You know that old adage that a No. 12 seed always upsets a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance? Well, it’s true and it’s not.
Overall, the No. 5 seed is 69-35 against the No. 12 seed since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. So nearly 67 percent of the time the No. 5 comes out victorious. But being that there are four 5-12 games, that generally does mean you see one No. 12 over a No. 5 first-round upset. It happened last year, for example, with Cornell beating Temple. By comparison, a No. 4 seed is 82-22 since 1985 against a No. 13 seed and a No. 6 is 71-33 against a No. 11.
Make sure your NCAA Tournament brackets strategy doesn’t include a No. 12 making a deep run. The furthest a team seeded there has ever advanced was Missouri reaching a regional final in 2002. Last year, by the way, two No. 5s reached the Final Four: Michigan State and Butler (and they happened to play each other). It was the first time two No. 5s reached the Final Four and first time since 2006 that a seed lower than No. 3 reached the Final Four.
With all that said, let’s take a look at the four No. 5-12 matchups this year and project which have the best chance of going to the underdog. There is one problem this year, however. Because of the new “First Four,” two No. 12 seeds – considered the two “last teams in” among the at-large selections – face off for one spot against a No. 5. In this case, UAB faces Clemson on Tuesday night with the winner getting No. 5 West Virginia on Thursday.
No. 5 West Virginia vs. 12 UAB/Clemson (East Regional, line TBA): I’m already going to say don’t touch the No. 12 seed in this case. Why? Either the Blazers or Tigers will have basically no time to prepare for WVU because they play Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST and then have to turn around and play just after noon on Thursday against a WVU team that has been playing well of late, having beaten three ranked teams in its past six games.
No. 5 Arizona vs. No. 12 Memphis (West Regional, Wildcats favored by 6): This seems to be a pretty favorable matchup for Arizona, which was knocked off in the final second of the Pac-10 title game. The Tigers are really young and might not be ready for the big stage – it’s also Memphis coach Josh Pastner’s first Big Dance as a head coach. Plus, Memphis turns the ball over a lot, at more than 15 per game. And finally, one of Memphis’ best players, Wesley Witherspoon, isn’t likely to be in rhythm. He missed nine games because of a suspension and knee injury before returning for the C-USA championship victory over UTEP. But Witherspoon got just eight minutes in that one. Derrick Williams and Co. will be too much.
No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Richmond (Southwest Regional, Commodores favored by 2): That small line should tell you how dangerous Richmond is. The Spiders have won seven in a row and 11 of 12, including taking the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Look for lots of three-point shooting in this one. Richmond shoots 40 percent from three-point range while attempting 19.6 per game. Vanderbilt shoots 37 percent while firing up 21 per game. Richmond is tournament-tested, having lost to Saint Mary’s in last year’s first round and has two SEC-caliber players in Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper. Richmond is a very good defensive team and will focus everything on Vandy’s John Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer. If Jenkins isn’t on, the Commodores lose. And I think they do.
No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 12 Utah State (Southeast Regional, Wildcats favored by 2): How is Utah State a No. 12 seed? It has a 30-3 record, WAC regular-season and tourney titles and an RPI of 15 – USU shouldn’t have been any higher than maybe a No. 8 and they are using this seeding as motivation. The Aggies are one of just four teams in the nation with three or fewer losses. USU's 30 wins ties a school record. The Aggies also have the advantage of playing close to home in Tucson, Ariz. USU has plenty of experience, having made its third straight NCAA Tournament. They have a roster made up of six seniors and four juniors. KSU, meanwhile, enters off a deflating loss in their first Big 12 Tournament game, against Colorado. I would rate this the second-most probable No. 12 upset after Richmond.
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