NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Four Practice

It is time once again to overthink your picks and dive into the minutiae on your way to the bracket that best fulfills your soul. I understand it. I get it. I'm with you. 

And that's why I write this story every year.

The best time of the year on the sports calendar is here because the best sporting event in the history of mankind (yes, I'm going there) is about to begin in earnest on Thursday. This is a DEEP goodie bag of stats, nuggets, trends, data, all the numbers to consider before you finalize those picks.

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As always, in addition to my own research, all additional info is provided by CBS Sports' research team, the NCAA,, ESPN Stats & Info, Elias Sports, Sports Reference and My thanks to all for helping me build this out and get it under one roof. Let's get right to it. Here are the statistics, facts and history to know about the 2024 men's NCAA Tournament. 

  • Highest-scoring team: Alabama (90.8 points per game)
  • Lowest-scoring team: Virginia (62.9 points per game) 
  • Fastest team: Western Kentucky (75.4 possessions per game)
  • Slowest team: Wagner (62.6 possessions per game)
  • Best free-throw shooting team: Clemson (79.0%)
  • Worst free-throw shooting team: Mississippi State (67.2%) 
  • Best 3-point shooting team: Kentucky (41.2%)
  • Worst 3-point shooting team: Texas A&M (28.4%)
  • Most experienced team(s): TCU (3.39 average seasons)
  • Least experienced team: Wagner (1.00 average seasons) 
  • Tallest team: Washington State (average height 79.3 inches)
  • Smallest team: Samford (75.7 inches)
  • Deepest bench: Samford (44.8% of minutes played)
  • Thinnest bench: Creighton (19.6%)

Most efficient offenses, adjusted points scored per 100 possessions:

  1. Connecticut (126.5)
  2. Illinois (125.5) 
  3. Alabama (125.5)
  4. Purdue (125.0)
Dan Hurley's Huskies are an absolute wagon. Getty Images

Most efficient defenses, adjusted points allowed per 100 possessions:

  1. Iowa State (87.2) 
  2. Houston (87.2) 
  3. Tennessee (91.1)
  4. Auburn (91.7)

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 pre-tournament top-30 per-possession D and a guard/wing that's safely projected to be drafted, you've got a solid shot. Only a handful of teams meet this criteria each year. Last year, UConn applied (Jordan Hawkins was the draftee-in-waiting) and won it all. Here are the teams and their defensive rankings at KenPom.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Marquette
Marquette's Tyler Kolek is coming off an oblique injury — and is among the best PGs in the sport. USATSI

85: This is the 85th NCAA Tournament. Thirty-seven programs have won a national title dating to 1939, when Oregon won its only championship. Oregon is the only team from that first Final Four in this year's field; Ohio State, Oklahoma and Villanova all missed out for a second straight season.

3,636: There have been 3,636 NCAAT games held, dating back to '39.

0: The Houston Cougars, Purdue Boilermakers, Iowa State Cyclones and Tennessee Volunteers, are the best-seeded teams in the field with zero national titles.

18: This is UNC's 18th No. 1 seed, most in history.

62: This is Kentucky's 62nd tournament, most in history.

32.4%: The percentage of brackets at CBS Sports that have Connecticut winning it all. That's a LOT. Second is Purdue at 12.3%, Houston is third at 11.9%.

27.9: Houston's percentage to win the title, according to Yes, ahead of UConn (which is in the toughest region). Houston was also the highest last year — at 17.6% pre-tournament. The top five for this year: UConn (15.9%), Purdue (12.4%), Iowa State (7.9%), Arizona (7.3%).

1: Only three times has the No. 1 overall seed won the NCAA Tournament since the selection committee began ranking the No. 1 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.) Connecticut is this year's No. 1 overall seed, its first in school history.

14: Purdue has 14 wins against teams in the field, the most of all dancers. Tennessee and Alabama lead the field with 18 games played vs. tournament teams. Twelve schools with no wins against 2024 tournament teams: Charleston, Grambling State, Howard, Longwood, Montana State, Morehead State, Oakland, Saint Peter's, Samford, Stetson, Wagner, Western Kentucky.

15: Houston leads the field with 15 victories against top-50 KenPom teams. Connecticut and Purdue have 12 apiece.

6: Every champion since 2004 has been ranked in the top 12 of the Week 6 AP Top 25. Those 12 teams (seeds included) from this season, ranked in order back in Week 6, are: Arizona (2), Kansas (4), Purdue (1), Houston (1), UConn (1), Baylor (1), Marquette (2), Creighton (3), North Carolina (1), Gonzaga (5), Oklahoma (out), Tennessee (2).

0: Infamously, no team has lost its first conference tournament game and then won a national title. This year, you should be suspicious of Alabama, Creighton, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Duke. They are the teams seeded fourth or better that were one-and-done in their league tourneys. (Additionally, every national champion since 1985 has made it minimally to the semifinals of their league tournament, if their league staged a tournament the year they won it all.)

13 of 25: In the past 25 tournaments, 13 national champions won their conference tournament. Since 1985, 16 national champions have won their league tournaments. There is no pattern at play here.

31 and 3: UConn has the most wins (31) vs. Division I competition. UConn, James Madison and McNeese have the fewest losses (3).

17: Montana State's 17 losses are the most in the field. 

47: It's been 47 years since Duquesne last made the NCAAs, which ends the longest drought among teams in this year's Dance. Among Big Six teams in the field, the school with the longest drought since its last NCAA Tournament is Washington State (2008). Additionally, Boise State has been D-I since '70 and never won a tournament game. This is its 10th tournament.

8-0: It's New Mexico that owns the best neutral-court record entering this tournament at 8-0. To think, the committee would've left the Lobos out if they finished 7-1. Nuts. UConn is right behind UNM at 7-0. 

2/20: Arizona faced the fewest Quad 4 teams of all (2). Houston played 20 Quad 1 foes and went 16-4 in those games. 

-26.5: UConn's line vs. Stetson is the biggest of the first round. Here's the line for every Thursday/Friday game.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Stanford
Tommy Lloyd has two NCAA wins in two seasons with the Wildcats. USATSI

Coaches with top-four seeds to never have made a Final Four as a coach. Last year I said one guy in that spot would get there and he did (Dan Hurley). I think it happens again in 2024.

  1. Matt Painter (Purdue)
  2. Tommy Lloyd (Arizona)
  3. T.J. Otzelberger (Iowa State)
  4. Brad Underwood (Illinois)
  5. Greg McDermott (Creighton)
  6. Jon Scheyer (Duke)
  7. Nate Oats (Alabama)

9 for 13: In nine of the past 13 NCAA Tournaments, at least one 13-seed has defeated a No. 4. The most popular 13-over-4 pick at CBS Sports' Bracket Games: Samford over Kansas (16.1%). 

143-1: No. 1 seeds are 150-2 all time vs. 16s. The No. 2s are 142-10 against 15s.

6 or fewer: It took UMBC 33 years to become the first No. 16 seed to win, then only five years for Fairleigh Dickinson to etch its name in history. Seven other times a No. 16 seed has finished a game within six points or fewer but lost. 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). 

5 or lower: This is a 🚨🚨🚨 for your bracket picks: Every NCAA Tournament since 2013 has had a No. 5 seed or lower reach the Final Four. I took Saint Mary's to get to Phoenix.

2016: The last time all four 1-seeds reached the Elite Eight. Before that, it was 2009.

2009/2019: The most recent times a conference had as many as three No. 1 seeds. It was the Big East; Pitt, UConn and Louisville all did in '09. The ACC (Virginia, Duke, UNC) in2 019. This year, top seeds hail from the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Big 12.

2008: Famously, the only time all four No. 1s reached the Final Four. But since 2010, only 16 of the 48 Final Four appearances have come from No. 1 seeds. Zero made it in 2023, joining 2006 and 2011 as the only three Final Fours without any 1s.

1-4 is a no-no: 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. 

60 vs. 57: No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four 60 times. That's narrowly more than the combined Final Four showings of Nos. 4-16 since seeding began (57). 

4 or more since '91: Every NCAA champion since 1991 has come from a league with at least four NCAA bids in the field. Conspicuously, the Big East only sent three teams this season.

No. 2: Only two times in the past 26 NCAA Tournaments have all four 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. Marquette and Arizona got got in 2023.

12: Every seed, from No. 1 to No. 11, has made a Final Four. When does someone from the 12-line do it? This year the options are, again, exclusively mid-major: Grand Canyon, James Madison, McNeese, UAB.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 06 James Madison at Michigan State
James Madison coach Mark Byington has guided his team to 31 wins. The Dukes are a very trendy upset pick. Getty Images

7: Though No. 7/10 games feel a bit like No. 8/9 games, they're not. The 10s have never swept the 7s, with the exception of one year (1999). No. 8 seeds are 74-78 vs. No. 9 seeds all time. Here is every first round head-to-head since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985:

#1 vs #16: 150-2 (.987)
#2 vs #15 141-11 (.928)
#3 vs #14 130-22 (.855)
#4 vs #13 120-32 (.789) 
#5 vs #12 99-53 (.651)
#6 vs #11 94-58 (.618)
#7 vs #10* 92-59 (.609) 
#8 vs #9  74-78 (.487)

*2021 matchup between Oregon (7) and VCU (10) was a no contest due to COVID

27-25: No. 11s are 27-25 in the first round since 2010.

3 > 6: No. 3s have been unusually good against 6-seeds going back to 2005, owning a 22-5 record in those second round games. (H/T ESPN)

10 > 8+9: You're more likely to make the Sweet 16 as a 10-seed than as either an 8 or 9. No. 10s are 19-35 vs. No. 2 seeds, while 8-seeds are 16-59 and 9s are 6-69 vs. top seeds. Breaking down the math further: No. 10 seeds historically have a 15.8% chance of making the Sweet 16, while the combined chances for No. 8s and No. 9s is identical: 15.8%. Seeding matters. A No. 7 seed has made it to the Sweet 16 29 times since 1985. Contrast that to a No. 8, which has only gotten there 15 times. 

10-12: In the past 12 NCAA Tournaments, teams seeded No. 5 or No. 6 that enter the tourney being ranked outside the top 30 at KenPom have a 10-12 record. Clemson and South Carolina fall into this category this year. 

67.1-to-1: Per's calculator, those are the chances we'll have four No. 1 seeds reach the 2024 Final Four. If you go to all No. 2s, it's 375.1-to-1. Two 1s and two 2s is 25.7-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

8: The Big 12 and SEC's eight bids lead all conferences. The SEC has eight bids for a second straight year.

37: St. John's, 26th at KenPom, is the highest team in that metric to not make the tournament. 

28/54: Indiana State's No. 28 NET ranking makes it the highest-rated team to not make the field — and the highest-rated in the six-year history of the NET. Virginia's 54 ranking was the lowest of any at-large in this year's field. Rutgers' 77 ranking is 2022 is the record holder. 

22 of 24: A top-three seed has won the national title 22 of the past 24 tournaments. The exceptions: 2014 UConn (7) and 2023 UConn (4).

7: In 11 of the past 12 tournaments, a 7-seed or worse has cracked the Elite Eight. Who's doing it this year?

1-34: The Big South has existed since 1986. It's 1-36 all time in the NCAA Tournament. The only win? Winthrop back in 2007. This year's candidate is 16th-seeded Longwood, which has the joy of facing No. 1 Houston in the South.            

8 for 16: Gonzaga's made the Sweet 16 in eight straight tournaments. No other team has a streak longer than four. The all-time record is 14 (UCLA 1967-80).

10: The number of coaches who are making their NCAA Tournament debuts. The youngest is ... a tie! Wagner's Donald Copeland and Saint Peter's Bashir Mason are both 40 and were born on Feb. 11, 1984. What are the chances?! The oldest: Washington State's Kyle Smith (54).

Washington State v Brigham Young
Kyle Smith has Wazzu in the NCAAs for the first time in 16 years. Getty Images

29: It has been 29 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 BYU (16th).

14: Of 68 schools dancing, 14 have won a national title: North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, UConn, Kansas, Michigan State, Arizona, Baylor, Marquette, Virginia, NC State. Florida, Oregon and Wisconsin.

5: The only top-eight seed yet to win a national title is a No. 5 seed. Go ahead, end the streak, Wisconsin, Saint Mary's, San Diego State or Gonzaga.

38 for 38 in 16: The ACC, which got five teams in, is hoping to continue a proud trend. The conference has never failed to get at least one team into the Sweet 16 since the field expanded in 1985.

+.152: South Carolina rates as the "luckiest" team in the field, per KenPom. In the past 20 NCAA Tournaments, the luckiest team in the field lost its first game 17 times. The unluckiest team this year: Michigan State.

1 or 2 to the Four? Not if unranked: There has never been a No. 1 or No. 2 seed that started the season unranked to go on and make the Final Four. Top-two seed in this year's bracket that was unranked at the start: Iowa State.

20+: There have been four 20-point upsets against 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; and No. 16 FDU (+23) over No. 1 Purdue. Long Beach State, Wagner, Saint Peter's, Stetson and Longwood are all +20 or more.

28/25: Tennessee coach Rick Barnes will be making his 28th appearance in the NCAAs. He's 27-27 all time. Tennessee as a program has been here two fewer times: 26.

11?: Marquette and Kentucky have met 10 times in the NCAAs, the most common clash in tournament history. If they make it out of the first weekend, matchup No. 11 will happen in the Sweet 16 — just as it would have happened last year if Marquette hadn't lost in the second round. Why does this keep happening!

2,205: The distance as the crow flies from Yale's campus to Spokane Arena, giving the Bulldogs, the longest trip by that measure — but only five miles longer than Charleston's 2,200-mile trip to the same destination. A lot of teams have long trips, though, including all three from Alabama (Alabama, Auburn, UAB) traveling to Spokane, Washington.

69.7%: South Carolina and Iowa State have the best cover percentage of all NCAA Tournament teams at 69.7%. New Mexico and Nevada are right behind this season, followed by UConn and Saint Peter's. Virginia's 37.5% ATS number is the worst in the field. 

14: A No. 14 has beaten a No. 3 in five of the past 10 tournaments. Kennesaw State almost did it last year. This doesn't feel like a year where it's going to happen ... which means ...

13: James Madison's 13-game winning streak is longest heading into the Dance.

40-13/.755: Kansas has the best NCAA Tournament record/win percentage since 2008 (minimum of six games played) in the field. That will be tested this year due to not having Kevin McCullar Jr. available.

2: The number of teams making an NCAA tourney debut. Welcome to the club, Stetson and Grambling State! 

1 for 41: The Northeast Conference UNTIL LAST SEASON was the only league that had never won a first round NCAA Tournament game. Look at what my dumb butt wrote a year ago: "Fairleigh Dickinson has to beat Texas Southern and THEN Purdue to end the drought. Yeah ... that's not happening." STUPID. Wagner just won on Tuesday ... you don't think ...

34: Most consecutive NCAA tourneys: Kansas (34), Michigan State (26), Gonzaga (25). No one else is in double digits. Kansas' Bill Self, absurdly, is coaching his 23rd straight NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed or better. 

18: Combined national championships for programs in the South Region, the most of the four regions. The schools: Kentucky (8), Duke (5), Florida (2), Marquette (1), NC State (2).

NCAA Basketball: UNLV at San Diego State
Jaedon LeDee has turned into a top-10 player for SDSU after being a role guy last season. USATSI

20 or better: Six of the top 20 teams in the East Region are ranked 16th or better at KenPom. UConn (1), Auburn (4), Iowa State (6), Illinois (10), BYU (16), San Diego State (20).

10: School in this NCAA Tournament with the most appearances to never win a game: Boise State (10).

14-over-3 = bad for Big 12: The past four times a No. 3 seed has been upset by a No. 14 seed, all those games had Big 12 teams on the losing end. This year, Baylor is on the 3-line. (H/T ESPN)

51: A No. 12 seed has won 51 first-round games since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The '88, '00, '07, '15, '18 and '23 tournaments are the only ones since the field expanded to not have a No. 12 seed win. In the past 14 tournaments they are 22-34 vs. No. 5s. Don't overlook No. 11s, though. That's still a real upset, and in the last seven tournaments, No. 11s are 15-13 vs. the No. 6s. The most popular No. 12-over-5 pick at the CBS Sports app: James Madison over Wisconsin (31.3%).

.774: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's winning percentage in the second round and Elite Eight. He is 24-7 in those games (i.e., on a two-day turnaround). Should Michigan State get past Mississippi State, it would potentially face No. 1 North Carolina. Izzo is 3-5 vs. UNC.

25-18: Since seeding the field began, No. 1 seeds have more national titles (25) than the rest of the seeds combined (18).

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 16 times there have been at least three double-digit seeds that made it to the regional semifinals. In 2021 and 2022, we had four: Oral Roberts, Oregon State, Syracuse and UCLA; Saint Peter's, Iowa State, Miami and Michigan. Last year, No. 15 seed Princeton. Challenge yourself in your bracket picks. It's going to happen again.

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, which went a step further and repeated as champs. With UConn as a No. 1 overall, it's got a fair shot to end the drought ... but it is in the toughest region.

11 for 12: There have been 11 NCAA Tournaments since the First Four's format was introduced. In 11 of those 12 tournaments, a First Four team has won at least two games. VCU (2011) and UCLA (2021) went to the Final Four. Last year it was Pitt. Who's pushing through in '23? 

+400: UConn's odds to win the whole thing. The Huskies are a wagon. Can they make history and go back-to-back? Happy bracketing!