Just How Crazy Was the 2023 NCAA Tournament?

Yes, Virginia, the 2023 NCAA Tournament was Bonkers

We all felt it, and now I’ve quantified it.  Yes, the 2023 NCAA Tournament was super crazy.  Felt like max chaos, right?  Adam shared interesting highlights of how crazy it was in the post mortem article.  Now let’s let math back up what we all felt last year.

First, in order to measure chaos, we have to define chaos.  Basically, there are two ways to look at it – chaos and weirdness.

  1. Chaos is upsets.  More upsets = more chaos.  The further lower seeds advance, the more chaotic our tournament is.  Makes sense.  
  2. Weirdness is deviation from the norm.  It’s called March Madness for a good reason.  There are always upsets and unexpected results.  By “norm,” I mean “average.”  Is the tournament playing out in a way that’s far from what we’ve grown to expect?  For example, the average number of 11-6 upsets is 1.5, so if we see one or two, that’s “normal.”  That’s what we expect to see.  While those upsets are chaotic, it’s what we’re accustomed to.  No 6-11 upsets?  Four 11-6 upsets?  That’s weird.  We’ve had at least one of these upsets every year since 2004.

First, 2023 was one of the most chaotic tournaments ever.  Most chaotic since 2014.

And 2023 was easily the most unusual tournament ever – which explains the feelings I had while it happened – “This just feels way more bonkers that I can ever remember.”

If we combine chaos and weirdness levels into a single “craziness” score, 2023 stands with 2014 head and shoulders above all other tournaments as the most crazy tournaments ever.

2014 vs 2023

2023 was actually more chaotic until the championship game.  In 2014, we had a 7 vs 8 in the championship game – by far the most chaotic matchup ever.  So much more chaotic than the 4 vs 5 we had last year, that it puts 2014 significantly over 2023 as the most chaotic.

2023 ranks at or near the most unusual in every round of the tournament.  A 16 beating a 1 is incredibly rare.  Duh.  And remember, the 2023 Elite 8 was the first ever without a 1-seed and had the fewest ever 1 or 2-seeds.  And the Final 4?  First time ever without a 1, 2, or 3 seed.  Again, 2014’s weirdness level is boosted by having the most unusual pairing in the championship game.

Other Curiosities

Most Chaotic 1st Round

Not only did 2016 have the most first round double-digit seed upsets, but the upsets ran the gamut.  Two 10s, three 11s, two 12s, a 13, a 14, and a 15.  BUT only 2 of these teams won again and advanced to the Sweet 16, which is why…

Most Chaotic First Weekend

…2021 was the most chaotic first week of the tournament.  It started with 9 double-digit upsets in the First Round (two 10s, two 11s, one 12, two 13s, a 14, and a 15).  Four of those teams advanced to the Sweet 16 – two 11s, a 12, and a 15.  Only 1999’s Sweet 16 had more double digit seeds (5), but 3 of those were 10 seeds.

Biggest Snooze Fest

The 2007 tournament was the least chaotic and one of the least unusual tournaments ever. 

  • Extremely chalky from start to finish
  • Least number of first round double-digit upsets – 2 11-seeds were the only ones to advance
  • The regional finals (Elite 8)?  1 vs 2, 1 vs 2, 1 vs 2, 1 vs 3

You might think, “well, the top teams from the region playing for a Final 4 berth?  At least the Elite 8 games must’ve been good.”  None of the final scores were close.  One game did go to overtime, but anti-climactically, Georgetown beat UNC by 12.  The championship game?  Two 1-seeds.  Was that a good game at least?  Meh.  Florida rode an 11 point half time lead to a 9 point victory over Ohio State.  Nice to remember Greg Oden, though.  He had a good game (10-15, 25 pts, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks).

Most Average Tournament

2002’s tournament embodies what we expect to see in any given tournament.  6-7 First Round upsets, some surprises, but nothing too crazy – the kind of surprises that make you think “I was this close to picking them!” and not “What the #@*$?”  Add in a couple Cinderellas/Bracket Busters, a surprise Final 4 team, and a 1-seed winning in the end.

In 2002, we saw

  • 7 First Round upsets, including 3 of everyone’s favorite 12-5 upset
  • Plenty of close games throughout the tournament
  • Two Cinderellas, 10-Kent State and 12-Missouri, busted brackets and reached the Elite 8
  • 5-Indiana joined two 1-seeds and a 2-seed in the Final Four
  • Aaaand 1-Maryland won the tournament. 

In other words, a “normal” NCAA Tournament.