NCAA Tournament: Top seeds’ greatest strengths entering the Big Dance

The vast majority of champions over the past 30 years were seeded 1, 2 or 3. Here’s what each of this year’s seeds does best.

Finally, March Madness is here. And it only took three weeks into the eponymous month for the NCAA Tournament to arrive.

Of course, the arrival of the NCAA Tournament means its time for casual hoops fans and college basketball fanatics alike to fill out a bracket. There’s no wrong way to do it, since anything could happen (in theory). But while it’s commonplace for double-digit seeds to knock off favorites early on, it’s not a great idea to ride an underdog all the way to the championship.

Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 30 of 34 (88.2 percent) champs were seeded Nos. 1, 2 or 3 — including 28 of the past 30 (93.3 percent). The odds heavily favor one of the top 12 teams cutting down the nets in Minneapolis on April 8. Also bear in mind that 20 of the last 30 champs were a No. 1 seed, including nine of the past 12.

Here’s a quick glance those schools, briefly noting what each team does best.

(1) Duke: With the winningest coach in men’s hoops history (Mike Krzyzewski) and the top player in the nation (Zion Williamson) leading a loaded roster, the Blue Devils clearly are the front-runners to win it all.

(1) Virginia: The Cavaliers are the only school with a top-six seed to shoot at least 40 percent from 3-point range. Kyle Guy (46.3 percent) ranks eighth in the nation in long-distance accuracy.

(1) North Carolina: The Tar Heels lead the field of 68 in rebounding margin. They were similarly strong on the boards when they topped Gonzaga in the tournament final two years ago.

(1) Gonzaga: Rui Hachimura (20.1 points per game) leads the top scoring offense in the nation. The Zags also rank in the top 40 in scoring defense, giving them an NCAA-best margin of victory.

(2) Tennessee: Grant Williams (19 ppg) is one of five Volunteers who averages at least 10 points. This unselfish team ranks fourth in the nation in team assists.

(2) Michigan State: Among the top 12 seeds, only UNC ranks higher in team assists than the Spartans. Cassius Winston (7.6 apg) is third in the nation in dropping dimes.

(2) Kentucky: The Wildcats are one of four teams in the tournament who averaged five blocked shots and 38 rebounds per game. alongside Duke, Gonzaga and Michigan State.

(2) Michigan: Nobody is more careful with the ball than the Wolverines, last year’s NCAA runners-up. They average a nation-low nine turnovers per game.

(3) Houston: The Cougars, in a resurgent season, clamped down on defense to hold opposing teams to the third-lowest 3-point field goal percentage in the nation. 

(3) Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are the only team in Division I to hold opponents to fewer than 37 percent accuracy from the field, ranking just ahead of Houston. 

(3) LSU: Tremont Waters is second in the nation — and tops among tournament qualifiers — with 3.03 steals per game. The Tigers rank sixth in the nation as a team.

(3) Purdue: Carsen Edwards’ 23 points per game ranks 12th in the nation for the Boilermakers. Only two players in the tournament rank higher, and neither play for a top-four seed.

AMNY Newsletter

Eat it. Drink it. Do it. Tackle the city, with our help.