NCAA Tournament 2012: Can A 13-Seed Really Reach The Final Four?

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 16: Walter Offutt #3 and Ricardo Johnson #20 of the Ohio Bobcats celebrate after defeating the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 16, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In this year's NCAA Tournament, we have a 10-seed, an 11-seed, and a 13-seed in the Sweet 16. Historically speaking, do these teams have any hope of advancing further? We look through the 26-year history of the 16-seed format to find out. | Sweet 16 Schedule

Two rounds in, the 2012 NCAA Tournament has treated us to several statistical anomalies. Prior to last week, a 15-seed had won only four of 104 first-round games -- in other words, that's a winning percentage of 3.8%. Thanks to Lehigh and Norfolk St., we saw two more.

We have a few statistical outliers in the Sweet 16 as well. Let's go region-by-region and examine the historical odds of these teams to reach the Elite Eight, and while we're at it, let's look at how historically likely these teams are to reach the Final Four.


NCAA Tournament Schedule: Tip Times And TV Info For Sweet 16

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This is the 27th year of the tournament in its present, 16-seed form. That means that prior to this year, there have been 104 instances of each seed. Of those 104 1-seeds, 100 reached the Sweet 16, so in that sense and several others, it wasn't surprising to see all four 1-seeds make it in this year.

Historically speaking, a 1-seed such as Kentucky stands a 72.1 percent chance of reaching the Elite Eight, and a 43.2 percent chance of reaching the Final Four. If teams were playing seven-game series in this tournament, (the Tournament would last 900 years) the 1-seeds would surely have a much higher winning percentage.

One issue with tracking this sort of data is that when we get to the lower seeds in the higher rounds, the sample size naturally gets smaller. For example, prior to this year, only seven 10-seeds had reached the Elite Eight, and it's difficult to use a value that small for any predictive purpose. By the time the 2350 NCAA Tournament rolls around we'll have tons of data to work with. For now, though, it is worth noting that if the Xavier Musketeers somehow find their way into the Final Four, they'll be the first ever 10-seed to do so.


The only seeding difference between the South Region and the West Region is that this one features a 7-seed instead of a 10-seed. Again, I want to stress the low sample size, but: a 10-seed has actually reached the Elite Eight (7 times) more often than a 7-seed (6 times).

And like Xavier, Florida is aiming for a first: no 7-seed in the 16-seed format has ever reached the Final Four.


If Cincinnati reaches the Final Four, they will be only the fourth 6-seed to do so.

Once we start looking at late-round data, by the way, an interesting trend emerges: Historically speaking, you aren't necessarily better off as a higher seed. This is especially true of the middle seeds: No 7-seed, 9-seed, or 10-seed has reached the Final Four, but two 11-seeds have done so.


A UNC-Kansas regional final is overwhelmingly likely, but for the time being we can appreciate how weird the Midwest Region has been this year. Of the 104 prior teams of each seed, only 12 11-seeds and four 13-seeds had reached the Sweet 16.

From here, the odds of NC State or Ohio advancing shrink to almost zero, and since a 1-seed and a 2-seed are still in play, the odds are especially long. The results of the next two games in the Midwest Region will tell us whether the 2012 NCAA Tournament is merely run-of-the-mill insane, or totally f***in' bumblebees.

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