No. 11 Rutgers will start its dance routine against No. 11 Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament First Four round on Wednesday, March 16 at 9:10 p.m. ET in Dayton, Ohio airing live on truTV. Both teams were included in the last four teams to make the Field of 68 announced by the selection committee on Sunday night. Let’s breakdown that aspect of the draw as well as look back on how teams that win their initial First Four game have advanced further over the years.
The committee published their official seeding list on Sunday night with Rutgers at No. 44 and Notre Dame at No. 47 as the last at-large team to receive a bid. The other First Four matchup is between No. 45 Indiana and No. 46 Wyoming. Rutgers and Notre Dame are slotted as No. 11 seeds and the winner will play No. 6 seed Alabama on Friday, March 18 at 4:15 p.m. ET in San Diego. Indiana and Wyoming are slotted as No. 12 seeds the winner will play No. 5 Saint Mary’s on Thursday, March 17 at 7:20 p.m ET in Portland, Oregon.
The First Four began in 2011 when the NCAA Tournament expanded its field from 64 to 68 teams between 31 automatic qualifiers and 37 at-large bids. The seeding list is based on ranking every team in the field from No. 1 to No. 68. The First Four round is comprised of eight teams vying for the four remaining spots in the First Round. Those eight teams include the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers and the four lowest-seeded at-large teams. The at-large teams only play each other and the auto bid teams do the same as well.
None of the auto bid teams, all of which have been No. 16 seeds, have ever won a First round game in the NCAA Tournament after advancing from the First Four round. Only one No. 16 seed ever has in UMBC shocking No. 1 Virginia back in 2018, but they did not play in the First Four.
It’s quite different story among the teams that advance to the First round from the First Four after receiving an at-large bid.
In ten NCAA Tournaments starting in 2011, an at-large team that won its First Four game has gone on to win its First round game nine different times. The only year it didn’t happen was in 2019. While there hasn’t been an NCAA Tournament where both at-large First Four teams advanced to the round of 32, there have been some teams that have made historic runs.
At-large First Four winners are 9-11 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That’s a 45% win percentage, which actually holds up well to other seeds historically. No. 9 seeds are 17-23 vs. the No. 8 seed since 2011 with a 42.5% win percentage. That’s significant because First Four winners have been seeded anywhere between No. 11 and No. 14 over the years, so they have beaten opponent seeded between No. 3 and No. 6. To have a better win percentage than No. 9 seeds to against a similarly seeded opponent is encouraging for teams coming out of the First Four.
Overall, First Four winners are 18-20 once advancing to the field of 64, which is a 47.4% win percentage. This includes two teams that made magical runs from the First Four to the Final Four. VCU did it in the first year it was possible in 2011 while UCLA did it last season.
The No. 11 Bruins advanced out of the First Four with a 86-80 overtime win over No. 11 Michigan State after trailing by as many as 14 points last year. They then defeated No. 6 BYU by the score of 73-62, followed by a 67-47 win over No. 14 Abilene Christian to advance to the Sweet 16. UCLA continued it’s storied run by beating No. 2 Alabama 88-78 in overtime followed by beating No. 1 Michigan 51-49. The Bruins lost a heartbreaker in the Final Four to No. 1 Gonzaga on a last second buzzer beater in overtime to fall 93-90. It was one of the more memorable NCAA Tournament runs in years.
For Rutgers, it’s only about beating Notre Dame on Wednesday. However, knowing teams in their position have had more success past the initial First Four round is encouraging.
In regard to winning three games through the first week, five teams over the last ten NCAA Tournaments have advanced to the Sweet 16 out of the First Four round.
Aside from VCU and UCLA advancing to the Final Four, LaSalle in 2013, Tennessee in 2014 and Syracuse in 2018 all advanced to the Sweet 16. The four other years a First Four team won their First round game, they failed to advance past the round of 32.
In summary, there have been 20 at-large teams to win a First Four game over the last 10 NCAA Tournaments. Nine of those teams won their next game in the round of 64, five teams advanced to the Sweet 16 and two advanced to a Final Four. In regard to winning percentages, 45% of at-large teams that win a First Four game advanced to the round of 32, while 25% advanced to the Sweet 16 and 10% reached the Final Four.
Who knows, maybe this is the year both at-large teams that advance out of the First Four make history by both advancing to the round of 32 for the first time as well.
As for Rutgers, we know they’re capable of anything. That means they could lose on Wednesday night to fellow 11 seed Notre Dame, or they could make a memorable run this week and possibly beyond. History suggests that if Rutgers can advance to Friday’s First round game against No. 6 Alabama, they certainly have a legitimate chance to win that as well. I think for some teams advancing out of the First Four, having a game under their belts heading into the First round matchup can help their ability to play in rhythm and be more comfortable playing on college basketball’s biggest stage. Rutgers is they type of team that could benefit from that. A potential quick turnaround would exist if the Scarlet Knights do win Wednesday night and it wouldn’t be easy, as they would play the Crimson Tide on the West Coast in under 48 hours. That would be a good problem to have though.
If Rutgers can defeat Notre Dame on Wednesday night, we’ll know history shows a memorable run in the NCAA Tournament is possible. To read more about the Fighting Irish ahead of Wednesday’s First Four matchup, click here.