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March Madness 2021 bracket: NCAA Tournament numbers to know, vital stats to use while filling out your bracket

I’m thrilled, after a two-year hiatus, to bring back my picnic basket worth of NCAA Tournament goodies. March Madness bracket fiends, this is for you. A heaping helpful of facts, stats, trends, did-you-knows and more that can expand your mind, and potentially strengthen your bracket, in advance of the NCAA Tournament. 

It’s CBS Sports’ annual cornucopia of nuggets to help you better understand who’s good, who’s overrated, and why the data — broadly — can help you curb your instincts.  

The Big Dance starts in less than 48 hours. Fill out your bracket now to win a brand new Nissan Rogue and a college basketball dream trip. Get in the action today.

I make no guarantees of success, but I do assure you that you’ll be smarter and more prepared to dive right into the deep end of your pool once you scroll through everything I’ve laid out below. Let’s see the evidence. In addition to my own research, all additional info provided by CBS Sports’ research team, the NCAA, KenPom.com, ESPN Stats & Info, Elias and BartTorvik.com.

  • Highest-scoring team: Gonzaga (92.1 points per game)
  • Lowest-scoring team: Mount St. Mary’s  (63.7 points per game)
  • Fastest team: Gonzaga (74.8 possessions per game)
  • Slowest team: Virginia (60.1 possessions per game)
  • Best free-throw shooting team: Oral Roberts (82.6%)
  • Worst free-throw shooting team: Rutgers (63.2%)
  • Best 3-point shooting team: Baylor (41.8%)
  • Worst 3-point shooting team: Texas Southern (27.7%)
  • Most experienced team(s): Georgia Tech and Texas Southern (2.54 average seasons)
  • Least experienced team: North Carolina (1.02 average seasons)
  • Tallest team: USC (average height 79.6 inches)
  • Smallest team: Abilene Christian (75.1 inches)
  • Deepest bench: Winthrop (42.2% of minutes played)

Most efficient offenses, adjusted points scored per 100 possessions:

  1. Gonzaga (126.1)
  2. Iowa (124.2) 
  3. Baylor (124.0)
  4. Ohio State (123.0)

Most efficient defenses, adjusted points allowed per 100 possessions:

  1. Loyola Chicago (85.9) 
  2. Alabama (86.0) 
  3. Tennessee (87.0)
  4. Illinois (87.6)

Over the years, teams that have won it all have checked a lot of boxes. You can make the stats tell you a lot of things you want to hear. But if you’ve got a top-30 per-possession D and a guard that’s definitely projected to be drafted, you’ve got a solid shot. Only a handful of teams meet this criteria each year. Six apply now. Four have two clear draft-worthy guards. 


Utah States’ Neemias Queta is one of the elite defenders in this tournament.
Getty Images

82: This is the 82nd NCAA Tournament. Thirty-six programs have won a national title dating to 1939, when Oregon won its only championship. All four teams from the first Final Four are in the field this year: Ohio State was runner-up back in ’39; Villanova and Oklahoma were semifinalists. Georgetown, a 12, is the lowest-seeded team in this year’s field with a national title.


0: The Gonzaga Bulldogs, Baylor Bears and Illinois Fighting Illini are the best-seeded teams in the field without a national title.


20: Gonzaga is the 20th team to enter the NCAAs undefeated. Seven of the previous 19 won a title, but none since 1976, meaning none in the modern era — since the tournament expanded in 1985.


The most popular picks in CBS Sports Bracket Challenge as of 12:52 p.m. ET Wednesday.

39: The percentage of brackets at CBS Sports that have Gonzaga winning it all. Illinois is second (19%).


33.3: Gonzaga’s percentage to win the title, according to Bart Torvik. For perspective, top teams normally hover around 15-20%, so Gonzaga is a dominant favorite. The top five for this year: Gonzaga, Houston (13.2%), Baylor (8.3%), Illinois (7.6%), Michigan (6.7%).


1: Only three times has the No. 1 overall seed won the NCAA Tournament since the selection committee began ranking the No. 1s in 2004: Florida (2007), Kentucky (2012) and Louisville (2013). The No. 1 overall seed has also lost in the second round thrice — and the first round once. (UMBC forever.) Gonzaga is this year’s No. 1 overall seed. It’s the fourth time the Zags have made the top line.


13: Oklahoma State has 13 wins against teams in the field, the most of any team participating. Teams with no wins against 2021 tournament teams: Abilene Christian, Appalachian State, Cleveland State, Colgate, Drexel, Grand Canyon, Hartford, Iona, Liberty, Morehead State, Mount St. Mary’s, Norfolk State, North Texas, Oral Roberts, Texas Southern, UC Santa Barbara.


2: Just two times since 2011 the WAC has sent a team not named New Mexico State to the NCAAs. This year it’s Grand Canyon, which is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance.


0: Infamously, no team has lost its first conference tournament game and then won a national title. This year, you should be suspicious of West Virginia, Purdue and Villanova — only teams seeded fifth or better that were one-and-done in their league tourneys.


12 of 22: In the past 22 tournaments, 12 national champions won their conference tournament. 


26: In this coronavirus-affected shortened season, Gonzaga and Belmont have the most wins in the sport at 26 apiece. Gonzaga is the No. 1 overall seed; Belmont was snubbed from the 16-team NIT. Gonzaga is the only undefeated team, while Colgate and Winthrop are rare cases of mid-major teams entering the NCAA with just one loss. The last team to do it was Murray State in 2012. It’s the first time in the modern era of the NCAA Tournament that two one-loss mid-majors are playing in the same tournament.


13: Maryland’s 13 losses are the most in the field. It’s the first time since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985 to 64 teams that an at-large team (and a team from a power conference) has the most losses entering the Big Dance. 

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41: It’s been 41 years since St. Bonaventure won a first-round NCAA Tournament game, the longest drought for any team in the field that has previously made the tournament. Per ESPN’s research, 211 schools have won a game since the last time the Bonnies did.


7-0: Naturally, Gonzaga’s got the best neutral-court record in college basketball this season at 7-0. Who’s No. 2? Texas: 5-0. 


0/17: Alabama is the only team this season to not have faced a Quad 4 opponent. Illinois faced 17 Quad 1 foes, the most of anyone in college hoops, and went 12-5 in those games. 


-26: Baylor’s line against Hartford — for now — is the biggest of the first round. When Gonzaga gets matched up with its No. 16 seed, chances are good that will become the largest line. Here’s every line for every Friday and Saturday game.


10: Coaches with top-four seeds to never have made a Final Four. Gonna have some fresh new faces on the biggest stage this year.

  1. Juwan Howard (Michigan) — though he made it as a player
  2. Brad Underwood (Illinois)
  3. Scott Drew (Baylor)
  4. Fran McCaffery (Iowa)
  5. Chris Holtmann (Ohio State)
  6. Nate Oats (Alabama)
  7. Eric Musselman (Arkansas)
  8. Leonard Hamilton (Florida State)
  9. Matt Painter (Purdue)
  10. Mike Boynton (Oklahoma State)
Nate Oats is in his sixth years as a D-I head coach. Will he break through to his first Final Four?
Getty Images

7 for 10: In seven of the past 10 NCAA Tournaments, at least one No. 13 seed has defeated a No. 4. The most popular No. 13-over-No. 4 pick at CBSSports.com is Ohio over Virginia (17%). 


23.0: Average margin of victory for No. 1 seeds over No. 16s in the modern tournament. No. 1 seeds are 139-1. 


6 or fewer: It took UMBC 33 years to become the first No. 16 seed to win. When will we see it again? Seven times a No. 16 seed has finished a game within six points or fewer of a No. 1 seed. Those results were: 2013 Southern vs. Gonzaga (64-58); 1996 Western Carolina vs. Purdue (73-71); 1990 Murray State vs. Michigan State (75-71 in OT); 1989 McNeese State vs. Illinois (77-71); 1989 East Tennessee State vs. Oklahoma (72-71); 1989 Princeton vs. Georgetown (50-49); and 1985 Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Michigan (59-55). 


2016: The last time all four No. 1 seeds reached the Elite Eight. Before that, it was 2009.


2009: The last and only other time one conference had as many as three No. 1 seeds. It was the Big East; Pitt, UConn and Louisville all did it. The Big Ten has two No. 1 seeds this year for the first time since 2001.


2008: Famously, the only time all four No. 1s reached the Final Four. But since 2010, only 13 of the 40 Final Four appearances have come from No. 1 seeds.


1-4: You almost never wanna go all chalk at the top in the first round. In 2017, all No. 1s 2s, 3s and 4s won their first-round game. Prior to that, the last time that happened was 2007. It’s happened just six times since 1985. 


57 vs. 51: No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four 57 times. That’s more than the combined Final Four showings of Nos. 4-16 since seeding began (51). 


No. 2: Only two times in the past 23 NCAA Tournaments have all four No. 2 seeds made the Sweet 16. It’s happened just five times since 1985: ’89, ’95, ’96, ’09, ’19. Pick at least one No. 2 to lose early. It’s probably going to happen. 


12: Every seed, from No. 1 to No. 11, has made a Final Four. When does a No. 12 do it? This year the options are Georgetown, Oregon State, Winthrop and UC Santa Barbara. Georgetown and Oregon’s combined record: 30-24. UCSB and Winthrop: 45-5.


7: Though 7-10 games feel a bit like 8-9 games, they’re not. No. 10s have never swept the No. 7s with the exception of one year. No. 8 seeds are 68-72 vs. No. 9 seeds all time, including going 0-4 in 2019.


10>8+9: You’re more likely to make the Sweet 16 as a No. 10 seed than as either an 8 or 9. No. 10s are 18-32 vs. No. 2 seeds, while No. 8s are 13-56 and No. 9s are 6-64. Breaking down the math further: No. 10 seeds historically have a 16.4% chance of making the Sweet 16, while the combined chances for No. 8s and No. 9s is 14.3%. Seeding matters. A No. 7 seed has made it to the Sweet 16 27 times since 1985. Contrast that to a No. 8, which has only gotten there 13 times. 


63.5-to-1: Per bracketodds.com’s calculator, those are the chances we’ll have four No. 1 seeds reach the 2021 Final Four. If you go to all 2s, it’s 366.0-to-1. Three No. 1s and a No. 2 — a very popular combo this year — is 23.9-to-1.


9,223,372,036,854,775,808: The number of different possible bracket outcomes. Wondering how to pronounce that number? I got you. That would be nine quintillion, two hundred twenty-three quadrillion, three hundred seventy-two trillion, thirty-six billion, eight hundred fifty-four million, seven hundred seventy-five thousand, eight hundred eight. It’s much larger than the number of possible outcomes seen by Doctor Strange in Avengers: Infinity War.


9: The Big Ten’s nine bids lead all conferences. It’s a Big Ten record as well.


33: Duke, 33rd at KenPom, is the highest team in that metric to not make the tournament. It ends a run of 24 straight tournaments for the Blue Devils. 


42/72: Penn State’s No. 42 NET ranking makes it the highest-rated team to not make the field, while Wichita State’s No. 72 ranking is the lowest of any at-large in this year’s field. The NET has existed for three years. St. John’s No. 73 ranking in 2019 is the lowest for any at-large team. 


20 of 21: A top-three seed has won the national title 20 of the past 21 tournaments.


7: In eight of the past nine tournaments, a No. 7 seed or lower has cracked the Elite Eight. But it did not happen in 2019. Will this all-in-Indiana tournament lead to more chalk or more cacophony? 


1-33: The Big South has existed since 1986. It’s 1-33 all time in the NCAA Tournament. The only win? Winthrop back in 2007. Can this year’s Eagles do it again vs. Villanova?       


Five for 16: Gonzaga’s made the Sweet 16 in five straight tournaments. No other team has a streak longer than three. 


27: It has been 27 years since a No. 6 seed made the Final Four. Who was it? Chris Webber and the Fab Five at Michigan. The highest-rated No. 6 seed per KenPom is USC (14th), which boasts potential top-three pick Evan Mobley.       

USC freshman center Evan Mobley is a likely top-five pick. 
USATSI

1: This year’s No. 1 seeds have one combined national title (1989 Michigan). It’s the fewest among all four No. 1s in any NCAA Tournament since 1990.


30 … 0: This is BYU’s 30th NCAA Tournament. The Cougars hold the record for most NCAA Tournament bids without zero Final Fours. Missouri is second in this regard; the Tigers are in their 28th Big Dance.


+.190: Cleveland State, a No. 15 facing No. 2 Houston, rates as the “luckiest” team in the field, per KenPom. In the past 17 NCAA Tournaments, the luckiest team in the field lost its first game 15 times. The unluckiest team: Texas Tech.


20+: There have been three 20-point upsets, per the spread, in the NCAA Tournament since 1985: No. 15 Santa Clara (+20) over No. 2 Arizona in 1993; No. 15 Norfolk State (+21.5) over No. 2 Missouri in 2012; No. 16 UMBC (+20.5) over No. 1 Virginia in 2018.


25/23: Tennessee coach Rick Barnes will be making his 25th appearance in the NCAAs. Tennessee as a program has been here two times fewer: 23.


1,766: The distance as the crow flies from San Diego International Airport to Indianapolis, making San Diego State’s trip the longest to the centrally located NCAA Tournament in the Hoosier State.


77%: Drake has the best cover percentage of all NCAA Tournament teams at 77%. UConn is second at 76%. The hottest cover teams entering the dance are Hartford, Texas, LSU and Norfolk State, each of which have covered in their past five games.


14: A No. 14 has beaten a No. 3 in four of the past seven NCAA Tournaments. 


14: Everyone knows Gonzaga has the longest winning streak heading in, but San Diego State’s 14 straight dubs rank second.


14: Iona is making its 14th NCAA Tournament appearance. It’s the most appearances without a win in school history. Unfortunately, second-seeded Alabama awaits on Saturday.


2: The number of teams making an NCAA tourney debut. Welcome to the club, Grand Canyon and Hartford!


0 for 38: The Northeast Conference is still the only league that has never won a first-round NCAA Tournament game. Mount St. Mary’s needs to get past Texas Southern — and then Michigan — to end the streak.


31: Most consecutive NCAA tourneys: Kansas (31), Michigan State (23), Gonzaga (22). Kansas’ Bill Self, absurdly, is coaching his 20th straight NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed or better. 


20: Combined national championships for programs in the East Region, the most of the four regions. The schools: UCLA, UConn, Michigan State, Michigan, Georgetown, Maryland.


33-9/.786: UNC has the best NCAA Tournament record/win percentage since 2008 (minimum of six games played). 

North Carolina hasn’t lost a first-round game in two decades.
Getty Images

102: There have been 102 schools that have played at least five first-round NCAA Tournament games since 2000. The only one of those schools to go undefeated in the first round is UNC, which last lost in its first tournament game in 1999 vs. Weber State. If UNC beats Wisconsin, it will be 18-0 since.


47: A No. 12 seed has won 47 first-round games since the field expanded 1985. The 1988, 2000, ’07 and ’15 and and ’18 tournaments are the only ones since the field expanded to not have a No. 12-seed win. In 2019, three 12s did it. In the past 11 tournaments they are are 19-25 vs. No. 5s. Don’t overlook No. 11s, though. That’s still a real upset, and in the last four tournaments, No. 11s are 9-7 vs. the No. 6s. 


.793: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s win percentage in the second round and Elite Eight. He is 23-6 in those games (i.e., on two-day turnaround). Should Michigan State get out of the First Four and first round, it would potentially face No. 3 Texas in the second round. Izzo is 6-4 all time vs. the Longhorns.


24-17: Since seeding the field began, No. 1 seeds have more national titles (23) than the rest of the seeds combined (17).


10-15: Pick at least one double-digit seed to reach the Sweet 16, because it has happened all but two years since ’85 (1995, 2007). And 15 times there have been at least three double-digit seeds that made it to the regional semifinals. 


7: Since 1980, there have been seven reigning champions that have made the Final Four the next tournament. It hasn’t happened since Florida in 2007, and Virginia’s certainly got a huge mountain to climb by being in Gonzaga’s region. 


8 for 9: In 2019, the trend ended, but the eight NCAA Tournaments before that saw one of the last four teams into the field– that played in the First Four — make it to at least the second round. Michigan State, UCLA, Drake, Wichita State. Will we go nine for 10?


+200: Gonzaga’s odds to win the whole thing, according to William Hill Sportsbook. It’s the same number undefeated Indiana had in 1976. And we know what happened.