2018 NCAA Tournament: More Competitive Than Ever

And then there were two. When Villanova plays Michigan tonight, it will be the first 1 seed versus 3 seed match-up since 1990 (when 1st-seeded UNLV defeated 3rd-seeded Duke), and if that game is any indication of how tonight will play out, Villanova will win its 2nd national championship in three years and its 3rd in school history. If Michigan wins, however, it will be its first since 1989 and its 2nd in school history.

In my last blog (“High Seeds Bring High Expectations”) I explained how far you should expect your team to advance and how many games you should expect it to win. I won’t regurgitate my last blog, but I will repeat some of what was said in that blog.  

Odds are, your team didn’t win as many games as you would’ve liked, but did it at least win as many as it should have?      

Seed                                         Expectation                          Wins

1                                               Final Four                               4

2                                               Elite Eight                              3

3, 4                                           Sweet Sixteen                        2

5, 6, 7, 8                                   Round of Thirty-Two                1

9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16       None                                     0

According to this table, eight teams met expectations by winning as many games as they were supposed to win: Kansas (1), Duke (2), Gonzaga (4), Ohio State (5), Florida (6), Houston (6), Rhode Island (7), and Seton Hall (8). In addition, since the 9 seeds and lower weren’t expected to win any games, 23 of them (out of 32 teams) performed as expected.

Fifteen teams failed to meet expectations: Arizona (4), Arkansas (7), Auburn (4), Cincinnati (2), Creighton (8), Miami (Florida) (6), Michigan State (3), Missouri (8), North Carolina (2), Tennessee (3), Texas Christian University (6), Virginia (1), Virginia Tech (8), Wichita State (4), and Xavier (1).

Fifteen teams exceeded expectations: Alabama (9), Buffalo (13), Butler (10), Clemson (5), Florida State (9), Kansas State (9), Kentucky (5), Loyola (Chicago) (11), Marshall (13), Michigan (3), Nevada (7), Syracuse (11), Texas A&M (7), University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) (16), and Villanova (1).

Biggest Winners and Losers

No win was bigger than UMBC’s. The Retrievers weren’t expected to win a single game, but they did. And made history as the first 16 seed to beat a 1 seed! There were other first-round surprises by teams expected to go winless. The 13th-seeded Buffalo Bulls shellacked 4th-seeded Arizona, and the 13th-seeded Marshall Thundering Herd beat 4th-seeded Wichita State.

As I’ve said, teams seeded 9 and lower aren’t expected to win, but three of these teams got hot. Florida State and Kansas State, both 9 seeds, won three games and reached the Elite Eight. The most surprising team in this year’s tournament, however, and perhaps the biggest winner, was the Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers. An 11 seed, they won four games and reached the Final Four!

Then there were the teams that won far fewer games than expected. Virginia tops this list, of course. The 1 seed was expected to win four games and reach the Final Four, but it lost in the opening round. Cincinnati and North Carolina were close behind. The Bearcats and Tar Heels, 2 seeds expected to win three games and reach the Elite Eight, lost in the second round to 7 seeds: Cincinnati fell to Nevada, and North Carolina was routed by Texas A&M.  


This year’s tournament was historic (with UMBC’s win over Virginia), and considering how many 9 seeds or lower advanced to the Elite Eight, it may have also been the most competitive. This year aside, only once in the last 20 years has the Elite Eight included more than one 9 seed or lower: Kent State (10) and Missouri (12) reached the Elite Eight in 2002. Three teams from this group reached this year’s Elite Eight—Florida State (9), Kansas State (9), and Loyola (Chicago) (11)—but unlike Kent State and Missouri, who lost their Elite Eight games, Loyola (Chicago) won its game and advanced to the Final Four.

This year proved that America’s most popular sports tournament is becoming more competitive, which will undoubtedly make it more popular. And more difficult to predict.