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Odds are against top seeds in NCAA tournament

As we enter the Sweet Sixteen, most college basketball fans have likely had their brackets busted this year. However, this does not come as a surprise to University at Buffalo researcher Alex Nikolaev.

Nikolaev has done research that the odds do not favor the No. 1 seeds in the tournament. As a matter of fact, all four No. 1 seeds will advance to the Final Four once every 38 years according to Nikolaev, lead researcher Sheldon Jacobson, University of Illinois computer science professor, Adrian Lee and Douglas King.

“If you compare the likelihood of exactly zero, one, two, three or four No. 1 seeds reaching the Final Four, the rarest combination is when all four of them get to that stage,” Nikolaev said. “The second rarest is when none of them advances.”

However, both of these events have occurred in 2008 and 2006 respectively. They based their research on patterns of which seeds reach the Sweet Sixteen, Elite 8 and Final Four from 1985 to 2010. The research ended up showing that only two of No. 1 seeds will likely make it to the Final Four. This happened on average slightly more than once every three years.

They used geometric distribution to come to this conclusion. This means that there is no clear-cut advantage held by any of the No. 1 seeds. They have even less of a chance to make Final Four when all of their chances were taken collectively.

“The No. 1 seed can never be claimed to be head-and-shoulders above the competition,” Nikolaev says. “In fact, for the geometric distribution to emerge, seed 1 must be better than the rest of the field by the same margin as seed 2 is better than the lower-seeded teams; the same is true for seeds 2 and 3, 3 and 4, and so on. Apparently, this distribution of power is characteristic of the March Madness tournament.”

So far, it looks like his research is holding up this year with one No. 1 seed already knocked out of the tournament.

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