How often do upsets happen in the first round of the NCAA Tournament?


One of the most maddening parts of March Madness is predicting where the upsets will happen.

Everyone knows they’re coming. Fans examine their brackets looking for double-digit seeds to become the next Cinderella team. But with just a one-in-9 quintillion chance of filling out a perfect bracket, it’s practically impossible to nail every pick.

Double-digit seeds are the biggest culprits of busting brackets. Which ones are most likely to pull off first-round upsets?

Here’s a look at first-round upsets by seeding matchup since the tournament field expanded in 1985:

How often do No. 16 seeds upset No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

It’s the upset of all upsets, and it’s happened just one time.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County pulled off one of the most shocking results in NCAA Tournament history when it beat No. 1 Virginia as a No. 16 seed in the 2018 first round. The score was knotted at 21-21 at halftime, but the Retrievers went off in the second half on their way to a historic 74-54 victory.

UMBC is the only No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Entering the 2022 tournament, No. 1 seeds were 143-1 all-time against No. 16 seeds.

How often do No. 15 seeds upset No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

Only nine No. 15 seeds have ever reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. From 1985 to 2021, No. 2 seeds were 135-9 against No. 15 seeds all-time.

2012 is the only year to feature two No. 15-No. 2 upsets, as Lehigh shocked Duke and Norfolk State edged Missouri. Oral Roberts was the most recent No. 15 seed to advance, beating No. 2 Ohio State in the 2021 opening round.

How often do No. 14 seeds upset No. 3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

More than twice as many No. 14 seeds have advanced to the second round than No. 15 seeds.

No. 14 seeds are 22-122 against No. 3 seeds in the first round. Two such upsets have happened in the same tournament three times, and a No. 14 seed has won a first-round game in 19 of 36 tournaments since 1985.

Abilene Christian pulled off the feat in the 2021 tournament against in-state foe Texas.

How often do No. 13 seeds upset No. 4 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

No. 13 seeds are a bit more likely to advance than No. 14 seeds. No. 13 seeds are 31-113 all-time against No. 4 seeds since 1985.

In 2021, North Texas and Ohio became the latest No. 13 seeds to get past No. 4 seeds in the first round. From 2018-2021, No. 13 seeds had almost a 50-50 chance of winning, going 5-7 against No. 4 seeds.

How often do No. 12 seeds upset No. 5 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

We’re now entering the section of the first round where “upset” is more of a loose term.

No. 12 seeds have a 51-93 record against No. 5 seeds since 1985, good for a .354 winning percentage. In that stretch, all four No. 5 seeds moved on in the same tournament just five times.

Four No. 12 seeds have never advanced in the same tournament, but they’ve come close. Three No. 12 seeds beat No. 5 seeds in 2013, 2014 and 2019.

How often do No. 11 seeds upset No. 6 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

No. 11 seeds are only slightly more likely to advance than No. 12 seeds all-time, but they are on a hot streak over the last five tournaments.

No. 11 seeds are 54-90 (.375 winning percentage) against No. 6 seeds since 1985. Since 2016, No. 11 seeds are actually more likely to win their opening games than No. 6 seeds, though, going 11-9 over that stretch. Going back even further, a No. 11 seed has upset a No. 6 in every tournament since 2005.

The 1989 tournament is the only one where all four No. 11 seeds won their matchups against No. 6 seeds.

How often do No. 10 seeds upset No. 7 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

No. 10 seeds have beaten No. 7 seeds nearly 40% of the time, going 57-87 since 1985.

Like No. 11 seeds, all four No. 10 seeds have advanced in the same tournament just one time (1999). On the flip side, No. 7 seeds have swept No. 10 seeds in just two tournaments (1993 and 2007.)

How often do No. 9 seeds upset No. 8 seeds in the NCAA Tournament?

When it comes to No. 9 seeds against No. 8 seeds, it’s almost a complete toss-up with a slight advantage for the “underdogs.”

From 1985 to 2021, No. 9 seeds went 73-71 against No. 8 seeds. Recent history has been more favorable for No. 9 seeds, as well, with those teams going 12-8 in first-round games since 2016.

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