Bracketology: Which Seeds Get To The Final Four?

By Carlton Chin
NCAA Tournament and March Madness Brackets
Bob Donnan – USA TODAY Sports

Previously, we computed the odds of predicting a perfect bracket for the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. You have better odds of getting struck by lightning (at roughly 1,000,000 to 1) than picking a perfect bracket! Hopefully, some of our analyses will help you to improve your chances of winning your March Madness office pool.

Here, we have some interesting tidbits to share about the NCAA tournament. Besides slight variations to the format, the March Madness 64-team tournament has existed since 1985.  While many people will pick the No. 1 seed to advance far in the tournament, what are the odds of various seeds reaching the Final Four?  Here are the probabilities, by seed, based on results from every tournament since 1985 (29 years).

Seed No. 1: 40.5% reached Final Four
No. 2: 21.6%
No. 3: 12.1%
No. 4: 11.2%
No. 5: 5.2%
No. 6: 2.6%
No. 8: 3.4%
No. 9: 0.9%
No. 11: 2.6%
Other seeds: 0% since 1985

The numbers show that play goes according to expectations to some degree. However, other seeds definitely have a chance. In fact, within each region, it is actually more likely that another seed advances to the Final Four than the No. 1 seed. No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four 40.5 percent of the time. The No. 2 seed has advanced to the Final Four roughly half the time the No. 1 seed has., and the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds roughly half the chance of the No. 2 seed.

This begs the question: how often do all four No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four? What about three No. 1 seeds?  Or no No. 1 seeds?  Here are the results since 1985:

All four No. 1 seeds advance to Final Four: 3.4%
Three No. 1 seeds: 10.3%
Two No. 1 seeds: 37.9%
One No. 1 seed: 41.4%
Zero No. 1 seeds: 6.9%

Based on past history, it is most likely that one or two No. 1 seeds will advance to the Final Four. In addition, it is more likely that zero No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four than all four!

This type of analysis can give you a framework for your March Madness bracket and give you a leg up in your office pool. This article may give you a start in picking value in teams that have a good chance of making the Final Four. We will look at potential dark horses and other bracketology analysis in future articles. Please bookmark or “favorite” this article so that you will be prepared come tournament time.

Carlton Chin is a quant researcher and sports analysis contributor at Rant Sports. Please follow him on Twitter @QuantFacts, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your Google network.

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