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How many upsets on average happen in March Madness per season?

March Madness 2018, 16-seed UMBC Retrievers
March Madness 2018, 16-seed UMBC Retrievers
Trent Bixby
ANALYST
Modified 25 Mar 2021
Feature

March Madness is known for many things: bracketology, the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship, and potential NBA-caliber athletes. However, one aspect of March Madness has become a global phenomenon: the upsets.

Small schools in little-known conferences are given the chance to play some of the best programs in the country and every once in a while, the underdogs shock the world.

The biggest upset in March Madness's history came just three years ago, when the 16th-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers stunned top-seeded Virginia in a 20-point blowout.

This was the first 16-seed over 1-seed victory in March Madness's history, leaving a glimmer of hope for every low-seed to come.

How many upsets happen during March Madness on average?

Middle Tennessee upset 2-seed Michigan State in March Madness 2016
Middle Tennessee upset 2-seed Michigan State in March Madness 2016

Over the years, we have seen countless upsets. "Unbeatable" teams have fallen and unsung heroes have risen, delivering endless drama and excitement during March Madness.

While the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament was created in 1939, this article will only focus on upsets from 1985-present. Since 1985, the March Madness tournament has used a 64-team format, only recently adding four play-in games.

The Loyola Chicago Ramblers have become a Cinderella team of sorts, reaching the Final Four in 2018 and making a run once again this season. The Ramblers shocked top-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini to advance to the Sweet Sixteen and will hope to keep their magical run alive.

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Upsets are determined by seeding, with any low-seed defeating a higher-seed being counted towards the total.

On average, there are just under 13 upsets per year in the March Madness tournament since 1985. The most upsets in one bracket came in 2019, when 19 low-seeds came away with a victory.

The fewest number of upsets during March Madness took place in 2007, when only four teams were able to take out high-seeds.

The first round has historically delivered the most upsets, with an average of six. The second round falls off significantly, however, only averaging 3.5 upsets per year. As Cinderella teams get deeper into the tournament, the probability of an upset plummets.

Once teams reach the Final Four, the chances for an upset are nearly zero. On average, an upset in the Final Four happens just once every five years. While March Madness seeding can be questionable at times, high-seeds are typically much stronger teams.

Basketball can be unpredictable, however, especially at the college level.

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When an upset occurs, underdogs get a massive boost in momentum that seemingly carries them through the tournament. While a 16-seed has never won a national championship, there have been four instances of an 11-seed reaching the final four since 1985.

Overall, upsets are a rarity, but with every year comes new possibilities. Teams with superstar talent are finally given the spotlight and some take full advantage. If the top-seeds from each region went to the Final Four every year, March Madness would lose its appeal.

The possibility of an upset will always bring a crowd, and the underdogs might gain some fans in the process.

Published 25 Mar 2021, 01:54 IST
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