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Class Is In Session: First Bracketology Lesson


Is having a #1 seed really that much better than having a #2 seed?

It is certainly an interesting question. To answer the question we need to take a look at a bunch of statistics. A 1-seed, on average, wins 3.32 games per tournament. A 2-seed wins 2.41 games per tournament, for an improvement of about 1 game per tourney for the 1-seeds.

But why exactly is that? Obviously the first round doesn't make much of a difference, with 1-seeds still perfect against 16-seeds and 2-seeds only having lost 4 times to 15-seeds. What happens in the second round is interesting though. Through the 2007 tournament, 1-seeds were 80-12 (.870) against 8 or 9 seeds. In contrast, 2-seeds were merely 58-30 (.659) against 7 or 10 seeds. So more than 5 out of every 6 #1-seeds make it to the Sweet 16, but only about 4 out of every 6 #2-seeds make it. 2 seeds lose in this round at almost 3 times the rate of a 1 seed!

The tournament seeds teams into these "pods". Pod A would be the grouping with 1-8-9-16 seed. Pod D would be the grouping with 2-7-10-15 seed. Is Pod D really that much more difficult than Pod A for the top seeded team? The average seed, excluding the 2, for Pod D is 10.67. The average seed of Pod A, by contrast, is 11.

Furthermore, 7, 8, 9, and 10 seeds all tend to be bigger name schools that have underachieved. You don't see a mid-major there as often as you see a team from one of the Big 6 conferences that had an OK season. Does the tourney selection committee really throw 2-seeds that much tougher of a matchup with a 7 seed?

In my opinion, the performance of the 2-seeds has more to do with the team itself than the seed in front of its name. Sure the 1-seeds get protected by location a bit more (playing closer to home). In one recent tournament, North Carolina played most of it's tourney run in the state of North Carolina.

The point is, if you're a 1-seed, you probably wowed the selection committee in some way that you are one of the 4 most dominant teams in the land. That is why 1-seeds are more solid, and win 1 more game on average per tournament. It is because they rarely falter. If you are a 2-seed, you probably have some blemish on your resume that makes the committee think you're a little more vulnerable. So it would make sense that the 2-seeds are more upset prone in general, and it's not because they have to play tougher competition early in the tournament.

Of course, another interesting stat for you to chew on: from 2003-2007, 6 and 7 seeds went 31-17 against the spread, indicating that perhaps they were a bit undervalued. Perhaps that's why 2-seeds have had trouble lately (one can certainly remember Davidson toppling Georgetown and West Virginia taking down Duke last year).

As far as who wins more 1 vs. 2 matchups, that is also interesting. In the Elite Eight through 2007, 1-seeds were 16-16 (.500) against 2-seeds. In the same timeframe, in the Final Four, 1-seeds were 5-3 against 2-seeds (.625). Finally, in the championship game, 1-seeds are a remarkable 4-1 (.800) against 2-seeds. Perhaps by this point seeding makes a difference. But overall in the tournament, 2-seeds take down 1-seeds at a rate of 44% - extremely respectable.

Finally, 1-seeds have won a remarkable 14 championships since the bracket got introduced in 1985. 2-seeds have still won a respectable 4 championships.

So take heart Sooner fans, whether it's a 1 or a 2 seed, this team controls it's own destiny. Don't believe any of that seeding voo-doo.