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Duke’s Lehigh Loss Was Bad, But Mercer Was Worser

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Some upsets aren’t as big as the seed lines suggest; some are bigger. Two years ago, the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils were upset by No. 15 Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But Duke was the weakest No. 2 seed in 2012, according to the FiveThirtyEight projections that year, whereas Lehigh was unusually strong for a No. 15. Our model had given Lehigh a 10 percent chance of winning.

Something of the same pattern held last season when No. 2 Georgetown lost to No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast in the first round. Georgetown was just the 15th-best team in the country, according to our ratings, and was badly overseeded as a No. 2. Our model gave that upset a 10 percent chance of occurring as well.

This afternoon, as a No. 3 seed, Duke lost to 14th-seeded Mercer — but the Blue Devils (and the FiveThirtyEight model) have fewer excuses. In fact, Duke was the strongest No. 3 by some margin this year, according to our ratings and other indices like Ken Pomeroy’s power ratings. Our projections had Mercer with just a 7 percent chance of winning before the game began.

Some upsets aren’t as big as the seed lines suggest; some are bigger. Two years ago, the No. 2-seeded Duke Blue Devils were upset by No. 15 Lehigh in the first …

History of 2 seed vs. 15 seed in March Madness

We haven’t seen a 15 seed upset a 2 seed in March Madness since Middle Tennessee shocked Denzel Valentine, Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans in 2016. But it’s happened enough since the NCAA tournament field expanded in 1985 to be on notice every year.

Here’s everything you need to know about 15 seeds vs. 2 seeds in March Madness.

History of 15 vs. 2 seeds in March Madness

Eight 15 seeds have upset 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, which means 15 seeds have an 8-132 all-time record against 2s, a 5.71 win percentage.

Here are all of the times it’s ever happened.

15-2 upsets

Year Result Score
1991 Richmond def. Syracuse 73-69
1993 Santa Clara def. Arizona 64-61
1997 Coppin State def. South Carolina 78-65
2001 Hampton def. Iowa State 58-57
2012 Lehigh def. Duke 75-70
2012 Norfolk State def. Missouri 86-84
2013 Florida Gulf Coast def. Georgetown 78-68
2016 Middle Tennessee def. Michigan State 90-81

A few more tidbits:

  • Roughly 25 percent of the matchups have been decided by single digits, almost double the amount of No. 16 seeds.
  • Louisiana Monroe and Belmont own the most No. 15 seed appearances, as both the Warhawks and the Bruins have four berths at that slot in the 35 years of the expanded tournament.
  • Only one No. 15 seed has advanced past the second round, when Florida Gulf Coast made it to the Sweet 16 in 2013.

The most noteworthy times a 15 almost beat a 2

Winthrop vs. Tennessee, 2006

Winthrop, a 15-seed, nearly shocked No. 2 Tennessee in 2006. But then, Chris Lofton happened:

Lofton was only 5-of-14 for the game, but he hit the shot that mattered most. Gregg Marshall, now the coach at Wichita State, was the head man at Winthrop at the time.

Belmont vs. Duke, 2008

Belmont led Duke by one with two minutes to play, but the Blue Devils ultimately pulled out the win, 71-70. Gerald Henderson scored 21 points to lead Duke.

Robert Morris vs. Villanova, 2010

It took overtime for Villanova to defeat Robert Morris in 2010. The Wildcats prevailed by a score of 73-70:

Robert Morris led Villanova by six at halftime and held the Wildcats to 22 points in the opening 20 minutes. But Scottie Reynolds put ‘Nova on his back, scoring 20 in the game.

How much more likely is a 15-2 upset than a 16-1 upset?

Eight times more likely. A 16 seed has only beat a 1 seed once, in 2018 when UMBC upset Virginia.

How much more likely is a 14-3 upset than a 15-2 upset?

A 14 seed has upset a 3 seed 21 times, which equates to 15 percent. That’s nearly three times more likely than a 15-2 upset.

Here are all of the times it’s happened.

14 vs. 3 March Madness upsets

Year Result Score
1986 Cleveland State def. Indiana 83-79
1986 Arkansas Little-Rock def. Notre Dame 90-83
1987 Austin Peay def. Illinois 68-67
1988 Murray State def. NC State 78-75
1989 Siena def. Stanford 80-78
1990 Northern Iowa def. Missouri 74-71
1991 Xavier def. Nebraska 89-84
1992 ETSU def. Arizona 87-80
1995 Old Dominion def. Villanova 89-81
1995 Weber State def. Michigan State 79-72
1997 Chattanooga def. Georgia 73-70
1998 Richmond def. South Carolina 62-61
1999 Weber State def. North Carolina 76-74
2005 Bucknell def. Kansas 64-63
2006 Northwestern State def. Iowa 64-63
2010 Ohio def. Georgetown 97-83
2013 Harvard def. New Mexico 68-62
2014 Mercer def. Duke 78-71
2015 UAB def. Iowa State 60-59
2015 Georgia State def. Baylor 57-56
2016 Stephen F. Austin def. West Virginia 70-56

Joe Boozell has been a college basketball writer for NCAA.com since 2015. His work has also appeared in Bleacher Report, FOXSports.com and NBA.com. Joe’s claim to fame since joining NCAA.com: he’s predicted the correct national championship game twice… and picked the wrong winner both times. Growing up, Joe squared off against both Anthony Davis and Frank Kaminsky in the Chicagoland basketball scene. You can imagine how that went.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NCAA or its member institutions.

The 15-2 March Madness upset is rare, but it happens enough that we shouldn't be shocked when it does. Here's the history of 15-seeds vs. 2-seeds in the NCAA tournament.