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How Do First-Time Final Four Teams Perform in the NCAA Tournament?


Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Auburn Tigers guard Bryce Brown

  • Auburn and Texas Tech are making their first Final Four appearances in school history.
  • Using historical betting data, we analyze how first-time teams have performed in the NCAA Tournament's Final Four.

The Final Four is set. Virginia, Michigan State, Auburn and Texas Tech are headed to Minneapolis. The Tigers and Red Raiders are making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend.

Will Auburn and Texas Tech play like they are just happy to be there or can these rookies take care of business? To find out, we looked at how first-time teams performed in the Final Four since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

Since 1985, 14 programs have made their Final Four debuts. Of those teams, only four were able to advance to the championship game.

In 2017, Gonzaga lost to North Carolina as a 1-point underdog in the final. The Tar Heels finished the title game on an 8-0 run, helping fans forget about the buzzer-beating loss to Villanova in the championship game the year before.

In 2010, Butler nearly pulled the upset over Duke in the championship game but Gordon Hayward’s half-court shot bounced off the rim as time expired. In 1999, UConn cut down the nets in its first trip to the Final Four. The Huskies beat a 37-1 Duke squad. Many call it a great upset, but UConn was actually favored in the title game.

In 1989, Seton Hall came out flat in its Final Four matchup with Duke, falling behind by 18 before eventually winning by 17 points. In the championship game, the Pirates had a lead against Michigan in overtime before a questionable foul with three seconds left sent Rumeal Robinson to the line — he made both shots to give the Wolverines the title.

To recap, first-time teams are 4-10 straight up in the Final Four and only one team, UConn in 1999, has won the championship in its first appearance since 1985.

History is against Auburn and Texas Tech, and so is the betting market and our model. The Tigers and Red Raiders are underdogs to Virginia (-5.5) and Michigan State (-3), respectively. According to our simulations, Auburn has a 30.9% chance of reaching the championship game and Texas Tech has a 41.0% chance.

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