The No. 5 versus No. 12 seed matchups is often most intriguing during March Madness.
The history of 5/12 games has provided some of the most exciting opening round upsets in the NCAA Tournament.
While the No. 5 seeds are always locked into the tournament as a top 25 team as the regular season comes to a close, the No. 12 seeds are often near the bubble as the NCAA Tournament nears or need to win their conference tournament.
The anticipation of March Madness is unlike any other postseason in sports. Millions of fans are filling out their brackets and prepare to start betting on the biggest tournament of the year. The bookmakers are often setting lines closer than expected for many of the Nos. 5 versus 12 matchups.
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and now includes 68 teams, the year-end conference tournament champions from 32 Division 1 conferences are awarded automatic bids. The remaining 36 spots are at-large teams, and the NCAA tournament committee seeds the field of 68 teams and places them into the championship bracket.
The committee selects teams based on a number of criteria using the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). The NET relies on the following in determining the NCAA Tournament teams and seeding:
- Game results
- Strength of schedule
- Scoring margin
- Net offensive and defensive efficiency
- Game location
- Quality of wins and losses
The No. 5 seeds are often power conference teams and those from the top seven or eight conferences. The No. 12 seeds either earned an automatic bid in a smaller conference or are also middle of the pack power conference teams that had close to a 0.500 record in league play. Either way, the 12s are often quality teams, and history has shown they are dangerous in the first round, winning 37 percent of the games versus the fifth-seeded teams since 2000.
What happened last time?
The NCAA Tournament was canceled in 2020 so we have to go back to 2019 to look at the latest results between the 5 and 12 seeds.
Following a 2018 tournament that produced no upsets by the No. 12 seeds, 2019 nearly set an NCAA Tournament record. Three No. 12 seeds pulled off upsets over No. 5 seeds, and New Mexico State fell short of upsetting No. 5 Auburn 78-77 when an Aggie player made just one of three free throws with one second left in regulation. Auburn went to beat three straight blue bloods in Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky to win the Midwest Region and advance to the Final Four.
Auburn then lost as a six-point underdog to eventual National Champion and No. 1 seed Virginia, 63-62. The heartbreaking loss for the Tigers happened after Auburn rallied from 10 points down and just over five minutes remaining. Auburn had a two-point lead in the closing seconds when Virginia guard Kyle Guy was fouled on a 3-point shot from the left corner with less than one second left in regulation. Guy stepped to the line and made all three free throws to give the Cavaliers another NCAA Tournament highlight reel win.
The 2019 NCAA Tournament saw No. 12 seed Liberty top No. 5 Mississippi State 80-76 as a seven-point underdog. Liberty followed up that 2019 NCAA Tournament appearance with the best season in school history going 27-4 with a perfect home record of 17-0 following another Atlantic Sun Tournament title to earn another NCAA berth into the 2020 tournament. Head coach Ritchie McKay was rewarded with a contract extension on March 12, 2020, and Liberty has posted four straight 20-win seasons for the first time in school history.
Two other No. 12 seeds won in blowout fashion as underdogs. Ohio Valley champion Murray State was a three-point underdog and manhandled Big East regular season runner-up and No. 5 Marquette 83-64. Star guard Ja Morant had a triple-double and was the talk of the tournament following 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds. Morant went on to become the No. 2 overall pick of the NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies.
The third upset was another blowout when Pac-12 representative Oregon whipped the Big Ten’s Wisconsin 72-54 as a two-point underdog. Oregon point guard Payton Prichard piled up 18 points and 8 assists in victory while the determined Ducks defense slowed Badgers star forward Ethan Happ. Oregon was the only No. 12 seed to win in the Round of 32 when the Ducks blew out No. 13 seed Cal Irvine. But Oregon would fall in the Sweet 16 to eventual National Champion Virginia 53-49.
The No. 12 seed underdogs went 3-1 SU and 4-0 ATS in the first round 2019 NCAA Tournament.
March Madness 5 vs. 12 matchups this year
Check back on Selection Sunday when we’ll break down each of the 5 vs. 12 matchups on the 2021 bracket.
History and trends since 2000
No. 5 seeds are 48-32 versus No. 12 seeds since 2000. But fifth-seeded teams have been a losing betting proposition overall going 34-45-1 ATS.
A 12th-seeded team has beaten a fifth-seeded team in all but four years since 2000. Only in 2018, 2015, 2007 and 2000 has there not been an upset in this NCAA Tournament matchup.
The biggest blowout was in 2013 when VCU destroyed Akron 88-42 as a 7.5-point favorite. The largest margin of victory by a No. 12 seed was in 2012 when South Florida beat Temple 58-44. There have been four other No. 12 seeds to win as underdogs by 13 points.
The two highest-scoring games were in 2008 when 12th-seeded Western Kentucky held on versus Drake 101-99.
The previous year in 2007, Tennessee set the scoring record in the Nos. 5 versus 12 matchups with a 121-86 blowout win over Long Beach State.
The lowest-scoring game, more memorable upset was when Butler (+7.5) beat Mississippi State 47-46 in 2003 with a running shot near the lane in the closing seconds.
Butler’s coach had installed a motion weave offense days before the game against the bigger and more athletic Mississippi State Bulldogs.
The success of 5 and 12 seeds
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985, there have been 50 upsets in the 5/12 matchups with No. 12 seeds going 50-90 SU and winning 35.7 percent of the games. And according to NCAA.com, 19 of those 12th-seeded winners have won their next game to advance to the Sweet 16.
The real buzz surrounding the 12th-seeded upsets started in 2009 when Arizona, Western Kentucky and Wisconsin all won as No. 12 seeds with Wisconsin (+3) prevailing in overtime over Florida State. Western Kentucky (+5.5) was the biggest underdog of the three. All four 12th-seeded teams covered the point spread going 4-0 ATS.
The 2019 NCAA Tournament matched the 2009 tourney when No. 12 seeds also went 3-1 SU and 4-0 ATS and Murray State (+7) was the biggest underdog to pull off the upset.
The previous upsets also included 2010 Ivy League champ Cornell (+3) toppling Temple 78-63. When Big Red (+4.5) whipped Wisconsin 86-69 in the next round, 12-seed Cornell was dancing into the Sweet 16.
In 2011, another 12th-seeded team made it to the Sweet 16 when Richmond (+3) beat Vanderbilt 69-66 and then won in the round of 32 as a favorite over an even longer shot.
Three more No. 12 seeds won as underdogs in 2013 with Oregon (+2) and Mississippi (+6) both double-digit winners and Cal (+3.5) taking down UNLV 64-61. Oregon pulled another upset in the next round to advance to the Sweet 16.
The 2014 tournament was extra exciting for No. 12 seeds with three more winners including two in overtime. Harvard (+3), North Dakota State (+3.5) and Stephen Austin (+6) all won close contests with the latter two advancing with overtime wins. The four matchups in 2014 collectively produced the closest contests ever in Nos. 5 versus 12 seed matchup history with the four victorious teams winning by 2, 3, 4 and 5 points.
The year 2016 produced the next two No. 12 seed upsets when Yale (+5.5) beat Baylor 79-75. Arkansas Little Rock (+8.5) pulled off an overtime shocker, 85-83 over Purdue after trailing by 14 points with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
Little Rock Coach Chris Beard parlayed that success into a new job at UNLV, only to back out less than two weeks later and take the head coach opening at Texas Tech.
In 2017, No. 12 Middle Tennessee State closed a 1.5-point favorite and beat No. 5 Minnesota 81-72.
Of the No. 8 and higher seeds in NCAA Tournament history since 1985, a fifth-seeded team is the only one never to win the NCAA Tournament title. Though a No. 5 seed has made it to the Final Four six times, and three times to the national championship game.