saint Mary’s
With the caveat that expectations are different for power conferences than they are for mid-major and low-major leagues, there are conferences that have enjoyed more (or less) relative success in recent years. Some simply have experienced a mixed bag of results or been an annual thorn in the side of higher seeds.
27. Big 12 is trying to become the first conference in 30 years to win three consecutive national titles.
• Baylor in 2021, Kansas in 2022
• The ACC did it last, with Duke (1991 and 1992) and North Carolina (1993)
• Big 12 has had a Final Four team in four straight tournaments for the first time
• The conference has four top-4 seeds in this year’s tourney: Kansas, Texas, Baylor and Kansas State
28. ACC has had at least one team reach the Sweet 16 in all 37 tournaments.
• Multiple Sweet 16 teams in 32 of 37
• At least one Elite Eight team in 33 of 37
• At least one Final Four team in 25 of 37
• At least one team in the title game in 18 of 37
29. Mountain West has never had a team get past the Sweet 16 … but it gets worse.
• Since the conference’s formation in 1999-2000, 17 other conferences have had a team reach the Elite Eight
• MW teams are 0-7 in the first round the past three tournaments (1-10 since 2016)
• The four years in which the MW earned four or more bids (2010, 2012, 2013, 2022), the league won five games total (none after the first round)
• Mountain West teams seeded 10th or worse are 1-23 all time, with 20 straight losses since the only win in 2002
30. It’s been a long time since a Big Ten (23 years) or Pac-12 school (26 years) won a national title.
• Last year, none of the nine Big Ten teams selected advanced past the Sweet 16
• This year, the Big Ten received eight bids, highlighted by No. 1 seed Purdue
• Meanwhile, the Pac-12 earned four bids this year, including a pair of high seeds in UCLA and Arizona.
31. The last time a Southern Conference team seeded 11th or worse won an NCAA tournament game was 26 years ago.
• This year’s conference rep, Furman, is a No. 13 seed
• The SoCon has just one tourney win since Davidson’s Elite Eight run in 2008 (Wofford as a 7-seed in 2019)
• SoCon teams are 4-33 in the first round. Two of those wins were by teams seeded 11th or worse (Chattanooga in 1997, East Tennessee State in 1992)
32. SEC has had an Elite Eight team in 24 of the past 30 tourneys but hasn’t won a title since 2012.
• The last SEC team to reach the title game was 8-seed Kentucky in 2014
• Since 2016, none of the 15 SEC teams to earn a top-4 seed has reached the Final Four
• The only two SEC teams to advance to the Final Four since 2016 were seeded No. 5 (Auburn in 2019) and No. 7 (South Carolina in 2017)
• Alabama is the first SEC team to earn a No. 1 seed since 2015 (Kentucky)
Thorns in the side
33. Missouri Valley Conference has won a first-round game in eight of the past 10 tourneys.
• However, 17 of the 19 total NCAA tourney wins in that span came from teams no longer in the conference (Loyola Chicago, Wichita State, Creighton)
34. Conference USA and MAC teams have also enjoyed early success recently.
• C-USA has won a first-round game in five of the past seven tournaments despite never receiving multiple bids or having a team seeded better than 12th
• The MAC has had a team win a first-round game in three of the past four tournaments
Droughts for former tourney “troublemakers”
35. It’s been more than a decade since a team from the Horizon League (2011) or CAA (2012) won a first-round game.
• Horizon’s last win came from Butler, which left the league after the next season
• CAA’s last win came from VCU in its final year in the league
36. Atlantic 10 hasn’t had a team reach the Sweet 16 in nine years.
• From 2008 to 2014, the conference had a Sweet 16 team each year
• This is the first time since 2005 that the A-10 earned just one tourney bid (VCU is a No. 12 seed)
Although there is always something to say about each of the 68 teams that made the tourney field, we needed to be selective, so here are some of the best tidbits and trends we could dig up. Schools are listed alphabetically to make them easier to find.
Warning: Unfortunately, not all nuggets below paint a pretty picture, but they are indeed factual.
• This is its first time as a No. 1 seed. In three trips as a 2-seed, it advanced no further than the Sweet 16, losing to teams seeded sixth, 10th and 11th.
• The Crimson Tide have never reached the Final Four
• Their only Elite Eight appearance was 19 years ago as an 8-seed
• Has reached the Final Four just three of the 14 times it has been a top-2 seed
• The Wildcats’ last Final Four appearance was 2001 (lost to Duke in title game)
• Trying to reach the Elite Eight three years in a row for the first time in school history
• 10-0 in first-round games in the modern era (no other school without a first-round loss has more than three wins)
• Six of those 10 wins came as a No. 7 seed or worse
• This is the fifth time in the past eight tournaments the Bears have been a No. 3 seed or better
• The previous four instances in this span have brought mixed results: a championship in 2021 but losses to Nos. 7, 8 and 14 seeds in the other three years
42. Boise State
• Still seeking its first NCAA tournament victory (0-8)
• This is the fourth time Leon Rice has taken the Broncos to the Dance. Two of his three losses have come in the First Four.
• The Cougars’ only NCAA tournament win came in 1997 vs. Maryland as a No. 12 seed
• All six tourney games in school history have been decided by 10 or fewer points, despite Charleston being a 12-seed or worse in four of those five appearances
• The Bluejays’ only Sweet 16 appearance in the modern era came in 2021 as a No. 5 seed
• They have never defeated a top-4 seed (0-8, with seven games decided by double digits … the exception: last year vs. Kansas in the second round)
• Last win vs. a team seeded better than No. 8 was in 2002 (in double-overtime vs. 5-seed Florida)
• This is the fourth time in school history Duke isn’t a top-4 seed. In the most recent two previous instances, it lost in the first round (2007 as a No. 6 vs. VCU, 1996 as a No. 8 vs. Eastern Michigan).
46. Florida Atlantic
• FAU, a No. 9 seed, is the highest-seeded team in this year’s field that has yet to win an NCAA tournament game. The Owls’ only previous appearance was in 2002.
• Since 2000, teams that were single-digit seeds and seeking their first NCAA tourney win in school history are 4-2 in the first round
• Only the second time in the past six tourneys the Zags are not a No. 1 seed. They reached the Sweet 16 as a 4-seed in 2018.
• They have made the Sweet 16 in seven straight tournaments, the longest active streak
• Gonzaga has won 13 straight first-round games
• First time as a No. 1 seed since 1983, when the Cougars lost to NC State in the championship game
• Houston has reached three straight Sweet 16s and back-to-back Elite Eights, including a Final Four trip in 2021
• Seeking first Sweet 16 since 2005, when the Fighting Illini fell to North Carolina in the title game
• They haven’t defeated a team seeded better than No. 8 since then
• Best seed since being a No. 1 in 2013, when they were knocked out in the Sweet 16 by Syracuse
• Hoosiers have advanced past the Sweet 16 just once since 1994 (runner-up in 2002)
• 33rd consecutive tournament appearance (longest streak ever) and 22nd straight as a top-4 seed
• 11th time in past 13 tourneys as a top-2 seed
• Reached the Elite Eight or better each of the past four times as a 1-seed (2016, 2017, 2018, 2022), highlighted by last year’s championship
• Each of the past four times they weren’t a No. 1 seed, they lost in the second round (2014, 2015, 2019, 2021)
52. Kansas State
• Wildcats lost in the first round each of the past two times they were a top-4 seed (2019 to No. 13 UC Irvine, 2013 to No. 13 La Salle)
• Reached the Elite Eight the other two times they were a top-4 seed (2010 as a 2-seed, 1988 as a 4-seed)
• This is just the second time the Wildcats have been worse than a 5-seed under John Calipari. In 2014, Kentucky reached the title game as an 8-seed but lost to UConn.
• Last tourney win was 10 years ago when it reached the Elite Eight as a No. 3 seed. The Golden Eagles are 0-3 since then, with all losses by 19 or more (as a 5-, 9- and 10-seed).
• It’s also been 10 years since Shaka Smart won an NCAA tournament game (with VCU). He has lost six straight first-round games (five by 4 or fewer points, including three in OT), all as a 10-seed or better, the longest such streak ever.
• Since 2004, the Terps are 9-1 vs. teams seeded No. 7 or worse, but 0-8 vs. teams seeded No. 6 or better
• The only Sweet 16 trip in this span came in 2016, when they defeated No. 12 seed South Dakota State and No. 13 seed Hawaii to get there
• Kevin Willard, who is making his first tourney appearance with Maryland, is 1-5 in the NCAA tournament, all with Seton Hall and all when seeded between sixth and 10th
56. Miami (Fla.)
• Canes are trying to win an NCAA tourney game in consecutive years for the second time ever (1999 and 2000 under Leonard Hamilton)
• Jim Larranaga has advanced past the Sweet 16 twice in his coaching career, both times as a double-digit seed (Final Four in 2006 with George Mason, Elite Eight last year with Miami)
• Tigers haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2010
• They have lost five straight first-round games (they were favored or a 1-point underdog in each game)
58. NC State
• The Wolfpack’s most recent three trips to the Sweet 16 came as Nos. 8, 10 and 11 seeds, dating to 2005.
• Trying to become the fifth school since 1985 to win a first-round game in each of its first two NCAA tournament appearances
• In 2017, as a No. 8 seed, the Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt in the first round before falling to No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the second round
• First time as a No. 1 seed since 1996
• Seeking its first Final Four appearance since 1980
• The Boilermakers have advanced past the Sweet 16 just once in six previous trips as a top-2 seed (Elite Eight in 1994)
• They have made the Sweet 16 or better in four of the past five tournaments, but have been eliminated by No. 15 and 13 seeds the past two years
• In seven previous trips as a top-4 seed in the modern era, the Vols have never advanced past the Sweet 16. This year, they have to overcome the loss of point guard Zakai Zeigler (ACL).
• Only one of Rick Barnes’ 25 career NCAA tournament victories has come against a higher-seeded team. His 1-11 mark against higher-seeded teams is the worst among coaches with at least 10 games vs. higher seeds.
• Since Barnes’ most recent Elite Eight trip 15 years ago with Texas, his teams have not beaten a single-digit seed (0-7) and have made the Sweet 16 just once in 10 appearances
• The Longhorns haven’t won a game after the first round in 15 years. In fairness, they have been a 6-seed or worse in eight of their 10 appearances since.
• Rodney Terry is trying to become the second interim head coach to win a men’s or women’s national championship (Steve Fisher with Michigan men in 1989)
63. Texas A&M
• The Aggies have reached the Sweet 16 in each of their past two tourney trips (2018, 2016)
• In five previous tournament appearances as a No. 6 seed or worse, Buzz Williams reached the Sweet 16 once (2011 as a No. 11 seed at Marquette)
• This is the first time the Bruins are a top-2 seed since 2008, when they reached the Final Four as a No. 1 seed
• UCLA is seeking its third straight Sweet 16 appearance, a streak it has achieved just two other times in the modern era (2006-08 and 2000-02)
• Huskies have just one tourney win since their 2014 national championship season. This is their best seed since 2011, when they won the national title as a No. 3 seed.
• They have lost in the first round each of the past two years under Dan Hurley. Before that, they were 18-2 in the first round in the modern era.
66. Utah State
• Since reaching the Elite Eight in 1970, the Aggies are 1-17 in the NCAA tournament
• The one win came in overtime over Ohio State in 2001 as a No. 12 seed
• Three of Cavaliers’ past four tournament defeats have come against teams seeded at least nine spots worse than they were: 2021 first round vs. No. 13 Ohio, 2018 first round vs. No. 16 UMBC and 2016 Elite Eight vs. No. 10 Syracuse
• The Musketeers have never reached the Final Four in 28 previous NCAA tournament appearances
• In five prior trips as a top-4 seed, the Musketeers lost in the second round three times, Sweet 16 once and Elite Eight once
• Sean Miller’s teams at Arizona and Xavier have earned a No. 5 seed or better seven previous times. Six of those seven teams reached the Sweet 16, and four reached the Elite Eight. However, he is 0-4 in the Elite Eight and is still seeking his first Final Four appearance as a coach.
Special thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for its help.