2019 March Madness Handicapping: No. 5 vs. No. 12 Seeds
The field of 68 teams has been set for this year's NCAA Tournament and the annual rite of picking your March Madness bracket is underway. We've already seen two play-in games offer up some intriguing basketball, and the hope is that it will only get better as the tournament progresses. One of the most exciting aspects of this sporting event is that the threat that a couple of upsets here and there can completely change the entire complexion of the tournament.
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. Tournament history since 1985, when the field was first expanded to 64 teams, has shown us that the No. 1 seed has lost the opening-round game just one time, and that was last year when UMBC shocked the world and took down Virginia. The No. 2 seed has won its first game 94.2 percent of the time, and the third seed has won 84.6 percent of the time. Even the No. 4 seed has a high probability of advancing with a 79.4 percent winning percentage in its first game, but that is about as far as it goes in terms of trying to pick a 'sure thing'.
The No. 5 seed has beaten the No. 12 seed just 65.7 percent of the time. 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.
East Region - No. 5 Mississippi State (-6.5) vs. No. 12 Liberty
It's going to be an uphill battle for No. 12 Liberty in this matchup, but they can take solace in the fact that they can (and already have) beaten a Power-5 school away from home. Liberty is much smaller and less athletic than their opponent, but they do have a few tricks up their sleeves in the form of a pack-like defense and a deliberate style on offense that is intended to limit possessions and frustrate opponents. If they are to pull this upset off, they are going to need to protect the rim at all costs and knock down their open shots when the opportunity arises.
For Mississippi State, they are playing in their first NCAA Tournament since 2009, and they are hoping it won't be a one-and-done for team. The Bulldogs are an extremely long and athletic team that can rotate three or four bigs into the game at the same time. They are led by senior shooting guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who averages 18.2 points per game and knocks down nearly 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. The key to this game for the Bulldogs is to not get frustrated by the lack of pace or possessions and just take chances when they present themselves.
Midwest Region - No. 5 Auburn (-5.5) vs. No. 12 New Mexico State
We already know what we are going to get when Auburn takes the court; they are going to launch a lot of 3-pointers. Auburn made an SEC record 396 3-pointers and hit on an impressive 37.6 percent of attempts. They rode that hot shooting to an eight-game winning streak, including beating Tennessee in the conference tournament final for the first conference title since 1985. It's a slippery slope backing a team that relies on perimeter shooting as much as Auburn does, because if they are on, they are on. If they go cold, well then there really is no plan B.
New Mexico State, winners of the WAC regular season and conference tournament are rolling right along to the tune of 19 straight victories, which is the second-longest in the nation behind Wofford (20). This will be the Aggies seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in the past eight seasons, but they have been one-and-out in each of their past 10 trips. Their last win came all the way back in 1993. New Mexico State also shoots a ton of threes, jacking up on average 28 per game, just shy of Auburn's 30.
This game is going to come down to which team gets hot from behind the arc, because there is no interior presence for either of these two squads.
West Region - No. 5 Marquette (-4) vs. No. 12 Murray State
This game has the possibility to be a sort of 1v1 matchup between two extremely talented players. For Marquette, that guy is Markus Howard. Howard is a junior and averages 25 points per game while hitting the 30-point mark 10 times this season. He even set a school record with 53 points vs. Creighton. Howard loves the long ball as well, as he has knocked down 116 attempts from beyond the arc and has made five or more triples on eight occasions. To make a long story short, if he's on, he's extremely dangerous to guard.
His opponent, Ja Morant, is being talked about as a potential lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Morant led the Racers to a 27-4 record this season while averaging 24.6 points, 10 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game. He has been the driving force this season behind the Racers, and it's going to be on him to perform well and win the game for his team.
As a team, Murray State has reeled of 11 straight victories, while Marquette has dropped five of their last six, including the second-round conference tournament matchup against Seton Hall. It'll be interesting to see which superstar player can put his team on his back and carry them across the finish line.
South Region - No. 5 Wisconsin (-2) vs. No. 12 Oregon
In what many expect to be one of the lowest-scoring games of the opening round, the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Oregon Ducks, and the eventual winner will likely be the team who commits the fewest turnovers and who gets the timely stop.
The Badgers come into this game with likely the best player on the court wearing their colors in Ethan Happ. The 6-foot-10 senior is a three-time first team All-Big Ten player who puts up a stat line of 17.5, 10.1 and 4.6 per game. If he can put up numbers like those against Oregon, the Ducks are going to have a hard time winning this game. The problem with the Badgers is that they don't have too much by way of support behind Happ. This could pose a problem for them as Oregon is extremely big and extremely athletic at most positions.
The Ducks, on the other hand, have had a down year by their standards. Yes, they won the Pac-12 Tournament to secure the auto-bid to the Big Dance, but the regular season was somewhat of a rollercoaster. They had to essentially reinvent themselves after their five-star freshman center, Bol Bol, went down with a foot injury. The Ducks have done a nice job since then and are likely the sexy pick in this year's tournament to pull off the No. 12 over No. 5 upset.
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