2021 March Madness Handicapping: No. 5 vs. No. 12 Seeds
We are all of two days away from the start of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and the annual passage of filling out your March Madness bracket is in full swing. In fact, you should be putting the last touches on which teams you believe are this year’s Cinderella teams.
When it comes to predicting upsets, many people point to the four No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups on the bracket as a good place to start. If we look at the history of the tournament, the numbers back up this trend and then some. Since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams, the No. 1 seed has lost just once (139-1), the No. 2 seed has lost eight times (132-8), the No. 3 has lost 21 times (119-21) and the No. 4 seed has lost 29 times (111-29). Each one of those seeds has a winning percentage of almost .800, which goes to show you that picking an upset there is almost impossible. That’s where the No. 5 vs No. 12 matchup comes into play.
The No. 5 seed has beaten the No. 12 seed just 64.3 percent of the time. That’s a 90-50 record for those counting at home. The following is a brief look at this year’s No. 5 vs. No. 12 seed matchups in an effort to determine which teams might be on upset alert this time around and to help with March Madness handicapping.
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East Region - No. 5 Colorado (-5) vs. No. 12 Georgetown
This game is scheduled for Saturday, March 20 at 12:15 p.m.
In a down Pac-12 year, Colorado managed to finish the season with 22 wins and eight losses, which was good enough for third in the Pac-12. They made a run to the finals of the Pac-12 Tournament before losing to Oregon State, 70-68, as nearly nine-point favorites. Don’t let that result fool you as the Buffaloes are a solid team on both ends of the court. The Buffaloes rank second in the country in free-throw percentage at 82.2 percent and average the second-fewest turnovers per game in the Pac-12 with 11.2. They are an excellent defensive team, and they held their opponents to an average of 63.3 points per contest. Offensively, the Buffaloes are led by McKinley Wright IV. The senior guard returned to the Buffaloes after withdrawing from the NBA Draft, becoming the first Pac-12 player to top 1,700 points, 600 rebounds and 600 career assists. He’s averaging 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists on the year. His name is being compared to NBA champion and former Colorado alumni Chauncey Billups. As Wright IV goes, so does Colorado.
As for Georgetown, they once again proved why March is synonymous with Madness. The Hoyas had a terrible regular season, as they finished eighth in the Big East with a 9-12 record overall. They then got hot at the right time and proceeded to knock off Marquette, Villanova, Seton Hall, and Creighton on route to winning the Big East Tournament and earning an automatic bid. The Hoyas only chance to pull off the upset here is to knock down their three-point shots. They finished second in the Big East with three-point percentage, knocking down 37.6 percent of their shots. The Hoyas also take after their head coach, Patrick Ewing, and rebound well on both ends of the court. Limiting second-chance points for Colorado while generating their own will help their cause tremendously. The problem with the Hoyas is their defense as they give up a ton of points, and we see Colorado taking advantage of that.
Midwest Region - No. 5 Tennessee (-8) vs. No. 12 Oregon State
This game is scheduled for Friday, March 19 at 4:30 p.m.
The Tennessee Volunteers are a deep team, and that may be the best thing they can be come this year’s tournament. They have seven players who average at least 24 minutes per game, and that kind of trust in your bench is vital if you are a team that has aspirations of going deep into this tournament. It’s also a great thing that the Volunteers have one of the best defenses in the country. They rank No. 4 in the country in defensive efficiency, and that will serve them well in a tournament that tends to tighten up the deeper the tournament goes. The offense is a bit of a work in progress still as they were a middle-of-the-pack team in the SEC but did own the third-best free-throw percentage. A good free-throw shooting team is a box you should check when picking teams to go deep in the tournament.
As for Oregon State, they went on an unforgettable run to end the season. They finished the season 7-3 and won three conference tournament games in order to secure an automatic bid. The Beavers have no numbers that stand out on paper, which is why they would have missed the tournament had they not won the Pac-12. The best part of the Beavers game is their ability to defend the three-point line. They led the Pac-12 in that category with 30.7 percent. It’s going to be a tough ask for the Beavers to upset this Tennessee squad, so I’d look elsewhere for a No. 12 seed to pull off the upset.
South Region - No. 5 Villanova (-6) vs. No. 12 Winthrop
This game is scheduled for Friday, March 19 at 9:57 pm.
This is one of the most anticipated games of the first round, which is really unusual for a No. 5 vs No. 12 seed. However, this game is perhaps the sexiest pick in terms of picking an upset you will find in the first round.
No.12 Winthrop is the real deal. They finished first in the Big South Conference with a record of 23-1, with their lone loss coming to UNC Asheville on Jan 29. Since then, Winthrop has reeled off seven straight wins, which culminated in winning the Big South Tournament over Campbell by an emphatic score of 80-53. The Eagles are led by a 6-foot-7 point guard who leads the NCAA with three triple-doubles. As Chandler Vaudrin goes, so do the Eagles, and they are motivated beyond belief to play more than one game this tournament. The Eagles play at an extremely fast pace and get up a ton of shots per game, while owning shooting percentages, both inside and beyond the arc, that are Top 70 in the nation.
Villanova comes into this game losers of two straight and three of their last four games. This is not the same Villanova team we are used to seeing atop the rankings and among the best teams in the nation. This edition of the Wildcats has fought and clawed their way to get here with an at-large bid, but the loss of Collin Gillespie is going to hurt their chances this year in a big way. The team is 0-2 since he went down with an ACL injury, and they may be running into one of the most talented No.12 seeds we’ve seen in a very long time.
West Region - No. 5 Creighton (-7) vs. No. 12 UC Santa Barbara
This game is scheduled for Saturday, March 20 at 3:30 pm.
Creighton was a very good team this year as they finished the regular season with a record of 20-8, which was second in the Big East. They were blown out in the finals of the Big East Tournament by Georgetown, but one game shouldn’t define their season. If they can get by a very good UCSB team, they’ll do it by way of their very balanced attack that ranks 14th in the country in offensive efficiency. As junior guard Marcus Zegarowski goes, so do the Bluejays. He leads the team with 15.5 points per game and 4.3 assists.
As for UCSB, they ran away with the Big West Conference during the regular season and dominated in the conference tourney as well en route to an automatic bid in this year’s tournament. The Gauchos are a very balanced team that rate out well in both offensive and defensive efficiencies. They are another sexy pick to pull off the upset. And with the turmoil surrounding Creighton and the remarks their head coach made not too long ago, it wouldn’t shock me to see Creighton make an early exit.
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