Wichita State Gregg Marshall’s Shockers have won their first-round game each of the past four years, with varying seeds. They were expected to win as a No. 1 seed in 2014, but they also won as 7, 9 and 11 seeds. This year, Wichita State comes in hot, but received only a 10 seed and a tough matchup with Dayton.
Wisconsin The Badgers have reached the Sweet 16 in five of the past six tournaments, including a pair of Final Four appearances (one of which ended in a championship game loss). Wisconsin may not be expected to win two games this year as a No. 8 seed with a potential second-round date with Villanova, but the Badgers are always a tough out, and it wouldn’t be a total shocker if they did it again. Conferences
Five years ago, a 14-4 power conference regular-season champion (Washington) didn’t even get an at-large bid. This year, a handful of power conference teams with sub.-500 marks in league play received consideration until deep into Championship Week. These things happen when the bubble is so weak. Ultimately, though, just one got in (Kansas State).
If you like to know which conferences have been hot or cold in NCAA tournament play, this section is for you. There’s something for everyone here, a nugget on each of the 32 conferences, so let’s get to it.
An America East team hasn’t won a first-round game since Vermont defeated Syracuse in 2005, and only once since then has a conference team even stayed within single digits of its opponent. Vermont is well-equipped to put an end to that 11-game first-round losing skid, as a dangerous 13 seed in the Midwest. They do have to face the Big Ten regular-season champs, though, in Purdue.
In its first year of existence in 2014, the American had two Sweet 16 participants, including eventual national champion UConn. In the two years since, the conference has just two wins total, both coming in the first round. Four of the five first-round games in that stretch were decided by one or two points.
Each year from 2008 to 2014, the Atlantic 10 supplied exactly one Sweet 16 team. The A-10 has come up empty the past two years in that regard, although in fairness, no team was seeded better than seventh. Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island hope to help avoid a conference-record-tying third such year in a row.
Last year, seven ACC teams combined for 19 wins in the tournament, setting the record for most by a conference in a single tourney. The ACC has had multiple teams in the Sweet 16 in 33 of the past 37 years, as well. With a whopping nine teams in this year’s field, the conference could break the record again.
The past two times the Atlantic Sun received better than a 16 seed, its representative pulled a memorable first-round upset. In 2013, FGCU actually won a pair of games to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. Then, in 2014, 14th-seeded Mercer sent Duke packing. FGCU is back again, this time as a 14 seed, hoping to work some more magic against Florida State.
Once again, the Big 12 is one of the top conferences, but disappointing results during the years have made them difficult to trust. Since the conference’s formation in 1997, it has just one champion to claim (Kansas in 2008). Last year, Oklahoma became just the second Big 12 team in the eight years since that title to reach the Final Four. Losing some of its top seeds in the first round has been the latest bugaboo.
All three No. 14 seeds to win the past two years came against Big 12 teams, and the conference has had at least one top-five seed lose in the first round each of the past five years, going back to No. 2 Missouri getting shocked by 15 seed Norfolk State in 2012. This year’s top-five seeds from the Big 12: Kansas, Baylor, West Virginia and Iowa State.
Villanova’s national championship run last year was impressive, and thank goodness for the sake of the Big East as a whole, because when it comes to surviving past the first weekend … the struggle has been real since the conference was forced to downsize.
In the past three years, Big East teams are just 2-8 in second-round games, with half of those losses coming by top-three seeds. Yes, that’s just two Sweet 16 teams in three years! Villanova is expected to carry the torch for the conference again this year, but will it receive any help from the other six Big East teams in the field?
The Big Sky is just 3-32 in the modern era of the NCAA tournament and has just one win in the 2000s, Montana defeated Nevada in 2006 as a 12 seed. North Dakota, making its first tournament appearance, will have its hands full against Arizona as a 15 seed.
The Big South has only one win in the round of 64, which came by Gregg Marshall’s Winthrop squad in 2007, his final season in Rock Hill. The Eagles are back in the tourney for the first time in seven years, this time with Pat Kelsey at the helm, and their 13 seed is the highest the conference has received since 2008.
It’s been a long time since the last national champion from the Big Ten , 17 years to be exact. Since Michigan State hoisted the trophy in 2000, the conference has had 12 teams reach the Final Four, and while half of those got to the title game, they are winless in those six games. Since Purdue got the Big Ten’s highest seed as a No. 4, it’ll take a special run to end the drought.
The past two years, Big West teams have played extremely well. In 2015, UC Irvine nearly upset Louisville in the first round, then last year Hawaii knocked off Maryland to break the conference’s 11-year dry spell in the round of 64. Both of them were 13 seeds, though. This year, UC Davis is making its tourney debut as a 16 seed. It’s only the third time the Big West has earned the lowest possible seed, and the previous two times, teams lost by 27 and 38 points in the first round. The Aggies will need to beat North Carolina Central on Wednesday just to get to the first round.
The CAA has gone winless in the round of 64 four straight years for the first time ever. Don’t let the cold streak fool you, though, as Colonial teams almost always put up a good fight. Last year, UNC Wilmington (13 seed) gave Duke all it could handle and in 2015 Northeastern (14 seed) took Notre Dame down to the wire. UNCW is back with most of the same players from last year’s team, so it will be a popular upset pick in the first round, albeit against Virginia’s stingy defense.
Conference USA teams have pulled arguably the biggest upset in each of the past two tournaments. Last year, there’s no doubt 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee beating Michigan State was the largest surprise, and the year before, UAB was one of two 14 seeds to win a game when it took down Iowa State by one point. This year, with Middle Tennessee back as an 12 seed, the conference has its best seed in four years, so is a third straight first-round upset — even if not on the level of the previous two years — in store?
Upsets in the Horizon League tournament in recent years have meant worse seeds for its NCAA tournament representatives, which may explain its current drought of five straight years without an NCAA tourney victory, the longest in league history. The last Horizon League team to win a game in the Dance is since-departed Butler, on its way to a second straight championship game appearance in 2011. This year, the league’s top three seeds were eliminated from the conference tourney before the semifinals, so it’s up to 15-seeded Northern Kentucky, which is making its tourney debut. The lowest-seeded league team to win an NCAA tournament game was 14th-seeded Xavier in 1991, when it was called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
Simply put, no one wants to play the Ivy League champ. It’s been like that for a long time, but not until recently did they start handing out more “L’s.” In the first 25 years of the modern era (1985-2009), The Ivy won just three NCAA tourney games, two of which came from teams seeded better than 12th. In the seven years since, the league has won five games total, despite being seeded 12th or worse each time. Not only has this one-bid league won in its first-round matchup in three of the past four years, but two of its three losses during the aforementioned seven-year span came by two points each (Harvard against North Carolina in 2015, and Princeton against Kentucky in 2011). Princeton went unbeaten in Ivy play this season, so needless to say — but I’ll say it anyway — Notre Dame, you’ve got a fight on your hands.
Much like in the Horizon League, the MAAC has seen its top seed fail in the conference tourney in recent years, and the conference’s NCAA results bear that out. Back in 2008-09, the MAAC won a first-round game in consecutive years for the first time. The conference hasn’t won a game since, and that’s not expected to change this year, with 14 seed Iona as its lone representative.
There was a time when the MAC was the mid-major conference that seemed to make the most noise each March, but it’s been a different story for a while now. In the past 13 years, the MAC has just three total wins, all by Ohio (including a Sweet 16 trip in 2012). After Buffalo lost a couple of close games the past two years, will Kent State finally break through and give us some #MACtion by shocking UCLA?
The MEAC is just 3-25 in the first round, but all three wins have been memorable upsets as No. 15 seeds. That said, none of the losses have been close, with all 25 coming by double digits (and an average of 23.8 points). Then again, the best seed the MEAC has ever received is a 14, and even that’s happened only twice. North Carolina Central brings a veteran squad to the Dance this year, but will have to emerge from the First Four just to play in the first round.
Missouri Valley Conference teams are known for being tournament tough, but did you know The Valley is the only conference to win a first-round game each of the past four years without a loss (7-0)? Seeding hasn’t deterred them from making noise, either, as the three MVC teams to reach the Sweet 16 since 2010 were seeded 7th, 9th and 9th. It’s all on Wichita State’s shoulders this year, as the Valley’s only representative.
The Mountain West is a one-bid conference for the second straight year, which is something that happened just once in the first 16 years of the conference’s existence. To make matters worse, that one representative — the Wolf Pack of Nevada — is a 12 seed, and while MW teams have historically struggled in general, they’ve been especially dreadful as double-digit seeds. How bad? How about 1-16 all time in the first round (and even 0-2 in First Four games) when seeded 10th or worse. Even knowing that each year stands on its own, these facts likely don’t give you a burning desire to pick Nevada to make a mini-run, do they?
This marks the fifth straight year the Northeast Conference representative has been sent to the First Four in Dayton to start their journey. The NEC is the only conference to have never won a game in the round of 64, and only once in the past 18 years has an NEC outfit come within single digits of its opponent in that round. This marks the 15th straight year the conference has gotten a 15 or 16 seed, so the odds are certainly stacked against them. Mount St. Mary’s will have to win on Tuesday before it can set its sights on breaking new ground for the conference.
The Ohio Valley Conference has had its success in bundles, or not at all. Since 1985, the OVC has won six first-round games, all occurring via a pair of three-year streaks (one win each from 1987-89 and 2010-12). In all other years, the conference is 0-26 in the first round. NCAA tournament first-timer Jacksonville State is not expected to get a new streak started as a 15 seed this year.
Not only has it been 20 years since a Pac-12 team won a championship (Arizona in 1997), but we haven’t even seen a Pac-12 squad reach the Final Four in nine years (UCLA in 2008). Each of the other four power conferences, as well as the Big East, has supplied at least one Final Four team in the past two years alone. Is this the year we can finally celebrate the “Conference of Champions” in men’s basketball? After all, in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA, the Pac-12 has a trio of top-three seeds for just the fourth time ever (1981, 1992, 2007).
The Patriot League representative the past three years has lost its first-round game by an average of 40 points. The league has just three wins in the first round in its history (2005, 2006 and 2012), and hasn’t had a first-round loss decided by single digits since 2003, when Holy Cross gave Dwyane Wade and Marquette a scare. Bucknell, a 13 seed in the West region, is a strong candidate to put up a good fight in the first round this year.
At least one SEC team has reached the Elite Eight in 20 of the past 25 years. Last year, no one in the conference got that far for the first time since 2009. This isn’t about the great depth of the conference, though. It’s all about Kentucky and Florida, as they’ve accounted for 10 of the SEC’s 11 Elite Eight appearances in the past 10 years. Things are likely no different this year, as the conference’s best bets to get that far are the ‘Cats and Gators once again.
Southern Conference teams have given higher seeds trouble in the tourney for years, but they have surprisingly few wins to show for it. Would you believe the only wins the conference has in the past 19 years are the three that Stephen Curry and Davidson collected on the way to the Elite Eight in 2010? Until last year when 12th-seeded Chattanooga was outclassed by Indiana in the first round, the previous five SoCon teams seeded better than 15th lost by no more than eight points. East Tennessee State is back in the tourney for the first time since 2004, and fits that seeding criteria, as a No. 13.
For the first time in four years, someone besides Stephen F. Austin snagged the Southland Conference ‘s automatic bid. The Lumberjacks won a first-round game in two of the past three years, which is one more win than the entire conference’s total in the round of 64 the previous 28 years! This year, it’s up to New Orleans to try to build on SFA’s recent accomplishments. It won’t be easy as a 16 seed playing in the First Four, though.
It’s been 24 years since the SWAC last won a first-round game. In 1993, 13th-seeded Southern knocked off Georgia Tech 93-78. That’s also the last time the conference received better than a 15 seed. Nothing new on that front again this year, as Texas Southern was given a 16 seed and a date with North Carolina.
The Summit League has just one NCAA tournament first-round win in the past 18 years. That came in 2014, when 12th-seeded North Dakota State knocked off Oklahoma in OT. South Dakota State returns this year, making it six straight years that either the Jackrabbits or North Dakota State has won the Summit League’s automatic bid.
Last year, Little Rock upset Purdue in double-overtime to give the Sun Belt a first-round win in back-to-back years for just the third time in more than a quarter century (1992-93, 2008-09). If Troy does the impossible and knocks off Duke, it’ll mark just the second time the conference has won at least one game in the round of 64 in three straight years (1985-87).
The West Coast Conference has won at least one first-round game each of the past nine years, and it has almost everything to do with Gonzaga. The Zags are the only WCC team to win in the round of 64 the past six years. The rest of the conference has just four wins in the past 20 years, not counting the First Four (Saint Mary’s won two in 2010, San Diego in 2008, Pepperdine in 2000). Seventh-seeded Saint Mary’s is the other WCC representative this year, and they’ve got “havoc” on their hands in the form of VCU in round one.
It’s been a decade since a WAC team won a tournament game, when Nevada beat Creighton in OT in 2007. As the WAC has become far less imposing in recent years, one bid and a double-digit seed are to be expected. Since that’s the current reality — New Mexico State is a 14 seed this year — it is worth noting the last time a double-digit seed from the WAC won a game was in 2004, when 10th-seeded Nevada reached the Sweet 16.