Every year when filling out your bracket for the NCAA Tournament, you know it’s highly unlikely all four or even three of the No. 1 seeds will advance all the way to the Final Four. Yet, many of us will be top-seed heavy down to the very middle of the bracket, myself included.
However it almost never plays out that way. Only once in NCAA Tournament history have four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four, which occurred in 2008 with Kansas taking home the trophy in overtime over Memphis, with North Carolina and UCLA making it to Semifinal Saturday. And just five times have three No. 1 seeds been amongst the last four standing.
It’s all about identifying which No. 1 seeds have the best path and which of them are talented enough to plow through to the end. Here’s a look at the four top seeds in this year’s tournament ranked by how likely it is they fail to even reach the Elite Eight.
Baylor was ranked as the No. 2 team in the country for just about the entire season, but they have the best chance to fall before the Elite Eight among the four No. 1 seeds. The Bears have been nowhere close to the same team they were prior to their COVID-19 pause in mid-February. After getting by Hartford as the No. 16 seed, they likely have the toughest No. 8 and 9 seed combo on the bracket with the Wisconsin Badgers and North Carolina Tar Heels, followed by a likely matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers. It’s tough to have that high of confidence this team will blow through those rounds without being tested.
The second most likely team to miss the Elite Eight is Michigan, and this is largely due to an injury to their second leading scorer Isaiah Livers, who is a big matchup problem for opposing defenses. The Wolverines have a favorable draw, but it’s tough to rely on a huge run without knowing whether they will be without one of the most important pieces to their success this season. If this foot injury happened earlier and we saw a bigger sample size of Michigan without Livers, it might be different but it’s hard to predict what will happen.
Illinois is a trendy pick to be this year’s national champion and for good reason. The Illini have a very good chance to be an Elite Eight team at the very least with very favorable matchups in the first two rounds. They have to most likely get past the Tennessee Volunteers or Oklahoma State Cowboys (or my Sweet 16 pick Liberty Flames), to advance to the Elite Eight. But with the combination of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, I wouldn’t be too worried about any of those teams if I was an Illini fan.
The nation’s top overall seed Gonzaga has by far the best chance to find themselves in the Elite Eight. The Bulldogs have been blowing out teams in the West Coast Conference and took down some of the big boys in the non-conference portion of the schedule. After beating the No. 16 seed and then either Oklahoma or Missouri, the Bulldogs will most likely face the Virginia Cavaliers to advance to the Elite Eight. Gonzaga already beat them 98-75 back in December, and there’s not much of a reason to think the Bulldogs will be in trouble in the rematch.