Basketball Tournament Seed

The two biggest basketball tournaments are the NBA Playoffs and the NCAA Tournament, known as March Madness. Matchups in these tournaments are determined by a process called seeding. Keep reading to learn how seeds work in basketball.

Basketball Seed

A seed in basketball is the number that corresponds to a team’s ranking within their league. Seeds work a bit differently in the NCAA and in the NBA. However, in both leagues, you want to be the lowest seed possible (1), and there are multiple teams assigned each seed number in preparation for the league’s postseason.

NBA Seeds

In the NBA, seeds are determined solely by a team’s record or win percentage. In each conference, the eight top-ranked teams, according to records, make the playoffs. The team with the best record earns the 1 seed; the next best team gets the 2 seed, and so on.

There are two conferences, which means there are two number 1 seeds, two number 2 seeds, etc. In the NBA’s new playoff format, which was modified in 2021, seeds 1-6 in each conference automatically make the playoffs, while teams 7-10 participate in a play-in round to determine first-round matchups.

NBA Play-In Tournament

The NBA play-in tournament features the 7-10 ranked teams in both conferences battling for a playoff spot. For each conference, the 7 seed will play the 8 seed, and the 9 seed will play the 10 seed. The winner of the game between the 7 and 8 seeds will automatically qualify for the playoffs as the conference’s 7 seed.

The loser of this game will play the winner of the game between the 9 and 10 seeds. Whoever wins this game will become the 8 seed in the playoffs. Whoever loses the game between the 9 and 10 seeds in each conference will be eliminated from playoff contention.

NBA Playoff Matchups

NPAPlayoff matchups are determined by seeds. The top-seeded team plays the 8 seed, the 2 seed plays the 7 seed, the 3 seed plays the 6 seed, and the 4 seed plays the 5 seed. This rewards teams that perform well during the regular season.

Once the bracket is fixed at the beginning of the tournament, teams are not reseeded throughout the tournament. This means that even if a high-numbered seed makes it out of the first round, they will play the team who won in their section of the bracket, no matter the seed.

NCAA Seeds

In the NCAA, seeds work a bit differently. On Selection Sunday, teams are given seeds based on their season records, strength of schedule, and success in conference playoffs.

A team could receive a higher seed than their record suggests they deserve as a result of success in their conference tournament or beating a top team in the regular season. Seeding in the NCAA is based on many more factors than solely on win percentage, as in the NBA.

NCAA Conference Tournament Playoff Seeding

At the end of the regular season, every conference in NCAA Division I basketball holds a postseason tournament. The winner of each of these tournaments receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Similar to the NBA, seeding for conference tournaments is determined by regular-season records. However, only the team’s record during conference play will be taken into consideration, not the overall record. Thus, the team with the best conference record will receive the 1 seed in the tournament.

NCAA Tournament Playoff Matchups

In the NCAA Tournament, teams are divided into four regions of 24 teams, including the teams that play in the First Four. The First Four is a single play-in round in which eight teams compete in four separate games for a bid into the Round of 64; two teams will play for a twelve seed, two teams will play for an 11 seed, and four teams will compete for two 16 seed spots.

Once all First Four games are played, there are 16 teams in each region, seeded 1 through 16, for a total of 64 first-round teams. This means there are four teams with each seed. The four number 1 seeds are considered the best teams in the nation.

Similar to conference tournaments and the NBA Playoffs, the first round features the lowest-seeded teams playing the highest-seeded teams. The 1 seed will thus play the 16 seed, the 2 seed will play the 15 seed, and so on. The closest matchup in terms of ranking in the first round is played between the 8 seed and 9 seed in each region.

March Madness uses a fixed-bracket format rather than reseeding in subsequent rounds. This means that matchups after the first round are not determined by seed. Rather, the entire bracket is set at the beginning of the tournament.


What does seed mean in basketball?

In basketball, a team’s seed is their initial ranking going into a tournament. Seeds are used to determine the first-round matchups of the tournament and to place the teams in the tournament bracket. Different tournaments have different methods of determining seeds, but a lower-numbered seed always indicates a stronger team.

Has a 1 seed ever lost in the first round?

Only one 1-seeded team has ever lost in the first round. In 2018, the 16-seeded UMBC Retrievers beat the 1-seeded University of Virginia Cavaliers. However, Virginia avenged itself the next year when it won the entire NCAA basketball tournament.