What Does Seed Mean In Basketball? NBA & NCAA

The regular season is long. It is also physically and mentally demanding. However, it is crucial to get a better position for the playoffs. Of course, if you’re the better team, you will win more and have a better spot and a higher seed.

So, what does a seed mean in basketball, and why is it important?

A seed in basketball is a team’s bracket position for the playoffs or a tournament. In the NBA, 8 teams per conference are seeded. The top four teams will gain homecourt advantage and face their lower-seeded counterparts. However, the NCAA seeding is more complex since 68 teams are placed in the brackets.

Now let us take a deeper understanding of seeding in basketball.

What Does Seed Mean in Basketball?

Seed or seeding in basketball is a method to determine a team’s position in the competition bracket. For the NBA, it is the playoff picture composed of eight teams for each conference. For the NCAA, the bracket is much larger, with 68 teams and a lot of excitement during March Madness.

Getting a better seed in basketball tournaments like the NCAA and the NBA is more than being the best team on paper. The number of wins does not always determine the team’s seeding, as we will learn later.

Why are They Called Seeds?

The term ‘seed’ was initially used in tennis to represent a player or team before they are ‘planted’ in a bracket, so yes, it was derived from plants.

It was designed so the better teams would face off with weaker teams. Since then, the term seed has been used in other sports outside tennis, including American football, ice hockey, and basketball.

What Does a Higher Seed Mean?

A higher seed is assigned to the better teams in a tournament. The top seed or first seed is the team with the best record, while the lower seeds have a poorer record.

However, while having the top seed is a privilege because it means they are the better team in the league, it can sometimes cause a lot of pressure against upsets by lower-seeded teams.

How Does Seeding Works in the NBA

The NBA Playoffs is one of the most-awaited time in the basketball world.

Before the NBA incorporated the Play-in Tournament during the 2019-20 Season, the top eight teams of each conference will enter the playoffs. In each conference, the first seed will play the eighth seed, the second seed will play the seventh seed, the third seed against the sixth seed, and the fourth seed will match against the fifth seed.

To reward the teams who performed well during the 82-game regular season, the top-seeded teams from first seed to fourth seed will have a homecourt advantage against their competition during the seven-game first-round series.

However, during the Bubble Season, the NBA introduced the Play-in Tournament to give a chance to the lower-seeded team to enter the playoffs.

What is the Play-In Tournament?

The play-in tournament is played in between the last regular season games and the start of the NBA Playoffs. The teams that finished with a 7th to 10th seed will play in this tournament to determine who will take the seventh and eighth playoff spots.

Unlike in the previous NBA playoff format, where the top eight teams automatically qualify for the playoffs, the play-in tournament gave the ninth and tenth seeds a chance to battle it out to get the opportunity to enter the playoffs.

Here is a summary of the play-in tournament.

  • The 7th seed (home) will play the 8th seed (away) – the winner will get the 7th seed, and the loser will wait for the 9th vs. 10th seed winner.
  • The 9th seed (home) will play the 10th seed (away) – the loser is eliminated.
  • The winner of the 9th vs. 10th seed game will play against the loser of the 7th vs. 8th seed game – the winner will get the final playoff slot.

In the past seasons, many 9th seeded teams, especially in the competitive Western Conference, were eliminated from playoff contention because of tiebreakers. The play-in tournament gave a competitive balance for the 9th and 10th seeds to fight for a chance for the playoffs.

How does Seeding Works in NCAA

Selecting the 68 teams

The NCAA is a massive league of 353 Division I College Basketball Teams, and only 68 teams will get to enter the single-elimination tournament, commonly known as March Madness.

NCAA Seeding is much more complicated than the NBA, mainly because there are more teams in the NCAA than in the NBA. Unlike the 16 Teams, eight in each conference, in the NBA that reaches the playoffs, the NCAA Tournament comprises 68 teams from all over the country.

There are two ways for teams to enter the NCAA Tournament. The first is through an automatic bid for the 32 division tournament winners, which gives them an automatic ticket to the main tournament, regardless of their regular season standing.

The second way to enter the NCAA Tournament is called the “at-large bid,” where a panel of the NCAA selection committee will decide which schools will get the remaining 36 slots that will complete the NCAA Bracket.

The committee will carefully select based on quantitative metrics like stats and rankings, as well as context and individual team evaluation to choose from the hundreds of teams to include in the NCAA Tournament, which will be announced during Selection Sunday.

Seeding the teams

Once the 68 teams are identified, they will be seeded, then grouped into four regions with 16 units each. The 16 teams will then be ranked from 1 to 16 to determine each team’s seed, where the single-digit seeds are the top of the better teams.

The head-to-head matchups will be similar to the NBA, where the top seed in the region will face the lowest seed, the second seed will face the second-lowest seed, and so on. This ensures that better teams are rewarded and given a higher chance of winning their opening match.

However, while the higher-seeded teams are expected to win their first matches, a lot can happen during the tournament. And since the NCAA Tournament is only single-elimination, many upsets happen yearly.

NBA Top Seeds To Get Defeated By The Eighth Seed

Since the NBA changed its first-round series to a seven-game format in 2003, there have been only three instances when the 8th seed defeated the 1st seed in NBA History.

1. 2007 Western Conference First Round: Dallas Mavericks (1) vs. Golden State Warriors (8)

The 2007 Golden State Warriors are very different from the Stephen Curry-era Dubs. During the 2000s, the Warriors were not good enough to enter the playoffs, so it was a happy surprise when they did in 2007 after 13 years.

So when they made it into the playoffs that year, the team gave its fans hope and became known as the “We Believe” Warriors, led by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson, and Jason Richardson.

This Warriors Team shocked the world after they defeated the Mavericks and the NBA MVP Dirk Nowitzki in six games. That was the first time an eighth-seeded team won against the top seed in a best-of-seven match.

2. 2011 Western Conference First Round: San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (8)

The Grit and Grind Era of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen stunned the top-seeded Spurs with their defensive mindset and inside-out scoring, bullying the defense in the paint.

Despite having the Spurs’ Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, they were no match against what was considered an easy series against the Grizzlies. Memphis would win the series 4-2.

3. 2012 Eastern Conference First Round: Chicago Bulls (1) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (8)*

This game will always have an asterisk because this upset should never happen if the prior year’s MVP Derrick Rose did not tear his ACL in the first game of the series and hit the team’s morale. The 76ers would go on to win the series 4-2.

What is the Lowest-Seeded Team to win the NBA Finals?

The 1995 Houston Rockets (47-35) were the lowest seeded team to win the NBA Finals. During that season, they were only the sixth seed, which means they never had a homecourt advantage during their whole playoff run.

During that run, they defeated the 3rd seeded Utah Jazz (60-22), the 2nd seeded Phoenix Suns (59-23), and the West Top Seed San Antonio Spurs (62-20), before sweeping the East Top Seed Orlando Magic (57-25) to win the NBA Championship.


Basketball is a team sport that needs the whole team to win games, and for professional teams, it may mean qualifying for the playoffs.

Though it is not necessary to have the top seed to win a tournament, it only shows that the team is playing team basketball.

Having the top seed is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have the easier first-round matchup. On the other hand, you are also prone to losing in an upset, which is one of the worse ways to end your season.

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