During March Madness, there is no shortage of games that play out differently than one may have predicted. Perhaps that’s where the term “madness” comes from—anything can happen!
Predictable games can get a bit dull, but upsets keep fans on the edge of their seats. Anytime something unexpected happens on the court, like when an underdog team outscores the No. 1 seed, it keeps the games lively, unpredictable, and highly entertaining. You never know what might happen in March Madness; the volatility of this tournament draws millions of viewers each year.
In any given season, there are usually between 9-16 upsets. These events occur quite frequently in NCAA tournaments. However, some upsets are vastly less likely than others. That’s where things get really interesting.
What’s an Upset?
By most definitions, an upset occurs when the underdog (the less-favored team) beats the favorite (the team that’s more likely to win). A team’s seed is determined by its win/loss record and overall performance during the regular season.
The NCAA I Men’s Division Tournament is a single-elimination, seven-round event. 68 college basketball teams compete for the championship.
In the March Madness tournament, team rankings are indicated by the seed line; this term simply refers to one’s position in the brackets. For example, the No. 1 seeded team is ranked at the top, while the No. 16 seed is ranked at the bottom. In the NCAA, this is what’s called the Sweet Sixteen.
To average the number of upsets in an NCAA season, we need to start by specifying what we consider to be an upset. The NCAA specifies that an upset only occurs when the teams are separated by at least two seed lines. For example, a No. 3 seed team beating a No. 2 seed team isn’t an upset. But if a No. 5 seed beats a No. 2 seed, it is an upset.
Teams with lower seeds (No. 10+) are matched against teams in a higher bracket (No. 16 faces No. 1 and so on). In the first round of the tournament, most expect that the teams with higher seeds will automatically win against the underdogs. But anyone who tunes into March Madness knows that this isn’t always the case.
Interestingly enough, it’s quite rare for all No. 1-4 seeds to make it to the Final Four. This is why sports bettors need to look beyond the bracket to make accurate picks.
History of Upsets and Trends
When sports handicappers try to predict the outcome of a game, they often look back at historical trends. Learning about upsets in previous years can help sports bettors make more accurate predictions.
Some upsets happen more frequently than others. The most common upsets occur with the following seeds:
- No. 10 over No. 7
- No. 11 over No. 6
- And No. 12 over No. 5
All of these upsets hit at over 35% historically. This statistic is definitely something to pay attention to if you’re thinking about betting on a round.
It might seem surprising that a No. 12 seed often upsets games against the No. 5 seed. Just because a team is a lower rank doesn’t mean you should count them out of the tournament!
Given that the first NCAA tournament happened in 1939, there have been a lot of upsets over the years.
An upset is more likely when two teams are closer together in the tournament rankings. But it can be quite shocking when a No. 1 seed loses to a No. 16 seed—and that’s exactly what happened in 2018.
We’re going to dive into a couple of the biggest and most shocking historical upsets:
On March 16, 2018, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) squared off against the University of Virginia (UVA) in the first round of March Madness. The Virginia Cavaliers were seeded first, while the UMBC Retrievers were seeded sixteenth. Since there was such a difference between the teams’ seeds, an upset was considered highly unlikely; the Cavaliers were the favorite by far.
But when the game concluded, the final score was 74 UMBC, 54 Virginia. An upset of this magnitude had never occurred in the dozens of years that March Madness had been running. The arena of 17,943 fans were shocked, along with the 3.53 million television viewers. A No. 1 Seed had never lost to a No. 16 until this game, making it a historical upset.
Before this game, teams seeded No. 16 always lost to teams seeded No. 1; the historical record was 0-132. To say that this was an unexpected win for UMBC would be an understatement.
Many were shocked by the outcome of this game, which goes to show that in March Madness, the unexpected can happen during any game. It’s part of what makes the tournament so exciting.
In 2006, George Mason University entered March Madness as a No. 11 seed. The Patriots went on to beat the No. 6, 3, and 7 teams. In the next round, they faced the Connecticut Huskies, a team that many predicted would be the national champions. They went on to defeat this No. 1 seeded team and ultimately made it to the Final Four. This made George Mason the lowest-seeded team to ever reach the Final Four in history.
While they didn’t end up winning the tournament against Florida, they left a series of consecutive upsets in their wake. This season is often referred to as a “Cinderella story” since the Patriots achieved a level of success that surpassed all expectations. Games like these capture wide attention; there’s something about seeing an underdog team defy all the odds that everyone can get behind.
March Madness is watched by millions but accurately predicted by much fewer. Upsets are notoriously tricky to predict, even when you consider historical trends. If you’re interested in sports betting, you might want to refer to picks from a professional sports handicapper when it comes to March Madness.
Picking and betting on winning teams isn’t just guesswork. It’s more than averaging historical upsets and identifying trends. It involves carefully weighing all the factors that contribute to a team’s success and considering how they’ll fare against a specific opponent.
By using picks from a sports handicapper, you can navigate the unpredictable upsets that March Madness is known for. Kyle Covers offers NCAAB picks. Inform your sports betting by using our data-driven picks.