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The Dreaded 8/9 Line

March 4, 2015

It’s no secret that fans of a given team fighting to get into the NCAA Tournament (as NC State is wont to do) fear seeing their team land on “The Dreaded 8/9 Line”.

The reason is clear: You face an opponent of like strength for the right to advance and face one of the top four teams in the tournament.

Good times...good times...

Good times…good times…

It’s assumed it’s a tougher road in the tournament than the three lesser seeds that at-large teams are often placed in, the 10, 11 and 12 seeds. But is this assumption correct simply because you avoid the #1 seeds?

In a word, yes. The numbers bear it out. In the last 10 NCAA Tournaments, here are the gruesome details on the success of teams advancing to the Sweet 16 from the 8/9 line versus the 10/11/12 seeds:

  • Only four teams seeded either 8th or 9th have advanced to the second weekend since 2005. (All did so in the last five tournaments. None from 2005–2009.)
  • Twenty teams seeded 10th, 11th or 12th have advanced to the Sweet 16 in that same span.
  • Only once has a least one team seeded 10/11/12 not advanced to the Sweet 16 (2007). Two 8/9 seeds have never advanced to the Sweet 16 in the same year.
  • A total of four teams in 2011 advanced to the Sweet 16 from the 10/11/12 seeds, and one advanced to the Final Four (VCU).

In short, an at-large team falling below the 8/9 line is five times three and 1/3rd times (see comments for explanation) more likely to advance to the second weekend of the tournament.

As to why, I’d say it’s because the quality of teams found in the 1 seeds is drastically higher than those in the 2 and 3 seeds. Conversely, the drop in quality from an 8 seed to a 12 seed is not nearly as great. You can, for the most part, throw the last 20 teams in the at-large field into a bag and seed them blindly.

Where an 8/9 game winner faces a matchup against a powerhouse 1 seed, a 10 faces a beatable 7 seed and possibly a weak 2 seed. The odds improve even moreso for an 11 seed. Beat a wounded 6 seed and you likely face a 3 seed or perhaps even an upstart team from an auto-bid conference who shocked that 3 seed in the first round and is now out of gas.

The two times NC State has made the Sweet 16 since the Valvano era? As a 10 seed in 2005 and an 11 seed in 2012.

Which begs the question: Should a change be made to the tournament format to lessen the punitive nature of the 8/9 line? It seems that historical results should favor the better seeded teams over time.

It’s not all sunshine and roses for the 10/11/12s. In the 68-team bracket with the “First Four” in Dayton, two of the 11 seeds and two of the 12 seeds must play an additional game to advance to the Sweet 16, so the current format does introduce some measure of negative consequence to falling below the 8/9 line. Perhaps make the “First Four” strictly 11 and 12 seeds? That would further provide incentive to play yourself into a higher seed during the regular season and also not punish the four 16 seed auto-bid teams, two of whom will never actually experience the “real” NCAA Tournament.

But if you start tinkering with the bracket, you might introduce unintended consequences. At the end of the day, it’s probably best to just pray your team doesn’t wind up on that 8/9 line in the first place.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Don permalink
    March 4, 2015 10:56 am

    Thanks for the analysis.

    Really a 10/11/12 seed is 3.33 times more likely to get in than a 8/9, since you’re sample size is 1.5 times larger for the 10/11/12s relative to the 8/9s (16 of 120 vs 4 of 80)

    • JamesCurle permalink*
      March 4, 2015 11:05 am

      Good point. I’ll note accordingly. Thanks for reading!

  2. March 4, 2015 12:21 pm

    If you take it back to the inception of the 64 team field (1985), 59 teams seeded 10/11/12 made the sweet 16 vs. 16 teams seeded 8/9. States loss to BC might turn out to be a good thing!

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