March Madness: Ranking the Most Likely 12/5 Upsets
Over the years, the 12/5 matchup has been a good place to go for an upset.
That was very true in the last edition of the Big Dance back in 2019 as three 12 seeds -- Liberty, Oregon and Murray State -- won first-round games. The lone exception was the 5 seeded Auburn squeaking past New Mexico State by one (and then eventually making a run to the Final Four).
Over the past 18 NCAA Tournaments, there have been 30 instances of a 12 seed upsetting a 5 seed, meaning the 12 seed wins at a 41.6% clip in that span. Only three times in the past 18 seasons has there been a tourney without a 12/5 upset. However, the success 12 seeds had in 2019 was out of the norm for the most recent tournaments as 12 seeds won just one first-round matchup across 2017 and 2018.
Everyone wants to nail upset picks, and hitting on the 12/5 games can give you a leg up in your pool.
Using our metrics, let's take a look at this year's 12/5 games and see which are most likely to end in a 12 seed winning, ranking them from least to most probable, according to our game projections. For those of you who may be new to numberFire, nERD measures the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average opponent on a neutral court.
4. Creighton (5) vs. UCSB (12)
Dating back to 2001, the average 5 seed has owned a nERD of 13.22. The Blue Jays' nERD is 13.76, which makes them the ninth-best team in the country by our numbers. Meanwhile, the average 12 seed has had a nERD of 8.43. USCB holds a 7.64 nERD and is 63rd in the country by our metrics.
While UCSB isn't the worst 12 seed in this year's field, per our numbers, they are up against the best 5 seed. In fact, the Bluejays are the only 5 seed that has a nERD better than that of the average 5 seed since 2001.
Creighton is good on both ends, but their strength lies offensively as the Bluejays have the country's 14th-best adjusted offense, per KenPom. Up against the 82nd-ranked adjusted defense of UCSB, Creighton should put up points.
FanDuel Sportsbook has installed Creighton as 8.0-point favorites, and this looks like the least likely 12/5 upset in this year's tourney.
3. Tennessee (5) vs. Oregon State (12)
Going by the early lines at FanDuel Sportsbook, this matchup has the biggest spread as Tennessee is an 8.5-point favorite. If you wanted to argue this was the least likely 12/5 upset, you won't get too much pushback from me; it's about the same as the Creighton-UCSB matchup.
The Vols are 14th with a nERD of 12.64, and KenPom ranks them 21st. Oregon State is 77th in our rankings, holding an underwhelming nERD of 6.62. Remember: the average 12 seed has a nERD of 8.43. Oregon State's nERD makes them close to the average 13 seed (12.20 nERD). KenPom has the Beavers 85th.
If you're looking for a reason to back the Beavers, this should be a slow-paced game. Oregon State is 315th in KenPom's adjusted tempo rankings while the Vols are 233rd. The fewer possessions there are, the better chance something flukey happens.
2. Villanova (5) vs. Winthrop (12)
At first glance, this doesn't look like a good matchup for Winthrop. The Eagles are the worst 12 seed by both our rankings (93rd) and KenPom's (91st). On the other side, KenPom really likes Villanova, ranking the Wildcats 12th, tops of any 5 seed in this year's Big Dance.
Here's where the but comes in -- but we're not quite as high on 'Nova. We have Villanova 21st with a nERD of 12.03. That nERD makes them worse than the average 6 seed since 2001.
On top of that, Villanova point guard Collin Gillespie is out for the rest of the season. It's a big blow for the Wildcats. Gillespie was playing the second-most minutes (33.4) on the team and was Villanova's second-leading scorer (14.0) while pacing the squad in assists (4.6). Nova coach Jay Wright said Gillespie is "the heart and soul of our program" and that "we know we can't replace him."
The spread for this game opened with Nova as 6.5-point favorites, the second-smallest spread among 12/5 games.
1. Colorado (5) vs. Georgetown (12)
The Buffs can play. We have them ranked 13th with a nERD of 13.02, and they check in 17th on KenPom. Unfortunately for Colorado, they got the toughest draw of any of this season's 5 seeds.
Georgetown is 58th by our numbers and has a nERD of 8.13, making them the best 12 seed in this field. KenPom falls in line, ranking the Hoyas 55th, the best among the 12 seeds.
The Hoyas ran through the Big East Tournament to clinch a spot in the field, and they'll likely be a popular pick for a lot of people. They've won six of seven, including wins over Creighton (by 25) and Villanova (by 1) -- a pair of teams who wound up on the 5 line.
Colorado is a 5.5-point favorite, the slimmest margin among this year's 12/5 matchups.