The annual tradition returns! Let’s predict the tastiest 5-12 upsets for March Madness 2023 using analytics from the bleeding edge.
Over the years, the 12-5 game has been a go-to spot to find March Madness upsets. That was the case last year as a pair of 12-seeds won in the first round.
Over the last 20 NCAA Tournaments, there have been 33 instances of a No. 12 seed knocking off a No. 5 seed, meaning the 12-seed has won 41.2% of the time in that span. Only three times in the past 20 tourneys has there been a dance without a 12-5 upset.
Everyone wants to nail upset picks — whether you’re betting or you’re in a bracket pool — so let’s go through this year’s 5-12 games and see which are most likely to end in a 12 seed winning, ranking them from least to most probable, according to our projections.
We will be referencing our nERD metric as well as numbers from KenPom and BartTorvik. (nERD measures the number of points we’d expect a team to win by against an average opponent on a neutral court.) We’ll also be using college basketball odds from FanDuel Sportsbook.
Let’s talk 12-5 upsets March Madness style.
Most Likely 5-12 Upsets at 2023 March Madness
4. Saint Mary’s (5) vs. VCU (12)
SPREAD: Saint Mary’s -3.5 | numberFire Win Odds: VCU 20.2%
This is more about Saint Mary’s being really good than anything negative about VCU. Saint Mary’s is under-seeded as a five and has been one of the best teams in the nation all year. We rank them 11th overall. KenPom and BartTorvik slot the Gaels 11th and 9th, respectively.
On KenPom, Saint Mary’s ranks 40th in adjusted offense and 9th in adjusted defense. As I said, they’re really dang good, and they’ve lost just once since January 18th to someone other than Gonzaga — and it was an overtime loss on the road to Loyola Marymount.
VCU is 17th in adjusted defense but an underwhelming 140th in adjusted offense. One thing VCU has going for it in this matchup is that Saint Mary’s plays at a snail’s pace, ranking 359th in adjusted tempo. Fewer possessions leads to an increase in variance, which can aid the underdog.
Plus, oddsmakers are into them, making VCU just a 2.5-point ‘dog (as of early Monday), so while VCU clearly has a chance to pull the upset, our numbers say they’re the least likely 12 seed to win.
3. San Diego State (5) vs. College of Charleston (12)
SPREAD: San Diego State -5.5 | numberFire Win Odds: Charleston 23.8%
The Aztecs are 14th by nERD, 14th by KenPom and 11th by BartTorvik. They went 27-6 and have an argument to be a 3 or 4 seed. KenPom puts SDSU 10th in defense and 64th in offense. The Aztecs have lost only twice since January 18th, and they just beat a quality Utah State team — one that can bust brackets this year — in the Mountain West Tournament title game.
Charleston went 31-3, so they know how to get it done. But by most metrics, they’re clearly a step or two behind the Aztecs. nERD ranks the Cougars 67th. KenPom (73rd) and BartTorvik (72nd) are a smidge lower on them than we are. KenPom has the Cougars 70th in offense and 75th in defense.
If you’re looking for a reason to back Charleston, pace is it. Charleston sits 29th in adjusted tempo and could make things uncomfortable for a San Diego State squad that is just 252nd in adjusted tempo.
2. Duke (5) vs. Oral Roberts (12)
SPREAD: Duke -6.5 | numberFire Win Odds: Oral Roberts 36.5%
Our numbers see this one quite a bit differently than oddsmakers do. By the 6.5-point spread, this game is the least likely 12-5 upset. But we give Oral Roberts a 36.5% chance to advance, the second-best win odds for a 12 in this season’s first round.
Duke enters the tourney on a heater and is playing as well as anyone in the country. The Blue Devils have won nine in a row, including a run to the ACC Tournament crown, besting Virginia by 10 in the final. KenPom and BartTorvik put Duke 21st overall while we place them 24th. They’re obviously a stout team.
If you want to poke holes in the Blue Devils’ resume, you can nitpick their good fortune in close games. During their current nine-game win streak, Duke won three games that were decided by five or fewer points. They actually lost just two such games this season — although another one of their defeats was a seven-point overtime loss — and rate as the 57th-luckiest team in the nation by KenPom’s Luck rating. Also, it was a down year for the ACC as KenPom has Duke as the lone ACC team in the top 30.
Oral Roberts is on a big-time run, too. The Golden Eagles tore through the Summit Conference with an unbeaten 18-0 record. Their last loss came on January 9th.
Of course, the Summit kind of stinks, but ORU did test themselves out of conference, playing Houston, Saint Mary’s, Utah State, New Mexico (54th by BartTorvik), and Liberty (44th). While Oral Roberts defeated only Liberty from that group, they fell by just eight at Saint Mary’s and shouldn’t be shell-shocked by Duke.
ORU’s calling card is offense. Not only do they rate 23rd by KenPom’s adjusted offense, they push the pace (38th in adjusted tempo) and fire up a ton of threes (16th in three-point attempt rate). That gives them a high ceiling if they’re knocking down shots, and that is something they often do, boasting the 47th-best three-point percentage (36.9%).
1. Miami (5) vs. Drake (12)
SPREAD: Miami -2.5 | numberFire Win Odds: Drake 39.4%
Miami looks like the worst of the five-seeds.
The nERD formula puts Miami just 42nd — nearly 20 spots behind the next-worst five seed. KenPom has the ‘Canes 40th, and BartTorvik sees them as the nation’s 38th-best team. KenPom has Miami behind two teams that didn’t make the tournament (Rutgers and Oklahoma State).
What Miami is elite at is offense, ranking 12th by adjusted offense. They’re not very good on D, though, slotting in 107th in adjusted defense. While a 15-5 ACC record is impressive, the ACC was not as good as it usually is.
Ranking this game as the most likely to end in a 5-12 upset is more about Miami than it is about Drake.
With that said, Drake is a solid team. The Bulldogs have gone 14-1 over the previous 15 games and ended the year playing their best ball in a 26-point beatdown of Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference title game.
Drake has five wins over teams that ranked inside the BartTorvik top 100 at the time of their matchup, and with a BartTorvik rating of 42nd in defense and 68th in offense, they’re a well-rounded group — one that is more than capable of making a run in this year’s dance.
They can flat-out stroke it, too, nailing 37.3% of their threes this season, the 32nd-best clip, and in Tucker DeVries — a guy who averages 19.0 points per game and shot 38.7% from deep — the Bulldogs have a star who can take over games.
Going by the spread (-2.5) and our model’s win odds (60.6% for Miami), the Hurricanes are fully on upset alert in the first round.
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