2011 March Madness: The 5 Versus 12 Seed Simulation From WhatIfSports.com image

2011 March Madness: Ex-Seeding Expectations

More 5 seeds beat 12 seeds when sample size is increased

By Ryan Fowler - Whatifsports.com
March 11, 2011

When you fill out your 2011 NCAA basketball brackets, consider your upset selections as "The Manchurian Candidate" meets March Madness.

From a very young age, bracketeers are conditioned by college basketball experts, analysts, columnists, friends and family to pick at least one No. 12 seed over a No. 5 when competing in NCAA office pools. Although No. 5 seeds have knocked out No. 12 seeds 66.3 percent of the time since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the annual rhetoric influences and celebrates upset selections. Like the "Candidate" and the queen of diamonds, we are activated and reassured that a No. 12 over a No. 5 is a sure bet.

With that in mind, we took every No. 5 and No. 12 seed since 2000 and threw them into our simulation engine. All 88 teams "played" the other 51 times. The hope was that in increasing the sample size from one (their actual NCAA tournament game) to 51 (the "what-if" world) we could learn:

  • If No. 5 seeds win more often.
  • What No. 12 seeds overachieved on that day.
  • What No. 12 seeds truly deserve the Cinderella label.

The following tables are ranked from top to bottom by winning percentage.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG. W/L in 1st Rd.
51999-00 Florida Gators80.184.4W
Florida Gators Billy reached the Final Four as a five seed.

The Florida Gators escaped a first-round scare by beating No. 12 seed Butler 69-68. Billy Donovan's crew, led by Udonis Haslem, Kenyan Weaks, Mike Miller and Teddy Dupay, then rattled off wins against Illinois, Duke, Oklahoma State and North Carolina before Michigan State blew them out in the national championship game.

The SEC champions were fourth in the nation in scoring during the 1999-00 season (83.8 points per game) and allowed only 68.9 ppg. So, for them to outscore (84.4 ppg) and outperform the rest of this field is not surprising in this statistic-based simulation.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
52001-02 Florida Gators75.880.2L
52002-03 Notre Dame Fighting Irish75.677.8W

The fifth-seeded Irish advanced to the Sweet 16 by beating Bruce Pearl's Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers and Illinois. Then, Arizona disposed of Matt Carroll, Chris Thomas and Danny Miller in the regional semifinals by 17 points.

Notre Dame was one of only three teams in this simulation that won three out of every four games. Mike Brey's squad scored 79.2 ppg. (19th nationally), but was 116th in points allowed per game, at 71.3.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
52004-05 Michigan State Spartans74.280.9W
52007-08 Michigan State Spartans73.175.7W
52007-08 Notre Dame Fighting Irish70.979.9W
52004-05 Alabama Crimson Tide70.676.9L
122003-04 Murray State Racers69.377.8L
Murray State The Racers got beat down by Illinois in 2004.

Before last year's win over Vanderbilt as a No. 13 seed, Murray State had lost 10 consecutive first-round NCAA tournament games, dating to 1990. Yet, the Racers, out of the Ohio Valley Conference, consistently have remained on Cinderella watch as one of those teams ready to upset a higher seed.

This was the case when, as a No. 12 seed, they faced Illinois in the 2004 NCAA tournament. Bruce Weber's first trip to the Big Dance as head coach of Illinois had many thinking the Fighting Illini were ripe for the picking. Instead, Dee Brown and company rolled over the Racers. Illinois led by 13 points at the half and wound up winning by 19.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
122000-01 Gonzaga Bulldogs68.180.9W

Unlike San Diego State and BYU sneaking up on the college basketball scene this season, Gonzaga spent the early portion of the decade building a rapport with NCAA fans and created a niche for mid-major basketball come March.

The Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight in 1999 and Sweet Sixteen in 2000 and 2001. As a No. 12 seed in 2001 Mark Few's team, led by Casey Calvary and Dan Dickau, snuck by Virginia by one and crushed No. 13 seed Indiana State by 17 points. Tom Izzo's Michigan State squad brought the Zags back down to mid-major reality, as Purdue and Connecticut had the previous two years.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
52007-08 Drake Bulldogs67.675.6L
52007-08 Clemson Tigers67.478.1L
52008-09 Purdue Boilermakers66.372.6W
52008-09 Utah Utes65.873.8L
52005-06 Pittsburgh Panthers64.375.1W
122001-02 Tulsa Golden Hurricane63.878.0W
122009-10 Utah State Aggies62.1273.7L
52008-09 Florida State Seminoles62.1171.5L
122008-09 Arizona Wildcats61.475.1W

With interim coach Russ Pennell at the helm, the Wildcats backed their way into the 2009 NCAA tournament as a 12 seed and boasted a 19-13 regular-season record (9-9 Pac-10 record). Their matchup with the Utah Utes was a favorable one, as the Mountain West Conference was 8-21 all-time in the NCAA tournament heading into the game.

Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Kyle Fogg all scored in double figures for the Wildcats. The team shot 54.5 percent for the game and held Utah to 42.2 percent from the floor.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
122009-10 UTEP Miners60.775.2L
52009-10 Texas A&M Aggies59.674.1W
51999-00 Texas Longhorns59.576.6W
52009-10 Michigan State Spartans58.7571.0W
52003-04 Illinois Fighting Illini58.7476.2W
52004-05 Villanova Wildcats58.376.2W
52002-03 Connecticut Huskies58.278.4W
52001-02 Marquette Golden Eagles57.975.7L
51999-00 Connecticut Huskies57.2576.7W
122009-10 New Mexico State Aggies57.2479.1L
52006-07 Virginia Tech Hokies57.071.8W
122007-08 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers56.9376.4W
Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky's Ty Rogers hit two 3-pointers against fifth-seeded Drake in their 2008 first-round matchup. The first triple lifted WKU's lead to 16. The second came from 26 feet away, when the Hilltoppers trailed by one before the clock struck zero in overtime. It was one of those March moments you don't forget.

Western Kentucky's 56.93 win percentage in our simulation as a No. 12 seed is feasible considering the fact the Hilltoppers managed to also beat San Diego and gave UCLA a game in the Sweet 16 during their tournament run. Darrin Horn's team was legit in the regular season, too, with a 27-6 body of work (16-2 Sun Belt).

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
122007-08 Temple Owls56.9272.9L
52005-06 Washington Huskies56.2278.8W
52000-01 Virginia Cavaliers56.2182.2L
51999-00 Kentucky Wildcats55.5574.2W
52004-05 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets55.5474.6W
52005-06 Syracuse Orange54.672.7L
52006-07 Butler Bulldogs53.3371.5W
52002-03 Wisconsin Badgers53.3273.8W
122004-05 New Mexico Lobos53.176.1L
52001-02 Miami (FL) Hurricanes52.1574.8L
122009-10 Cornell Big Red52.1474.5W

Cornell's first NCAA tournament win was the Ivy League's first since Princeton won as a No. 5 seed, in 1998. The Big Red's upset win over No. 5 seed Temple would be impressive in itself, but their 18-point blowout of Wisconsin in the second round is what got fans buzzing about this No. 12 seed. Seniors Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale and Jeff Foote did their part to place Cornell on the national scene the first two weeks of the 2010 NCAA tournament.

Because they are a member of the Ivy League, most college basketball fans would overlook the numbers the Big Red produced in 2009-10. They racked up 74.9 points per game and allowed 63.4 for an average winning margin of 11.5 points.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
122007-08 Villanova Wildcats51.975.6W
52001-02 Indiana Hoosiers51.173.3W
52006-07 Tennessee Volunteers50.779.5W

In theory, Tennessee (80.9 ppg) versus Long Beach State (80.5 ppg) looked like a blockbuster first-round pairing of Nos. 5 and 12 seeds, but even the selection committee requires a mulligan or two each tournament. This game would have been a good time to cash in one of those do-overs.

Bruce Pearl's Volunteers lit up the 49ers, blowing them out 121-86. A 12-point lead at the half wasn't satisfactory for the Vols. They gained steam and pushed tempo in the second half to outscore Long Beach State 64-41.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
122001-02 Missouri Tigers50.377.5W
122004-05 George Washington Colonials49.976.2L
122004-05 Old Dominion Monarchs48.871.6L
122002-03 Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers48.473.4L
52003-04 Florida Gators48.476.7L
122002-03 Weber State Wildcats47.777.2L
122008-09 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers46.973.5W
52009-10 Butler Bulldogs46.472.1W

Outside of their opponents' fan bases, Butler brought out the Hoosier in all of us during its run to the 2010 national championship game. The Bulldogs' defense helped the cause, as opponents were held to 59 points per game in the tourney. What magnifies the Bulldogs' feat is our simulation engine's winning percentage for the mid-major sits at 46.4 percent. With a sub-.500 effort in our simulations, Butler's actual tournament wins over Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State truly could be recognized as major upsets.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
122008-09 Wisconsin Badgers45.969.5W
122003-04 Brigham Young Cougars45.574.6L
52008-09 Illinois Fighting Illini45.269.6L
122005-06 Utah St. Aggies45.172.5L
122002-03 Brigham Young Cougars45.073.6L
122007-08 George Mason Patriots44.3670.9L
122006-07 Arkansas Razorbacks44.3572.0L
122005-06 Texas A&M Aggies44.072.2W
122005-06 Montana Grizzlies43.575.3W
52002-03 Mississippi St. Bulldogs43.372.5L
52000-01 Ohio State Buckeyes42.874.5L
52003-04 Providence Friars42.7974.8L
52005-06 Nevada Wolf Pack42.7870.4L
122006-07 Old Dominion Monarchs42.670.9L
52009-10 Temple Owls41.969.0L
122008-09 Northern Iowa Panthers41.170.1L
52000-01 Cincinnati Bearcats40.774.3W
122000-01 Utah St. Aggies40.673.2W
52003-04 Syracuse Orange39.673.5W
122004-05 Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers38.474.8W
Wisconsin Milwaukee

Despite an NCAA tournament run to the Sweet 16, the Panthers' 38.4 simulation win percentage is revealing. If not for a Horizon League title, Bruce Pearl's team really had no business advancing to the postseason. Outside of meetings with Kansas (RPI 3, loss) and Wisconsin (RPI 13, loss), Milwaukee's toughest opponent in the regular season was Air Force (RPI 114, win). Those weak rankings magnify their tournament wins over Alabama and Boston College.

The Panthers' first-round win over the Crimson Tide came down to taking care of the basketball. Milwaukee turned the ball over seven times compared with Alabama's 17 cough-ups. Joah Tucker and Ed McCants led the team with 21 points apiece. With a trip to the Sweet 16 added to his resume, Pearl made the jump to Tennessee.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
122006-07 Illinois Fighting Illini36.868.8L
122002-03 Butler Bulldogs36.5570.9W
122001-02 Creighton Bluejays36.5473.7W
Creighton Blue Jays

Creighton head coach Dana Altman's expression (left) sums up the Blue Jays' double-overtime win over Florida in the first round of the 2002 NCAA tournament. The name most basketball fans will link to the team's success will be Kyle Korver, but with their star on the bench, Terrell Taylor stepped up and buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Gators home early.

A stat that shines some light on the Blue Jays' offensive efficiency is they tied for fourth nationally in points per possession. They averaged 1.1 points every time they had the ball. It may not sound like a lot, but when you multiply that by their 69.5 possessions per game, Creighton managed to hang with the Gators for two extra periods.

Every 5 & 12 Seed Since 2000 - 51 Head-to-Head Sims
SeedTeamWin%Avg. PPG.W/L in 1st Rd.
121999-00 Utah St. Aggies36.371.8L
52006-07 USC Trojans34.971.8W
122001-02 Utah Utes34.872.5L
122005-06 Kent State Golden Flashes29.371.5L
122000-01 Brigham Young Cougars29.272.3L
122003-04 Manhattan Jaspers28.473.5W
52000-01 Syracuse Orange27.971.8W
122006-07 Long Beach St. 49ers26.675.9L
121999-00 Butler Bulldogs25.972.0L
122003-04 Pacific Tigers25.670.2W
121999-00 St. Bonaventure Bonnies24.372.0L
121999-00 Indiana State Sycamores19.867.3L
122000-01 Hawaii Warriors12.269.8L

NCAA Tournament Simulation Summary

NCAA Basketball Simulation Trends
5 Seeds12 Seeds
Games Played/Team44374437
Win% Above 50.032 teams13 teams
Most Appearances (W/L)Michigan St. - 3 (3-0)Utah St. - 3 (1-2)
Syracuse - 3 (2-1)BYU - 3 (0-3)
Florida - 3 (1-2)

Of the 88 teams that make up this simulation, 45 teams finished with a winning percentage above 50 percent. To help break that down, each team "played" 4,437 games (Team A vs. 87 teams x 51 simulations each). This equates to a team needing to win 2,219 simulations to crack the 50 percent plateau.

Following hundreds of thousands of simulations, 32 of the No. 5 seeds won more than 50 percent of their games compared with 13 of the No. 12 seeds.


Are you interested in creating your own all-time NCAA tournament dream team? Check out our NCAA Basketball Dream Teams feature and start loading up your roster with guys like Duke's Christian Laettner, Indiana's Isiah Thomas, Georgetown's Patrick Ewing, and North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough. Then simulate your roster against other dream teams or any NCAA basketball program past or present. Best of all, it's FREE!

Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at rfowler@whatifsports.com.

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