We have analyzed every NCAA Tournament the past 11 years and here are the Final Four and National Final Game trends.
The NCAA Basketball Tournament will be down to the Final Four at the conclusion of this upcoming weekend, and hopefully the two huge upsets by Norfolk State over Missouri and by Lehigh over Duke did not do too much damage to your Bracket Contests, such as the one at SBR Forum.
Remember that there had been only one 15-seed to knock off a two-seed in the Round of 64 in the 11 previous NCAA Tournaments since 2001, so the fact that two 15-seeds turned the trick on the very same day this year truly defied the NCAA Basketball odds.
Moving forward, we analyzed the last 11 NCAA Tournaments beginning with the 2001 tournament following the 2000-01 season, and last week we presented you with the seeding trends over those years though the Elite Eight. This week we are giving you the trends for the Final Four and the National Championship Game, not only the seeding trends but also some general Final Four trends as well.
So do not make a move in making your NCAA Basketball picks until you have read the following. We kick things off with some general angles that we feel are definitely worth keeping an eye on this season before delving back into out seeding trends.
Please note that all records against spread are based on the closing odds from Pinnacle Sports for all NCAA Tournament games since only since 2001.
Chalk has prevailed: Much to the chagrin of the sportsbooks, the favorites have done very well in the last two rounds over the past 11 years. The chalk is 13-9, 59.1 percent ATS in the Final Four, although it did split last season with Butler covering vs. VCU but Kentucky falling as small favorites to Connecticut.
The favorites have then gone on to go a blistering 8-3 ATS in the Championship Game, including Connecticut’s covering win last season. That makes a combined record of 21-12, 63.6 percent ATS for all the favorites over the last two rounds since 2001.
Lower seeded favorites: The lower seed has been the favorite in the Final Four round four times in 11 years and it is just 1-3 ATS and 2-2 straight up in that role. As mentioned, Kentucky was that latest casualty when it lost while favored as a four-seed last season vs. the three-seed Connecticut. The most famous game involving a lower seeded favorite took place in 2004 when second-seeded Connecticut was -2 over top-seeded Duke. With Connecticut up by four points, Duke’s Chris Duhon made a “meaningless” three-pointer from mid-court at the final buzzer for a Duke cover, causing millions of dollars to change hands in a 79-78 UConn win. Incidentally, the only lower seeded favorite to cover in a Final Four game was second-seeded Arizona back in 2001 when it routed top-seeded Michigan State 80-61 as a scant 1-point favorite.
Only once has a lower seeded team been the favorite in the National Championship Game in the past 11 seasons, and that produced a positive result when the three-seeds from Florida blew out the two-seeds from UCLA 73-57 in 2006.
ACC rules: The ACC has been the most successful conference over the final two rounds, which would bode well for North Carolina this season should the Tar Heels reach New Orleans. The ACC is 7-2 ATS in all Final Four games since 2001 including a current 5-1 ATS run. Ironically, the lone ACC team to lose in this stretch was aforementioned North Carolina vs. Kansas in 2008.
The ACC has then gone 4-2 ATS and 5-1 straight up in the National Championship Game, for a combined 11-4, 73.3 percent ATS mark over the final two rounds. The only ACC team to loss the Championship Game outright in the past 11 years was Georgia Tech to Connecticut in 2004 and the other non-cover was by Duke in its narrow two-point escape vs. Butler two years ago.
Non-major ‘unders’: You would think that non-majors that make it as far as the Final Four would want to try to slow the tempo of the game, as the more possessions there are in a contest, the greater the likelihood that the better team wins and that team is usually the one from the major conference. Well, this has indeed been the case! The ‘under’ is 4-1 in Final Four games involving non-major conferences over the last 11 seasons, with an average score in those games of 127.6 points.
The ‘under’ is then a perfect 3-0 in the three Championship Games in the past 11 tournaments than have involved non-major teams, with those games averaging a scant 119.0 points. Two of those three games came in the last two years with Butler repeating as national runner-ups, and the third came in 2008 when Memphis stayed ‘under’ vs. Kansas despite the game going into overtime. That makes the ‘under’ 7-1 in games involving non-major schools over the last two rounds combined with an average combined total score of 124.4 points. Thus, look for late round ‘unders’ should Ohio and/or Xavier upset their way to the Final Four.
Up until last season, only one team seeded higher than fifth had reached the Final Four since 2001, that being the 11-seeds from George Mason in 2006. However, there were two such teams to crash the Final Four last year, with VCU becoming the second 11-seed from the Colonial Athletic Association to turn the trick in five years, and eighth-seeded Butler being the other.
One-seeds: A total of 17 one seeds have reached the Final Four since 2001, a total that remained unchanged last season when remarkably no top seeds lasted until this round. There are still three one-seeds alive this season however after Michigan State became the first one to crumble on Thursday night. The one-seeds went 10-7 straight up and a nice 11-6 ATS the last 11 seasons, but note that three of the matchups pitted two top seeds against each other. In games pitting one-seeds with lower seeds, the top seeds are 7-4 straight up and a sparkling 8-3 ATS. Interestingly, three of those one-seeds were actually underdogs to lower seeds, and the top-seeders went 2-1 ATS on those occasions. As for the three games where top-seeds opposed each other, it was the underdogs that went 2-1 both straight up and ATS.
The 10 one-seeds that reached the Championship Game went 7-3 straight up and 6-4 ATS, including three Championship Games where two one seeds faced each other. The one-seeds that have faced lower seeds in the Finals are a perfect 4-0 straight up the last 11 years and 3-1 ATS, with the only non-cover being by Duke vs. Butler in 2010. When two one-seeds faced each other in the Finals the last 11 seasons, the favorites went 2-1 both straight up and ATS. Consider all of this should Kentucky, Syracuse or North Carolina advance all the way.
Two-seeds: Again, these numbers were not affected last season as no two-seed reached the Final Four either! A total of 10 two seeds have reached the Final Four since 2001, and those teams are 5-5 straight up and 6-4 ATS. The two seeds have gone 3-3 straight up and a nice 4-2 ATS when facing one-seeds and 2-2 both straight up and ATS vs. lower seeds. Ohio State and Kansas are two-seeds still alive this year.
However, the two-seeds that advanced to the Championship Game went just 1-4 both straight up and ATS, with the 2004 Connecticut Huskies being the only two-seed to emerge triumphant vs. third-seeded Georgia Tech. Of the four losses by the two-seeds in the Finals, two came vs. one-seeds and two came vs. three-seeds.
Three-seeds: A total of seven three-seeds have reached the Final Four, and they are 4-3 both straight up and ATS with Connecticut being the latest winner last season despite being a small underdog to fourth-seeded Kentucky. The Huskies were only the second three-seed to actually be the higher seeded team in the Final Four, with the other being Florida when it routed Cinderella George Mason in 2006.
The four three-seeds that advanced to the Finals have had success, going 3-1 both straight up and ATS with Connecticut last year joining the 2003 Syracuse Orange and the 2006 Florida Gators. The lone three-seed to lose in the National Championship Game was Georgia Tech vs. the 2004 Connecticut team.
Four-seeds: Somewhat surprisingly, Kentucky last year was only the third four-seed to reach the Final Four the last 11 tournaments, and all three have now lost both straight up and ATS. The Wildcats were preceded by Louisville, which lost by 15 points to Illinois in 2005, and LSU, which lost by 14 points to UCLA in 2006.
Five-seeds: There was one more five-seed (4) to reach the Final Four since 2001 than there were four-seeds (3), and the five-seeds went 2-2 both straight up and ATS. It should be noted that a couple of five-seeds faced each other in 2010 when Butler knocked off Michigan State. As for the other five-seeds, Indiana advanced to the Finals by upsetting Oklahoma in 2002, while the 2005 Michigan State team got blown out by North Carolina.
Neither of the five-seeds advancing to the Finals won outright, although as previously mentioned, Butler covered the spread vs. Duke in 2010. Indiana was not as fortunate while losing by 12 points to top-seeded Maryland in 2002.
Eight seed: Butler became the first eight-seed in our 11-year study to reach the Final Four last season, and the Bulldogs had the good fortune to get matched up with the 11-seeds from VCU. Butler won and covered ATS as a 3½-point favorite.
The Bulldogs were then three-point underdogs to Connecticut in the National Championship Game, where they became the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight in a 53-41 loss.
11 seeds: VCU joined the 2006 George Mason teams as being the only two 11-seeds in the Final Four in the last 11 seasons, and each team saw its Cinderella dream crash with an ATS loss.