Parity leading to record number of new March Madness contenders

Eli Boettger | @boettger_eli | 02/17/2020

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March Madness fans aiming to pick up a few dollars from this year’s bracket pools will need to put in some extra studying this time around.

In what has been one of the most parity-driven seasons in recent memory, national title contenders are popping up from lesser-known pockets of the college basketball map, likely forcing some challenging bracket picks next month.

Following a season where Zion Williamson highlights blew up social media feeds, the 2019-20 college basketball season lacks a household player or a powerhouse favorite. Sure, Baylor, Dayton and San Diego State are a combined 72-3 and Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga have been as good as advertised, but the broad conversations about the sport are wildly different than they were a year ago.

The table below shows the number of protected seeds (top four seed lines) that returned as protected seeds in the following year’s NCAA Tournament as well as the number of teams that missed the previous year’s tournament that were also on the top four seed lines.

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* — based off bracketmatrix.com’s projections as of Feb. 17.

As of February 17, Bracket Matrix‘s projections included just four returning protected seeds and five new tournament participants on the top four seed lines.

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Kansas, Gonzaga, Duke and Florida State are the only projected returning top four seeds while San Diego State, Dayton, Penn State, West Virginia and Creighton are aiming to go from missing the tournament to a protected seed.

So what does this mean for 2020? Well, to begin, teams that were protected seeds the previous season perform much better than teams that weren’t.

Since 2011, returning protected seeds averaged 2.79 wins per tournament while new protected seeds averaged just 1.68 wins per tournament. Using average wins per seed, returning protected seeds performed 0.31 wins better than expected and new protected seeds performed 0.39 wins worse than expected.

Here are a few more interesting facts based on data since 2011:

  • No. 1 seeds that were protected seeds the previous year average 3.56 wins per tournament while new protected seeds average 1.89 wins per tournament
  • Each of the last five national champions were protected seeds the previous year
  • Of the 17 first-round losses by protected seeds, 12 of them were by teams that were new protected seeds
  • 2018 Virginia (No. 1 seed), 2016 Michigan State (No. 2 seed) and 2012 Missouri (No. 2 seed) all suffered first-round losses and were new protected seeds

Eli Boettger is a college basketball writer and founder of HeatCheckCBB.com. He has previously worked for Sporting News, DAZN and USA TODAY SMG.

Boettger’s content has been featured by Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Yahoo Sports, Athletic Director University, Washington Post, Illinois Law Review and Notre Dame Law Review, among other publications. Boettger is also a current USBWA member.