While UMBC ruined the No. 15 seeds' claim to fame as the worst seed to have won a game in the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament, No. 15 seeds can still be known as the worst seed to have won more than one game.
And that's something, right?
No. 15 seeds have played 148 first-round games vs. a No. 2 seed. They’ve won ten times. The first came in 1991, when Richmond took down Syracuse 73-69. The most recent came in 2022, when No. 15 Saint Peter's beat No. 2 Kentucky, 85-79.
Here's the full list:
|Year||Seed||Team||Final AP ranking||Record||Conf||Score|
|2001||2||Iowa State||10||25-6||Big 12||57|
|2013||15||Florida Gulf Coast||NR||26-11||A-Sun||78|
|2016||2||Michigan State||2||29-6||Big Ten||81|
|2021||2||Ohio State||7||21-9||Big Ten||72 (OT)|
So, if you're looking to predict a crazy upset, what should you look for? What does it take for a No. 15 seed to pull off the improbable? We looked at the season stats and box scores from those games to find out.
The answer: Free throws and experience matter, but 3-pointers don't always. However, as you'll see below, the most recent 15-over-2 went against previous notions and prior data in a couple areas.
The biggest difference in every 15-over-2 upset was free throws. In nine of the 10 upsets, No. 15 seeds shot more free throws. In seven, they made more, highlighted by FGCU’s ridiculous line of 30-for-44 against Georgetown.
But all the talk about free throws can boil down to one simple stat: In 15-v-2 upsets, No. 15 seeds won by an average of 5.5 points — and hit an average of about 5.5 more free throws.
It’s one of the most hypothesized theories for why worse-seeded teams pull off major upsets in the NCAA tournament: They’re simply more experienced.
And in the case of 15-vs-2 upsets, the theory proves true. For the most part.
To examine this, we took the level of experience for each player (one for freshman, two for sophomore, etc.) and multiplied it by the minutes that player played in the game. For example, since there are 200 total minutes in a regulation game (40 minutes each for five players), a team composed of all seniors would have a score of 800, while a team of all freshman would have a score of 200.
Through the first eight of these games (full stats were not available for Richmond vs. Syracuse), the No. 15 seeds had an average score of 616.9, while the No. 2 seeds’ score was 565.4. But here Oral Roberts is a major outlier, as ORU took out a very, very, very veteran Ohio State team.
|Arizona-Santa Clara||SCAR-Coppin St||Iowa St-Hampton||Missouri-Norfolk St||Duke-Lehigh||Georgetown-FGCU||MSU-MTSU||ORU-OSU*|
|No. 15 seed||520||618||662||686||609||571||652||525|
|No. 2 seed||538||529||641||702||494||434||620||817|
While raw talent is always a necessity, in high-pressure situations, not many things are more valuable than a player with plenty of minutes under his belt.
Here’s one where popular opinion may prove misleading. Upsets come at the hand of hot sharpshooters, right? Not really in these cases — at least until Oral Roberts.
In the first eight upsets, No. 15 seeds averaged fewer than six made 3-pointers per game, and no No. 15 seed hit more 3-pointers than their No. 2 seed opponent.
|No. 15 seed||25.3||55.5||45.5%||19.4||37.6||51.5%||5.9||17.9||32.9%|
|No. 2 seed||24.5||57.0||43.0%||17.5||35.0||50.0%||7.0||22.0||31.8%|
Instead, the underdogs opted for more high-percentage shots, shooting an average of 38 two-pointers per game. Only one No. 2 seed had a better field goal percentage than its opponent — 2001 Iowa State. At least through the first eight upsets.
But 2021 Oral Roberts used a different formula than the others. The Golden Eagles shot worse than Ohio State — 43.3 to 35.7 percent — and also finished minus-17 on the glass. However, Oral Roberts made 11 3-pointers to Ohio State's five and went plus-10 in turnovers.
Then, in 2022, Saint Peter's made five more 3-pointers than Kentucky — nine to four — and shot an impressive 52.9 percent from distance.
Here are a few more observations from the data:
• Three of the winning No. 15 seeds came out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which has sent 12 total No. 15 seeds to the tournament. On the other side of the coin is the Ohio Valley Conference, which is 0-11 as a No. 15 seed.
• Twelve 15-v-2 games have been decided by one shot (three points or fewer). The No. 15 seeds are 4-8 in those games. Oral Roberts came through in 2021 for the upset.
• Only one of the No. 15 seeds who pulled off the upset had a win over a top 25 opponent before the tournament — 1991 Richmond, which beat No. 14 Georgia Tech 73-71 at home in the third game of the season. Combined, the nine No. 15 seeds have a 1-7 regular-season record against the top 25.