Welcome to WhatIfSports Insider

Taking Another Look at the 5-12 Matchup

 

Once again breaking down the toughest game on the bracket

  

By Adam Hoff

 

The tournament is upon us once again, so that means it is time to update the 5-12 research from a year ago.  If this looks familiar, well, that is because I wrote this column last year.  As Jerry said when Elaine called him out for using a joke from the ‘80’s, “It was a good bit then and it is still relevant today.” 

 

Anyway, nothing says “filling out your bracket” like the mind-bending 5-12 matchups.  We all know the statistics and are aware of the likelihood that anywhere from one to three of the plucky 12 seeds will emerge victorious during the Tourney's first two days.  The challenge is trying to figure out which teams will accomplish the feat. 

 

Many a bracket gets beat up in the early going because of this game.  Anyone who knows anything about basketball fully understands the upset bug that strikes 5 seeds everywhere, and most pool participants try to pick the upsets accordingly.  If you're like me, you usually pick the wrong upsets, wind up missing all of the 5-12 games, and crumpling your bracket into a wad of tear-stained paper … or something like that. 

 

In an attempt to make sense of this particular brand of madness, I dissected the 24 “5-12 Showdowns” that have taken place in this millennium (just typing the number “24” brought back painful memories of Tony Almeida’s demise early tonight … let’s take a moment of silence).  The 5 seeds come out ahead 15-9, but it's been 11-9 over the past five years after “order” was briefly restored in the 2000 Tournament when the 5 seeds made it a clean sweep.  (Of course, two of those victories for 5 seeds came in overtime, including the Mike Miller Game when Florida beat Butler by one at the buzzer.)  12 seeds won three of four in 2002, 2003 featured the four games decided by a grand total of 14 points, and 2004 saw the underdogs turn in their largest average margin of victory ever, as Manhattan and Pacific rolled up a pair of wins by a combined 23 points.  Last year featured 5 seeds ‘Nova, Michigan State, and Georgia Tech winning tough matchups, with Alabama getting rolled up by deadly UW-Milwaukee. 

 

Given this information, it is important to try to find some rhyme and reason as to what is going on in the 5-12 matchup.  There is added importance when you factor in the extra points many pools are giving based on the seed of the team you accurately pick to win.  Here are some ways of going about it. 

 

Strategy #1: Scoring Margin.

 

One way to approach things is to assume that some of these wild upsets have been flukes (albeit nearly two decades of consistent, reoccurring flukes) and that eventually some of the last minute heaves will stop falling and the big names will quit choking.  Based on margin of victory, the 5 seeds have won their 15 games by an average of 10.8 points per game, while the 12 seeds are only winning at a 6.7 clip.  Take out the Manhattan win over Florida in 2004 (Jaspers won by 15) and the Missouri-over-Miami game in 2002 (the Tigers won by 13, igniting their season-saving run to the Elite Eight) and that margin drops to 4.6 in the other seven games.  It's obvious that the underdogs have less margin for error, but I’ll let you decide whether that means anything to you. 

 

Edge: 5 seeds. 

 

Strategy #2: Repeat Players.

 

There are a handful of teams that have actually been seeded in this position enough times in the past few years to develop a track record.  For instance, if you see BYU as the 12 seed, run as fast as you can.  They are 0-3 in this decade as a 12.  Florida is an unpredictable team when they show up on the "five line."  In 2000 they took their 5 seed all the way to the title game, but are 0-2 over the last four years, getting crushed by the Jaspers in ‘04 and losing to the only college team I've ever seen that couldn't dribble (Creighton) in double OT in 2002.  Conversely, both Syracuse and UConn are 2-0 as five seeds.  For the astute observers among us, you probably noted Syracuse is one of the five seeds this year, so that bodes well for them. 

 

Edge: Syracuse over Texas A&M.

 

Strategy #3: Go by the Conference. 

 

This is something worth considering when you examine the conference breakdown over the past five years.  Here is how each league has fared in this matchup since 2000:

 

Conference

Record

Record as a #5

Record as a #12

ACC

1-1

1-1

-

A-10

0-2

-

0-2

Big East

6-2

6-2

-

Big 12

2-0

1-0

1-0

Big 10

4-1

4-1

-

C-USA

1-1

1-1

-

Horizon

2-2

-

2-2

Pac-10

-

-

-

SEC

2-4

2-4

-

WAC/MW

1-6

-

1-6

WC Mids*

3-2

-

3-2

Others

2-3

-

2-3

*(Mid-Major teams from West Coast conference of WCC, Big West, and Big Sky)

 

Edge:

 

Atlanta Region – This might be a draw.  The Big East has availed itself well as a 5 seed over the past six years, going 6-2 in these matchups.  And as noted above, the Cuse is 2-0 in such games.  However, the Big 12 is 2-0 in these contests, and 1-0 as a 12 seed, when Missouri went on to reach the Elite Eight from that starting point, which bodes well for the Aggies of Texas A&M.  This is quite a clash, because both track records are very good based on conference. 

 

Oakland Region – Big edge here for Pitt.  As mentioned above, the Big East is 6-2 as a 5 seed, while the “other” group (which would include Kent State’s MAC) is 2-3 as a 12. 

 

Washington Region – Utah State also gets the slight edge here over the University of Washington.  Amazingly, this is the first 5 (or 12) seed for a Pac-10 team this decade, so there is no conference track record.  The Aggies of Utah State (kind of interesting that two 12 seeds are nicknamed the Aggies this year), on the other hand, come from that winning “West” group that always plays tough. 

 

Minneapolis Region - Montana would seem to have the edge over Nevada in their matchup, as “West Coast” teams from the WCC, Big West, and Big Sky are 3-2 as a 12 seed.  Even though the Grizzlies are possibly the most shocking 12 seed of all time (logic would indicate that based on their seeding, the committee would have given Montana an at-large bid regardless of the Big Sky tournament.  I find that hard to believe), the track record of similar teams bodes well.  On the other hand, WAC and Mountain West teams are 1-6 in this matchup, which is bad for Nevada.  This has to be taken with a grain of salt though, because all of those games were played as the 12 seed.  This is the first time a WAC or Mountain West team has played as a five seed this decade.

 

Strategy #4: Conference Standings.

 

It’s unclear whether the majority of people make their upset picks based on the perceived strength of the 12 seed, or the weakness of the 5.  No doubt there is a little bit of both at work, but my experience leads me to believe that it is usually a reflection of the 5 seed in question that inspires widespread upset mania.  Nobody knew a whole lot about Old Dominion last year (For instance, what is their team nickname?), yet they became a popular upset pick over a fairly uninspiring Michigan State team.  We all know how that turned out, as the Spartans went all the way to the Final Four.  Fans that saw ‘Nova’s back-to-back brick fests against Pitt and West Virginia in last year’s Big East tourney were jumping at the chance to pencil in the familiar “New Mexico” name in place of the Cats, but Villanova went on to the Sweet 16 and almost upset top-ranked North Carolina.

 

Regardless of which viewpoint is most prevalent, it seemed appropriate to examine all of the 5 seeds to get a feel for what “type” of team was winning and losing in this game.  Until Nevada this year, no “mid-major” type team has been a 5 seed in this decade, so know that all the five line teams are coming from major conferences (additionally, until Texas A&M, Missouri was the only major conference team to appear as a 12), and when I think back on the 5 seeds that were “upset,” I usually remember them being overrated teams from conferences perceived to be very strong. 

 

By looking at each team and where they ranked within their own conference, we get a better idea of how good these teams were in retrospect.  For instance, the only teams in this decade to finish at the top of a major conference and still get stuck with a 5 seed were Cincinnati in 2001 and Illinois in 2004.  They were both penalized for the supposed weakness of their conference, but both teams won easily (by a combined 44 points).  The only teams to even finish second in their conference (Kentucky and Texas in 2000, Indiana in 2002, Wisconsin in 2003, and Michigan State last year) also were all winners in this matchup, with both the Hoosiers and Spartans going deep into the tournament.  Until Alabama lost last year despite tying for the SEC West crown, the only 5 seeds to lose over the past six seasons had each finished third or lower in their own conference.  Not only that, but the only teams to finish fourth in their own league and still win as a five seed were both teams from the Big East (three of the five winning third place teams were also Big East squads, while the only Big East 5 seeds to lose were both fourth place finishers in the conference). 

 

Put another way: Big East teams ranking third or lower in conference play are a combined 6-2 as 5 seeds this decade.  All other teams are 2-6.  So with the exception of that third-place Florida team that went to the Final Four and Georgia Tech last year, if you finished in third place or lower in any conference other than the Big East, you lost as a five seed. 

 

All told, the average conference ranking of victorious 5 seeds was 2.80, while fifth-seeded losers came in almost a full place back at 3.66.  If you take out the upset-impervious Big East, the numbers are even more jolting.  Teams that won had ranked 1.75 on average in their own conference, while losing teams had finished at 3.50.  Assuming that almost all Big East teams were going to win, we see that winning five seeds have finished twice as high in their conference standings over the past five seasons.  Let’s apply this logic.

 

Edge: 

 

Nevada is an odd case, since they finished first in the WAC, which isn’t considered a “major” conference by BCS standards, but winning their conference has to be a good sign. 

 

Syracuse takes a hit here as they finished ninth in the Big East.  But again, it is the Big East, which seems to have a way of winning no matter what.  Consider though that 12 seed A&M finished fourth in the (admittedly weaker) Big 12. 

 

Washington looks good on the strength of finishing second (remember, no team that has finished second outright in its conference has lost as a 5 seed this decade). 

 

Pittsburgh tied for fourth, which isn’t good enough in pretty much any conference but the Big East.  Luckily for them, that is their conference.

 

(Oh, and by the way, Old Dominion’s nickname is the Monarchs.)

 

Strategy #5: Chalk It.

 

If the previous systems have your head spinning, another approach is to simply pick all of the top seeds and just brace yourself for the inevitable upsets.  Not only are 5 seeds winning 63% of the games in the 21st Century, they are also less likely to get dominated across the board.  Other than the 2002 campaign, teams seeded in the five line have managed at least a split each year.  And that ‘02 tourney wasn’t a complete loss either as the lone survivor, Indiana, sprinted all the way to the national championship game.  Put another way, if the breakdown goes 3-1 in favor of one of the seeds, it is more likely to be the 5 seeds with the edge. 

 

Finally, 5 seeds are far more likely to continue winning after the opening round.  The only 12 seed to reach the Elite Eight was an anomaly, as the Major Conference Missouri Tigers got a lucky bid and then got hot.  The only other 12 seeds to even reach the Sweet 16 were Gonzaga in 2001 and Butler in 2003.  Meanwhile, two 5 seeds have survived this apocalyptic matchup to go all the way to the title game (the aforementioned Florida and Indiana squads), MSU reached the Final Four, and seven of the last eight winning 5 seeds all reached the Sweet 16 (the lone exception was Georgia Tech last season).  On average, 5 seeds have won an additional 1.2 games after escaping the opener, while 12 seeds have won only .5 games beyond the first round.  It might be worth punting a few of the early points and picking all favorites. 

 

Then again, what’s the fun in that? 

 

The Picks.

 

All told, here are the recommendations that can be pulled from the data above.  We are inclined to pick five seeds based on superior margins of victory and deeper advancement into the tournament after the first round, so there has to be something compelling about a 12 seed.  Montana and Utah State have the “conference track record” going for them, while Texas A&M has the Missouri Corollary in the works.  Only Kent State lacks any sort of a hook, so we can pull them down. 

 

From the remaining three teams, it comes down the five seeds they are playing against.  Nevada won its conference and looks good as the first “mid major” 5 seed of the decade, so Montana is out.  Washington finished second in a power conference, which suggests that they are a good bet, but then again, Alabama had the same claim last year.  Finally, Syracuse is 2-0 in these games and is part of the powerful Big East, but they finished ninth, which is five places lower than any of the five seeds who have won before.  Jim Boeheim says his team is ready to make a deep run, but according to the research, they might be the most susceptible to an upset, particularly given the opponent. 

 

I would go Texas A&M, followed by Utah State, then Montana, then Kent State for the upset special, but I may just pick the 5 seed in all of them, since there isn’t a standout, no-brainer case to be made for a 12 seed this year.  Regardless, good luck with those brackets!

  

Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com.

  • Discuss this article
  • WIS Insider Blog

Previous Insiders:

[Terms of Use] [Customer Support] [Privacy Statement]

© 1999-2016 WhatIfSports.com, Inc. All rights reserved.

WhatIfSports is a trademark of WhatIfSports.com, Inc. SimLeague, SimMatchup and iSimNow are trademarks or registered trademarks of Electronic Arts, Inc. Used under license. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.