There isn't a seeding in the NCAA Tournament that draws more attention and intrigue than the 5 vs. 12 line in the first round . And for good reason - in 128 meetings since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 the much lower seed has won 46 times, which is a very strong 36 percent win rate. You could make some nice money on the moneyline over the years at a win percentage like that. And lately you could also win nicely against the spread - the 12s have gone 8-3-1 ATS in the last three years. The No. 12 seeds bounced back from losing all four games in 2015 to win twice last year.
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So, what's going to happen this year? Is this a good year to pencil in some upsets on this line of the bracket? Or is it time to be conservative?
East Region, North Carolina-Wilmington vs. Virginia: This one is interesting. UNCW has a very underwhelming defense, but they have a Top-10 scoring offense. They have three guards averaging 14.5 or more points per game and have many ways to make opponents hurt. Virginia has the top defense in the country, so UNCW is not going to have the easy time scoring that they have a lot of nights. The problem they have, though, is that the Cavaliers are almost embarrassingly bad offensively this year. If the Seahawks can open a lead early on by finding holes to exploit then the Cavs could struggle to score the points to get back into it. This Virginia team plays defense as well as the more successful squads we have seen the last couple of years, but it would be a real mistake to think that this is the same team in other ways. Their offense is a real problem, and they have struggled when they can't set the tone.
West Region, Princeton vs. Notre Dame: The first thing that is odd this year when looking at Princeton is coming to terms that they had to win their conference tournament to get here. That's normal for all the other auto-bids, but the Ivy League has been above having a postseason until now. When Princeton has made the tournament in the past they have often been a trendy pick for upset seekers. They are consistently a relentless, high-paced team with creative scheming. They have won 19 straight coming into this tournament, so they obviously do some things very well. They are just outmatched here, though. They played a weak schedule in the Ivy League this year, and they lost their toughest nonconference games - not that they played very tough ones. They would need to play the right type of team to have an edge here, and they just haven't won the lottery with this matchup. Notre Dame, led by junior forward Bonzie Colson, is a strong team. They have so many shooters that they can make opponents suffer by spacing out the floor, and Princeton is really going to struggle to match up against them. Notre Dame just beat Florida State and crushed Virginia in the ACC Tournament, so they are clearly capable of handling a game like this.
Midwest Region, Nevada vs. Iowa State: I don't give this one much chance of happening. Here's the key stat in this one - Nevada has played only two tournament teams all year, and they lost both of them. They were crushed by St. Mary's in the season opener and lost to Iona on a neutral court. They won their last nine games, including three in the Mountain West conference, but this wasn't exactly a strong year for the conference, so that isn't as impressive as it could seem. Iowa State beat Miami, Oklahoma State twice, Kansas and Baylor, and went on a nice run - albeit lucky in avoiding Kansas and Oklahoma State - to win the Big 12 Tournament. They have been much more tested than Nevada, and they have fared fairly well. Iowa State is experienced, and they have an offense that Nevada is going to struggle to keep up with. If Nevada wins this one it will be because Iowa State has had a really horrible day.
South Region, Middle Tennessee State vs. Minnesota: This is by far the most interesting matchup, which is why I left it for last. MTSU opened a lot of eyes last year by beating Michigan State as a No. 15 seed. This is a very experienced team that plays relentless defense. They didn't play the toughest schedule, but they had some eye-opening results - most notably beating Vanderbilt by 23. They are tough, and very well-coached, and they are going to be ready for this test. Minnesota enjoyed some very generous seeding so they aren't perhaps as strong as you might expect from a No. 5 seed. In their last three games they lost twice, getting overwhelmed by Wisconsin and soundly beaten by Michigan. They were a streaky team this year, including a five-game losing streak, so they could be vulnerable given their recent funk. Nate Mason is forced to carry too much of the burden for this team, so if MTSU can contain him then they will have a good shot. If I was going to pick one upset in the 5 vs. 12 line this year this would definitely be it.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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