March Madness Handicapping: 5 vs. 12 Seeds
When digging through your bracket in search of the perfect upset pick, the 5 vs 12 seed matchups always deserve a closer look. Since 2017, there has been a 12 seed upsetting a 5 seeds five times, including three times in the 2019 tournament alone. Likely to be trendy upset picks, let’s take a deeper look at what each team brings to the table in the 5th and 12th seeding slots.
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Connecticut (5) vs New Mexico State (12)
Connecticut is loaded with athletic and lengthy wings, including Isaiah Whaley. Dan Hurley has the pedigree that you look for to make a run in the tournament, and his animated manner makes him a must-watch as well. RJ Cole commands the offense for the Huskies and is unafraid of the moment. Their center Adama Sanogo is an important interior presence for the team, and the shooting ability of Tyrese Martin is also essential to the team’s success. The Huskies have won 7 of their last 9 games and have impressive wins over Villanova and Auburn this season.
New Mexico State Head Coach Chris Jans has done an excellent job with the Aggies and is one of the hottest names in college to get a chance at a larger school moving forward. The program has made the tournament in 9 of the past 12 years and possesses solid size for a mid-major team this season. Their impactful perimeter defense is a major part of their identity, and they have notched some impressive wins over Davidson and Washington State this year.
The opening lines favor Connecticut by 7 points with the over/under set at 132.5 on most books. When comparing the two teams, New Mexico has an advantage in their offensive rebounding numbers and free throw rate, which are two major advantages in the tournament. The Aggies also are top 15 in rim and transition defense, which are the two most common offensive sets run by UConn. There is still plenty to like about UConn, but this is not the best matchup they could have drawn from their perspective.
Houston (5) vs Alabama Birmingham (12)
Despite two of their top players picking up injuries this season, Houston has rallied to remain one of the best teams in the country. Following their Final Four run last year, Houston has retooled and prepared for this season once again. They possess a top 12 defense and also rank 10th in D-1 teams in points per possession.
If they had not won their conference, it appeared likely that UAB had earned an at-large bid due to their impressive play this season. Jordan “Jelly” Walker stands just 5’11 but is one of the most fun to watch players across the entire tournament. His playmaking ability, impressive shooting, and swagger make the team tick, and they come into the tourney not showing fear to any matchup.
The opening line for this matchup favors Houston by 8.5 points and the over/under at 8.5 points. Houston is effective defensively at the rim and along the perimeter and collect offensive rebounds at an impressive 37.8% rate. UAB shoot 38.4% on three-pointers as a team and show favorable trends among many advanced metrics. Alabama Birmingham is considered to have the 28th best offense in the country overall, which is ahead of many teams who are seeded higher than them, so anything can happen if they get hot.
Saint Mary’s (5) vs Wyoming or Indiana (12)
This is the 8th time that Saint Mary’s has made the tournament under veteran head coach Randy Bennett. While they may not have the look you expect from an NCAA Tournament team, their impressive defensive scheme and ability to make teams play at their tempo has proved impactful this season. The Gaels have picked up notable wins over Gonzaga, San Francisco, and Notre Dame this season.
This is Wyoming’s first trip to the tournament since 2015 and just their second since 2002. They rely on a smashmouth post-heavy offense, which forces the ball to their forwards Hunter Maldonado and Graham Ike.
Indiana is built around big man Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is capable of lifting his team to a win nearly on his own. Under first-year head coach Mike Woodson, the Hoosiers have found an identity in their toughness and won two games in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2003.
There will obviously be much more clarity about this matchup after Indiana and Wyoming play their First Four matchup, but the spread is not expected to be as large with either matchup. If Indiana advances, Saint Mary’s is only expected to be favored by 2 points, while the spread will likely be set at 4 points if Wyoming gets the nod. Saint Mary’s has a top-10 defense and are the fifth best defensive rebounding team in the country, so they will not be an easy matchup for either team.
Iowa (5) vs Richmond (12)
You should not look much further than Keegan Murray when evaluating the Iowa Hawkeyes. The First Team All-American is the motor that makes the team run, and his strong play has made Iowa one of the hottest teams in the nation heading into the tournament. On the season, Murray averages 23.6 points and 8.6 rebounds and is also a 50.5% three-point shooter this season. Ranked as the second offense in the nation, Iowa appears to be peaking at the right time.
This is Richmond’s first time in the NCAA Tournament since 2011, but this roster is one of the most experienced units amongst the entire field. Grant Golden is one of Richmond’s all-time scoring leaders, and Jacob Gilyard is the all-time NCAA leader in steals. The team has played together for more than four years at this point, and their active hands have the potential to change the game.
The opening betting line has begun at 10 points in favor of Iowa with the over-under set at 150.5 for this matchup. Iowa has drastically improved their play as the season progressed and bring up some serious matchup concerns for Richmond due to the elite shot-makers they have surrounding Murray. Richmond is battle tested and never quits, even coming back from down 6 points with 1:35 to play in their conference final to secure a conference bid, so don’t expect them to roll over without a fight.
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