*Note: All data is from the 1985 tournament to the present.
In back-to-back NCAA tournaments, Virginia experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows of being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. In the 2018 NCAA tournament, UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed, when the Retrievers upset the No. 1 overall seed Virginia Cavaliers.
It wasn’t even close. UMBC won by 20 points, 74-54, and delivered a result no other No. 16 seed had since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
After the 2019 NCAA Tournament, which Virginia won as a No. 1 seed, No. 1 seeds are now 139-1 against No. 16 seeds.
But being a No. 1 seed doesn’t mean an automatic ticket to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
In the 2018 NCAA tournament, Xavier became the 19th No. 1 seed to exit the tournament in the Round of 32.
The two losses in 2018 by No. 1 seeds Virginia and Xavier, which were far different from the Final Four trips by the other two No. 1 seeds that season, Villanova and Kansas, proved to be stark reminders of the scares top seeds have experienced in the past.
Take the 1989 tournament for instance when not one but two No. 1 seeds — Georgetown and Oklahoma — barely escaped the opening round. The Hoyas and Sooners defeated Princeton and East Tennessee State, respectively, by a single point. A year later, Michigan State found itself in a similar position before eventually defeating Murray State, 75-71, in overtime.
Purdue survived a scare in 1996 from the Western Carolina Catamounts, winning 73-71.
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While no other teams have come down to a single possession, there have been some memorable games in the past that have been decided by single digits. Both Syracuse in 2012 and Kansas in 2013 survived tough contests from No. 16 seeds, defeating UNC Asheville and Western Kentucky, respectively, by seven points.
Now, No. 1 seeds may often appear to have it easy in the opening round, but the rest of the tournament could go either way. Despite the dominating numbers, 2008 remains the only year the Final Four has been comprised of all No. 1 seeds.
In 2019, No. 1 seed Virginia was the only No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four, and the Cavaliers won the national championship, just one year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round. Only seven title games since expansion have been a 1-v-1.