The 2020-21 college basketball season was atypical for a number of reasons, chief of which was the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, one of the other reasons that the year was abnormal was the struggle of some of the typical blue blood teams.
Both Duke and Kentucky missed out on the NCAA Tournament, and several other traditional powerhouses just snuck in on the bubble. That list includes the likes of UNC, Michigan State and Syracuse.
UNC is going to be a No. 8 seed after a strong finish in the ACC Tournament helped them leapfrog some other tournament hopefuls to get to Indiana. Syracuse was in a similar situation, though they didn’t make it as far in the ACC Tournament as UNC did and lost on a buzzer-beater to Virginia. They check in as an 11 seed, and it marks the third time in the team’s last four appearances that Syracuse will be seeded in the double-digits. Meanwhile, Michigan State is an 11 seed and will play in the First Four for the first time in school history.
Of course, these programs are notable because they have three of the best coaches of all-time at the college basketball level. Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and Jim Boeheim are the three winningest coaches in the March Madness field this year, so their teams always have a chance to pull an upset and build momentum.
How have the coaches done historically in the first round? And how have they done with lower-seeded teams in the past? Here are the answers you need as you look to fill out your 2021 March Madness bracket.
Roy Williams’ NCAA Tournament record in Round 1
For 18 years, Roy Williams has been the head coach at UNC. In 15 of those seasons, the Tar Heels have made the NCAA Tournament. Williams’ record in March Madness is terrific. Between his time at UNC and Kansas, he has posted 77 wins, the second-most in NCAA history, and he has won three national championships, all at UNC.
That’s not even the most incredible thing about Williams, though. What is? How about the fact that in 29 NCAA Tournament appearances, he has never lost a game in the first round. Without fail, his teams have always made it at least to the second round of March Madness. At North Carolina, he has posted a record of 15-0 in Round 1 and has won opening-round games while seeded Nos. 1-4, as a No. 6 seed, and as a No. 8 seed as well.
How UNC has fared as a lower-ranked seed
So, Williams has been great at winning in the first round. But how has he fared as a lower-ranked seed? Well, his Tar Heels have only made the tournament as a non-top-four seed on three occasions, twice as a No. 6 seed and once as an No. 8 seed, so it’s a tiny sample size. In each of those appearances, UNC won in the first round but lost in the second round.
It’s probably safe to expect No. 8 UNC to beat No. 9 Wisconsin, a team that has lost nine of its last 14 games, in Round 1 given Williams’ pristine record in the Round of 64. However, history indicates that you shouldn’t expect the Tar Heels to go deep into this tournament, especially with a potential second-round matchup with Baylor looming. When Williams’ teams aren’t cream of the crop, they simply struggle to deliver in March.
Tom Izzo’s NCAA Tournament record in Round 1
Izzo has been the head coach at Michigan State since 1998 and has led the Spartans to 23 NCAA Tournament appearances. In his previous 22 years as a head coach, Izzo has led the team to a 17-5 record in the first round.
Overall, Izzo has logged 52 wins in March Madness with two national championship wins. He ranks fourth among active coaches in NCAA Tournament wins behind Mike Krzyzewski, Williams, and Jim Boeheim.
How Michigan State has fared as a lower-ranked seed
The Spartans have had a lot more variability in their seeding under Izzo than the Tar Heels have under Williams. Michigan State has been seeded anywhere from No. 1 through No. 10 during Izzo’s time there. The only exception is that they have somehow never been the No. 8 seed under his watch.
Unlike Williams, seeding hasn’t mattered as much for Izzo’s Spartans. On seven occasions, they have been seeded No. 7 or worse in the tournament. Despite that, they have a mark of 4-3 in opening-round games during those campaigns. And when Izzo has helped spark his team to a win, they have gone on some prolonged runs in the past.
Izzo might not be as safe a bit to win Michigan State’s first-round matchup as Williams will be to win North Carolina’s, especially since Michigan State is playing in the First Four, but the fact is that if the Spartans do win early, they can heat up. They are only slight favorites over UCLA in the 11th-seed play-in game, but if they can win that game, they should have a good chance to upset BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Obviously, nothing is guaranteed, but don’t sleep on the Spartans. Just because their seed is in the double-digits doesn’t mean they can’t pull off a victory.
Jim Boeheim’s NCAA Tournament record in Round 1
If you think that Williams and Izzo have been around a long time, just check out Boeheim’s history. He has been at Syracuse since 1976 and has posted a 70.7 winning percentage during that time. And during the NCAA Tournament, he has been solid as well.
Boeheim has posted a 23-5 record in the first round of the tournament dating back to the tournament’s expansion to 64 teams in 1985. Like Izzo, his Orange team has been seeded a variety of different numbers ranging from the No. 1 seed to No. 11. The only seed in that range that Syracuse hasn’t been? No. 9.
How Syracuse has fared as a lower-ranked seed
The 2021 March Madness Tournament marks the third time that Syracuse has been a double-digit seed. The previous two times came in 2016 and 2018.
In ’16, Boeheim led the Orange on a dream run to the Final Four as a 10 seed. They beat the seventh-seeded Dayton Flyers before getting to face two double-digit seeds, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga. They capped their run to the Final Four with a win over Virginia before losing to UNC in the Final Four.
In ’18, Syracuse was a part of the First Four but would beat Arizona State to kickstart their run. They upset the No. 6 seed TCU Horned Frogs and beat the No. 3 seed Michigan State before losing to Duke in the Sweet 16.
Those success stories bode well for Syracuse potentially earning an upset big against San Diego State. It just goes to show that Boeheim’s teams are tough to play no matter where they’re seeded, so the Aztecs vs. Orange game could end up being one of the more exciting ones of Round 1.