Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 3/14/11

When people scramble to fill out their NCAA tournament brackets, one of the first things they consider is what upsets they should pick. And where better to turn than the 5 vs. 12 matchups, which have a reputation as being a place where the chalk does not stick to the blackboard.

In this post, I analyze the history of the 5-12 upset and then analyze this year’s matchup to see which of the 5-12 matchups are most likely to result in an upset.

The 5-12 Upset Phenomenon: Real or Myth?

The first question we must ask is simple: is the 5 v. 12 upset a real historical phenomenon or is it a myth?

Unlike the tales that wearing briefs causes sterility, or that not being master of your domain makes you go blind, I am happy to report that the 5 v. 12 phenomenon is real. For whatever reason, over the past quarter century teams that are ranked in the 45-48 slots on Joe Lunardi’s beloved S-curve beat their opponents who are slotted 25-31 spots higher.

The NCAA tournament went to 64+ teams in 1985. I remember that year well as that was the magical year that Villanova shot 79.4% to play David to Georgetown’s Goliath and win the National Championship despite Gary McLain being more strung out than Charlie Sheen. During these 26 years, the 5 seeds are a relatively pedestrian 69-35 against the supposedly overmatched 12 seeds, or a winning percentage of only 66.3%.

By comparison, the #4 seeds hold an 82-22 record (78.8%) against their 13th seeded foes, while the #6 seeds have a 73-31 (70.2%) against the #11 seeds against which they have been matched. More impressively, the 12 seeds hold at least one win over their favored opponents in 23 of these past 26 tournaments.

So is this failure of 5th seeds such that it happens a little more often than usual, or is it a massive statistical anomaly? The former more so than the latter, but it is real enough that if I were a 5th seed and I were playing my first round game in Bermuda, I would definitely get some extra flight insurance.

With this in mind, let’s try to figure out who you should bank on as your 12th seed of choice in your bracket pools, survivor pools, and other for-entertain-purposes-only pursuits.

5-12 Upset Picks for 2011

#5 Kansas St (-2) v. #12 Utah State

Stew Morrill’s Aggies of Utah St. will be a popular pick in this spot. They have been one of the teams that has been viewed as underrated for years, and rightfully so. Morrill is a very capable coach, and his teams always fit his system very well. Since 2000, this will be the Aggies’ 8th trip to the big dance (their fifth appearance as a #12 seed), and they own a win over Ohio St. in 2001 in a 5/12 game and came within a point of beating Marquette as an 11th seed two years ago. Tai Wesley, a senior forward, leads the Aggies with 15 and 8 per game, and loads of senior leadership.

But despite what Jerod is predicting, I am not seeing the upset in this game.

Unfortunately the Aggies run into a Kansas State team that is playing its best basketball at the right time. Led by Jacob Pullen, one of the premier guards in America, and Curtis Kelly in the frontcourt, Kansas St. has played the 4th toughest schedule in the country and is much more battle tested than the Aggies, who, through no fault of their own, only played two games against top 50 competition (both losses on the road), and overall played the 133rd toughest schedule in America.

A lot of people like the theory that winning teams like Utah St and their 30-3 mark are primed to upset non-elite power conference teams (like K St and their 21-10 overall mark), but I am not drinking the Kool Aid on this one. Besides, there is no way the K St. players will risk the wrath of Frank Martin with a first round loss; would you cross that guy if you could help it?

5-12 Upset? No.

#5 Arizona (-6) v. #12 Memphis

Sean Miller has done a tremendous job rebuilding Arizona and fixing the mess that Lute Olson and Kevin O’Neill left, probably a year or two ahead of schedule getting the Wildcats back to the big dance and wearing the white uniforms for a game no less. Derrick Williams, a wide bodied, athletic power forward who is quite simply the best player in the country that most casual fans have never heard of, leads the ‘Cats with 19/8 per game.

Memphis is coached by Josh Pastner, the one-time Arizona player and assistant coach, which will create a nice storyline for the game (yeah, sure the NCAA does not consider such ratings boosters when setting up these matchups). Memphis has been mediocre oftentimes this year, and has been marked by internal issues, with Wes Witherspoon having missed a dozen games due to a team suspension.

The Tigers have the athleticism to hang with the more highly regarded Wildcats, but they simply do not have the one guy to put the team on his back and carry his team to an upset in this type of game (they only have one double digit scorer, Will Barton, and nobody who averages even 13 points a game).

Vegas agrees that this upset is not the most likely, with a much wider point spread than the other 5 v. 12 games. Memphis would not have made the tournament had they not run the table in the Conference USA Tournament, and they will more than likely find their way back to Tennessee on a Friday night flight from Tulsa.

5-12 Upset? No.

#5 Vanderbilt (-1.5) v. #12 Richmond

Vanderbilt had a very strong and under-the-radar type of season. They boast five top-50 wins among their 23, and posted an above .500 conference record in the underrated SEC East (not to be confused with the SEC West or the SEC in general). They have a solid 1-2 scoring punch in Sophomore guard John Jenkins (almost 20 ppg) and Junior forward Jeffrey Taylor (15 ppg).

Richmond, while they underachieved early in the year (I had big expectations for the Spiders), they came on like gangbusters late, winning 11 of their last 12 and winning the Atlantic 10 tournament. This team is led by the dynamic Kevin Anderson, who forms a great senior tandem with Justin Harper. This team is talented, well-coached, and disciplined in the Princeton system under Chris Mooney (who also achieved unprecedented success at Air Force before taking over the Spiders program).

Richmond also has a great history in the tournament. In their six tournament appearances between 1984 and 1998, all as double digit seeds, they won their opening game 4 times, including advancing to the Sweet 16 as a 13 seed in 1988 (I believe our esteemed editor probably remembers that run). You may say that what happened in the last century does not matter, but on the off chance that Dick Tarrant finds this article, I want to make him smile (he also authored one of the four upsets by a 15 seed when the Spiders beat Syracuse in 1991!) On the flip side, we all remember that Vandy lost in its last two first round appearances, both as a #4 seed (in 2008 and 2010).

The thing that worries me most about picking Richmond in this game is that it is almost TOO obvious. I am actually surprised that Vanderbilt is favored at all. Vanderbilt does not have the athleticism to pull Richmond out of its system, and the Spiders are the more fundamentally sound and better coached of the teams. Finally, they have the better star duo, and that will be the difference when the buzzer sounds. This is the upset pick to take!!!

5-12 Upset? Yes!

#5 West Virginia vs. #12 UAB or #12 Clemson

Let’s be honest. The “first round” (i.e., play in) game between UAB and Clemson should be a first round NIT game, not a game taking place in the NCAAs. But while Harvard, Colorado, and Virginia Tech all have legitimate gripes that it should be their squads that made the cut, we are stuck with the Blazers and Tigers, who combined for one Top 50 win between them. ONE! And with all that being said, I think Clemson will win the Tuesday night tilt. They have the better players, better coach, and they are more suited to the defensive style that comes with March Madness.

And if Clemson advances, it will be an interesting 5 vs. 12 matchup because these two teams practically mirror each other. They both play good defense, they are both exceptionally well coached, and they both possess a strong will to win (as long as Clemson is not playing in Chapel Hill). That being said, I think West Virginia is just a little better everywhere. They have been in Huggins’ system longer than Clemson has had to adapt to Brownell (who will do great things at Clemson). Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant are a little better and more consistent than DeMontez Stitt, Devin Booker, Tanner Smith and crew, and they have a little more experience together coming off last year’s Final 4 run.

Look for a low scoring, physical affair in this one (may not reach 120 total), but shy away from the 12 seed in this one.

5-12 Upset? No.


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