The Madness of 1 Seeds

March Madness is an event that captivates a huge crowd, with millions of brackets submitted every year trying to pick the winner of the 68 team tournament that ends the college basketball season. 60 teams are placed into the bracket in one of four regions, with a seed between 1 and 16 (1 is the best), and four play-in games select the last teams to get into the bracket.

A committee has selected the seeds of every team in the tournament since 1979, and the only major differences in the tournament between 40 years ago and now is the number of teams that are in it, and the removal of byes for highly seeded (1-4) teams before the 1985 tournament. The total number of teams was 40 in 1979 and quickly rose to 64 by 1985, to get our current format of four regions with 16 teams each.

Being the 1 seed in a region is a privilege that only the best teams get, and they are the favorites to win the tournament each year, as expected. It would be easy to say the teams with the best record get to put the coveted “1” next to their team, but where exactly do these teams come from, and are they as good in the tournament as they’re expected to be? Data was collected from a basketball reference affiliate on every team to have been a 1 seed from 1979 through 2019 to see how 1 seeds are historically selected and how they perform as a whole and over time. Computations were performed in Excel.

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