There are 16 teams left in this year’s NCAA men’s college basketball tournament. Only four will remain after this coming weekend and just one will be able to call itself the 2019 national champion. Who will it be? Which teams will make the Final Four? Which one will win it all? Navigating through the history of the Sweet Sixteen may help.

Consider each of the following facts about the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four in the modern era. For the purpose of this writing, the modern era is considered since 1985. That is when the NCAA tournament was expanded to 64 teams. 

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We’re No. 1!
In the 15 years since the Selection Committee has been announcing the overall tournament’s No. 1 seed, only three times has that team won it all. The only other time Duke was the overall No. 1 seed was in 2006. The Blue Devils lost in the Sweet 16 to No. 4 LSU. 

No team has ever won a national championship after having lost its first game in a conference tournament. This year, Purdue, Texas Tech, and LSU all lost their respective conference tournament opener. Each team has played well thus far in the tourney, but when it’s all said and done none will be crowned champion.

Three No. 1s from Same Conference
Only one other time have three No. 1 tournament seeds hailed from the same conference. It happened back in 2009 before the breakup of the Big East. Connecticut, Louisville, and Pittsburgh all earned a No. 1 seed. All three made the Elite Eight but only Connecticut made the Final Four and the Huskies did not win the tournament. The tourney’s other No. 1 seed – North Carolina – did. 

Top Seeds Advance
Last year, only seven of the top 16 seeded teams in the tournament advanced to the Sweet 16. The average is 10. This year, 14 of the top 16 made it. Only Auburn (No. 5) and Oregon (No. 12) were not among the top 16 seeds. 

The top four seeds in a region advance to the Sweet Sixteen just 12.5 percent of the time. It did not happen last year, but in 2019 it happened twice. The East and West Regions have sent their top four seeds to the Sweet Sixteen.

This year marks just the second time in 22 seasons of college basketball that we have a Sweet Sixteen with all four No. 2 seeds alive. In the modern era (since 1985), it has only happened five times (1989, 1995, 1996, 2009, 2019).

This year’s tournament also marks just the third time that all four No. 3 seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. In seven of the past nine tournaments, only one or two No. 3s advanced.

Lucky Ducks
Don’t think Oregon has a chance against No. 1 Virginia? In each of the past three tournaments, there have been multiple teams seeded sixth or worse in the Elite Eight. Only three times – 1995, 2007, 2009 – have all Elite Eight participants been seeded fourth or better and there has never been an Elite Eight without at least one No. 1 seed. Since all four No. 1s are still alive, it’s worth noting that all four No. 1 seeds have reached the Elite Eight on eight occasions. It’s only happened once in the last nine years (2016).

Speaking of Oregon… the Ducks made it 33-for-35. In the 35 years since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, at least one team seeded No. 10 or worse has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. More often than not, two or three such seeds advance to the tournament’s second weekend. 

We’re Back!
No. 12 is back. At least one No. 11 seed reached the Sweet Sixteen in each of the past five tournaments. Zero No. 12s made it during the same span. Oregon ended that streak with its first Sweet Sixteen since 2016. 

It’s been a while since a No. 5 seed has advanced to the Elite Eight. The last time one moved on was in 2011 when Arizona beat Duke. Ever since No. 5 seeds playing in the Sweet Sixteen have lost seven straight. 

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At least one No. 1 seed has reached the Final Four in the last seven tournaments and 11 of the past 12. Only once (11 years ago) have all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four. Since 1979, one No. 1 seed has advanced to the Final Four 15 times. Two No. 1s have made it 17, and three No. 1s just four times.

So what does all this mean? Exactly what it did when it all started a little over a week ago – March Madness!!

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