For anyone rooting for a No. 5 seed or lower in the NCAA Tournament: Reign in those expectations.
Since the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams for the 1985 tournament, only 16.4% of teams seeded below No. 4 made it to the Final Four. Even fans of schools with a No. 4 seed should be aware that 81.3% of tournament finalists were top-three seeds. Exceptions to both historical patterns exist, of course, but keep all that in mind while filling out a bracket this week.
Bearing all that in mind, amNewYork has ranked the schools seeded fourth or better by likelihood to advance to the Final Four and beyond.
1. North Carolina
A top-flight player (junior Justin Jackson, 18.1 ppg) and a Hall of Fame coach (Roy Williams) at a traditional hoops powerhouse make the South Region’s No. 1 seed Tar Heels a clear favorite.
The Jayhawks, the top seed in the Midwest, are the only school featuring two Naismith and Wooden award finalists, senior Frank Mason III (20.8 ppg) and freshman Josh Jackson (16.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg).
The defending national champs and top overall seed remain a threat behind senior Josh Hart (18.9 ppg). The Wildcats’ path to the Final Four runs through Madison Square Garden in the East.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team has had its ups and downs, but Luke Kennard (20.1 ppg) and the East No. 2 seed Blue Devils may ride the momentum of an ACC Tournament championship.
Freshman Malik Monk (20.4 ppg) may have to get through UNC, but coach John Calipari’s lengthy Big Dance resume has the No. 2 Wildcats equipped to handle tough matchups.
6. West Virginia
A No. 4 seed, this high? The Mountaineers have a favorable draw in the West. The coaches of the three top-seeded teams have yet to reach the Final Four, unlike WVU’s Bob Huggins.
The Midwest may be the most top-heavy region this year, so it won’t be easy for the No. 2 Cardinals. Good thing Rick Pitino knows how to emerge unscathed from March Madness.
The West’s top seed is in the mix every year, but coach Mark Few’s Bulldogs have yet to reach the national semifinal. Maybe junior Nigel Williams-Goss (16.9 ppg) can help change the Zags’ fortunes.
In a winnable West region, the No. 2 seed Wildcats are a threat to end their 16-year Final Four drought, which would mark an elusive first berth for coach Sean Miller.
Behind junior Johnathan Motley (17.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg), a national standout, coach Scott Drew’s crew are a threat in the East. The No. 3 Bears’ odds improve drastically if they manage to avoid Nova and Duke.
The No. 3 Ducks haven’t been to the Final Four since winning it all in 1939. Junior Dillon Brooks (16.3 ppg) is a stud, but Kansas and Louisville may stand in his team’s way.
Sophomore Caleb Swanigan (18.5 ppg, 12.6 rpg) is one of the best players in the field of 68, possibly good enough to lead the No. 4 Boilermakers out of the challenging Midwest.
Freshman Lonzo Ball (14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.7 apg) is a potential top NBA pick in June, but he may have trouble reaching the Elite Eight as the No. 3 seed in the Tar Heels’ and UK’s region.
14. Florida State
Being the No. 3 seed in the weakest region, the West, gives the Seminoles a boost. Beyond that, coach Leonard Hamilton’s group shouldn’t expect a lengthy run.
Mike White, the Gators’ head coach, has never coached an NCAA Tournament game. That doesn’t bode well as the No. 4 seed in the same region as the defending champions.
The No. 4 Bulldogs have had a fine season overall, as their seed indicates. But they’ll be in for some trouble if forced to face the South’s other top seeds.