There are numerous strategies to filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket. Maybe you go “chalk” and pick all four No. 1 seeds to advance to the Final Four. Maybe you try to predict a dark horse team or two to make a deep run into the tournament.
You might flip a coin or simply choose a team to win a matchup if it has more wins on the season than its opponent.
But are there historical trends for the four NCAA Tournament regions – East, Midwest, South and West – that can help inform your decisions about which teams you pick to advance to the Final Four or who wins the national championship?
We examined every Final Four team since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, to find the answer.
Three regions have a very similar average seed that advances to the Final Four, while a fourth region’s average is almost one full seed line lower.
Historically, the South Region (or Southeast, as it used to be known) has been prone to dark horse Final Four teams. A team seeded No. 8 or lower has advanced from the South Region to the Final Four five times, one less than the other three regions combined (six).
[RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections]
The South Region has seen a team seeded as a No. 5 seed or lower make the Final Four 10 times – five more times than any other region.
|Region||Average Seed of Final Four Team|
Note: The 2011 NCAA Tournament had a Southwest Region, which we counted as part of the Midwest.
Loyola Chicago, a No. 11 seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, is the most recent example of a dark horse Final Four team from the South Region but the region had actually been pretty “chalk” in the previous decade. From 2007 to 2017, the No. 1 seed in the South Region advanced to the Final Four eight times.
Recently, the East and Midwest have been just as prone to a cinderella team.
A No. 7 seed has advanced from the East Region to the Final Four three times in the last five years.
In the last eight years, the Midwest Region has seen a No. 8 (Kentucky), a No. 10 (Syracuse) and a No. 11 seed (VCU) make the Final Four.
Here’s a look at which seeds have made the Final Four from each region since 1985.
|Region||No. 1 Seed||No. 2 Seed||No. 3/4 Seed||No. 5-7 Seed||No. 8-16 Seed||National Champions|
If you’re looking for other historical trends – or maybe just coincidences – a No. 1 seed has advanced to the Final Four from the East Region just three times in the last 13 years and a No. 2 seed in the South Region has made the Final Four just once in the last 20 years.
Perhaps the biggest, and most explainable, takeaway is that the national champion rarely comes from the West Region. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, just six of the 34 national champions (17.6%) have come from the West.
Only one of the last 14 national champions advanced from the West Region.
It’s reasonable to believe that’s partly due to the fact that so few of college basketball’s current top programs reside out West.
Since 1985, just seven programs from that region of the country have earned a No. 1 seed: Arizona (six times, last in 2014), UCLA (three times, last in 2008), Stanford (three times, last in 2004), UNLV (three times, last in 1991), Gonzaga (twice, last in 2017), Oregon (once in 2016), Washington (once in 2005).
But by and large, the schools in that group haven’t competed at the level of a potential No. 1 seed on an annual basis during the last three and a half decades, although you could make a case for Arizona.
When the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee places the top 16 overall teams into the NCAA Tournament bracket, it goes from the No. 1 seeds to the No. 4 seeds and the No. 1 overall seed can select its preferred region as well as its preferred first and second-region site.
One of the bracketing considerations reads, “If possible, after examining the previous two years’ brackets, teams or conferences will not be moved out of its natural region or geographic area an inordinate number of times.”
So teams tend to be placed in NCAA Tournament locations as near to their campus as often as possible.
Another is, “The committee shall not place teams seeded on the first four lines at a potential ‘home-crowd disadvantage’ in the first round.”
Of course, the 2019 college basketball season doesn’t lack a strong potential No. 1 seed out West. Gonzaga is 27-2 and the Bulldogs are a projected No. 1 seed in Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections.
So this season may not apply, but history says in most seasons, you should carefully examine a team from the West Region before penciling it in to win the national championship.
The South and Midwest regions have each been responsible for 10 national champions and six of the last 10 have come from the South.