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The Magic of the 12 vs. 5 March Madness Upset

Admit it: You pick a 12-5 upset every year on your NCAA Tournament bracket. So, how did thi tradition come about, and what’s the likelihood that we get on in 2022?

When Greg Gumbel unveils the men’s NCAA Tournament bracket every year, some of us perk up just a bit after he reads the 8 vs. 9 matchup in each region. That’s because we know what’s coming: a 5-seed vs. 12-seed game, which always seems ripe for an upset.

The 12-5 game is really the perfect matchup in which to take an underdog. It usually features a solid, but not overwhelming power conference team against one of the best teams from a one-bid league. That team usually hasn’t gotten nearly the press it deserves — and is often under-seeded as a result.

This year, our great bracket-filling groupthink has put Houston, UConn, Iowa, and Saint Mary’s on upset watch. Not that we’re picking all of them to lose, but each one of their first-round opponents poses a unique threat and is worth at least considering.

Let’s dive deeper into the strange, beautiful world of 12 vs. 5.

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History of the No. 5 vs. No. 12 at the Men’s NCAA Tournament

Let’s get one thing out of the way here: the 5-seed usually beats the 12-seed, so don’t feel as if you NEED to pick an upset. In most years, you’re likely going to get it wrong. No. 12 seeds are 51-93 against No. 5 seeds since the men’s tournament first expanded to 64 and then to 68, good for a winning percentage of a little over 35%.

The first 12-over-5 upset in the modern era actually came in the first year of the 64-team tournament, in 1985. Of all teams, it was blueblood Kentucky knocking off Washington, 66-58, en route to the Sweet 16.

But since then, at least one 12 seed has won a game in the NCAA Tournament every tournament except for five: 1988, 2000, 2007, 2015, and 2018.

Last year, Oregon State’s win over Tennessee actually propelled the Beavers to a wild Elite Eight run as the only 12 seed to win a game in the tournament.

2022 March Madness 12 vs. 5 Matchups & Betting Odds

All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook as of Wednesday, March 16.

No. 5 UConn vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (West Region)

Spread: UConn -6.5 | Moneyline: UConn -275, New Mexico State +220

These two teams are actually pretty similar, though UConn won at a higher level this year, in the Big East vs. the WAC. Neither is overly reliant on the three, both can rebound, and both have a guard that can make plays — UConn with RJ Cole and New Mexico State with Teddy Allen.

No. 5 Iowa vs. No. 12 Richmond (Midwest Region)

Spread: Iowa -10.5 | Moneyline: Iowa -600, Richmond +430

By winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament and securing a bid, Richmond actually knocked conference-mate Dayton out of the field. So, as one of two A-10 teams in the Big Dance, the Spiders will look to keep their magical run alive. The problem is they’re facing a team that is just as hot; the Hawkeyes just won the Big Ten Tournament, defeating a trio of tournament teams in the process.

No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 12 Indiana (East Region)

Spread: Saint Mary’s -2.5 | Moneyline: Saint Mary’s -140, Indiana +116

Saint Mary’s is one of just three teams to have beaten No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga this year, but the Gaels have a tough task in front of them to advance to the Round of 32. Indiana defeated Wyoming on Monday in the First Four to advance to the main bracket and beat Michigan and Illinois to secure an at-large bid in the first place. Both teams are elite defensively, and given how slow Saint Mary’s likes to play, don’t expect too many possessions in this one.

No. 5 Houston vs. No. 12 UAB (South Region)

Spread: Houston -8.5 | Moneyline: Houston -400, +310

UAB is probably the trendiest 12-5 upset pick of them all this season, and that perhaps has as much to with them as their opponent. The metrics love Houston, but the Cougars have just one Quadrant 1 win all year, which they got last Sunday in the AAC title game against Memphis. On the Blazers’ side, they boast one of the most exciting players in the entire tournament: Jordan “Jelly” Walker.

Surely are surely picking UAB just for a chance to see Jelly suit up more than once.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.