Why The Number 8 Seed Is The Worst Spot In The NCAA Tournament

Something we’ve long suspected, but have not have really been able to explain in any rational way is that being an 8 or 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament is the worst thing that can happen to your favourite college basketball team.

Why? Because your “reward” for winning is a second-round game against a No. 1 seed. That’s why a nine-seed has only made it to the Sweet 16 four times — the same number of times that the 13-seed has done it.

Well, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight did the dirty work of breaking down the numbers to show just how much of a disadvantage it is to be an 8 or 9 seed.

ncaa seeds

Photo: NYTimes/538

As this chart shows (there are a lot more charts and fact on the 538 blog, so you should read it), the incentive to win more games to try and get bumped up to a 7-seed is HUGE, but if you’re somewhere in the 8-11 range, tanking might be in your interest. (However, the chance that you would “tank” yourself right our the tourney is too great.)

Silver (like many others) thinks this makes the NCAA Tournament inherently unfair, but that’s only because first-round upsets inevitably destroy the balance of the bracket. If every higher seed won, then it would only be right that the 8 face the 1 — but that’s never going to happen in the real world.

On the other hand, that uncertainty and volatility is what the makes the NCAA tournament so exiting for fans. One could also argue that it isn’t fair to the No. 1 seed to always have to face a 8 or 9 in the second round, while a 2-seed often gets to face a 10 or a 4 gets a 12. But … if you’re going to win the NCAA Tournament, you’re probably going to have to beat a No. 1 seed somewhere along the way.

In that sense, the NCAA Tourney is one of the fairest championships there is. Unlike say … oh, just an example … college football … everyone gets the chance to prove they’re the best, by beating the best. On the court.

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