In the 33-year history of the modern NCAA tournament, 15 seeds have only ever won eight games against their first-round matchup: the 2 seed.
Since the 16 seed has never won a game, the 15 seed is the ultimate underdog, the most tantalizing upset pick with a real possibilty of happening. So, if you’re planning on picking one this year, who should you go with?
That’d be Iona over Duke.
Let’s be clear, this is far from a guarantee. We’re not telling you to pick Iona over Duke, but if you just have to have one 15-2 upset in your bracket, history tells us to lean towards the Gaels.
That’s based on one stat that has been a pretty good indicator of 15-2 upset potential: Experience level.
To compare teams’ experience level, we looked at teams’ rosters and pulled two stats: A player’s level of experience, and the percentage of their team’s total minutes that they played.
We then multiplied the percentage of minutes played by the experience modifier (one for freshman, two for sophomore, etc.). And that gave us our experience score.
(Full season stats weren’t available for all historical 15-2 upsets, so we used the minutes played in the NCAA tournament game instead).
Over the eight 15-2 upsets, 15 seeds had an average experience score of 3.08, while the 2-seeds scored 2.83. The greatest differential (0.69 points) came when 15-seed FGCU (2.86) beat 2-seed Georgetown (2.17) in 2013. And the second-highest differential? That would be Lehigh’s thrilling win over none other than Duke in 2012.
This year, the average experience score among the field of 68 is 2.65.
But the outright title belongs to 15 seed Iona. The Gaels scored a 3.18, as they have three seniors averaging 24 minutes per game or more, and two juniors with at least 23 minutes per game.
Duke is the second-least experienced team in the field, with a score of 1.67. Grayson Allen — the lone senior on the Blue Devils’ roster — averages the most minutes per game at 35.1. The next four highest players are all freshmen. Only two sophomores (Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier) crack the top 10, and Antonio Vrankovic — the only junior on the team — averages just 4.9 minutes per game.
If you’re looking for another potential upset based on this data, consider, 12-seed Davidson vs. 5-seed Kentucky. The Wildcats are the least experienced team in the entire tournament.
All five of the Wildcats’ players with the most minutes per game are freshmen. So are seven of the top 10, with the other three all being sophomores. Kentucky is the only team in the field of 68 without a single senior on the roster, and the two juniors on the team combine for just 1.6 minutes per game.
Here’s the full ranking of all 68 teams’ experience level:
|6||South Dakota State||12||3.135|
|7||New Mexico State||12||3.123|
|18||Stephen F. Austin||14||2.853|
|39||San Diego State||11||2.662|