Over the years, the 12/5 matchup has been a good place to go for an upset.
That was very true two tournaments ago, back in 2019, as three 12 seeds — Liberty, Oregon and Murray State — won first-round games. In the 2021 edition of the Big Dance, 12 seed Oregon State was a winner while California-Santa Barbara, another 12 seed, lost by one point.
Over the past 19 NCAA Tournaments, there have been 31 instances of a 12 seed upsetting a 5 seed, meaning the 12 seed has won at a 40.8% clip in that span. Only three times in the past 19 turns has there been a dance without a 12/5 upset. However, the success 12 seeds had in 2019 was out of the norm for the most recent tournaments, as 12 seeds won just one first-round matchup in each of 2017, 2018, and 2021.
Everyone wants to nail upset picks, and hitting on the 12/5 games can give you a leg up in your pool.
Using our metrics, let’s take a look at this year’s 12/5 games and see which are most likely to end in a 12 seed winning, ranking them from least to most probable, according to our game projections. For those of you who may be new to numberFire, nERD measures the number of points we’d expect a team to win by against an average opponent on a neutral court.
4. Houston (5) vs. UAB (12)
Spread: Houston -8.5
numberFire Win Odds: Houston 84.7%
This is more about Houston being really good than it is anything negative about UAB.
While the Cougars were saddled with a 5 seed, our nERD metric has them as the nation’s fifth-best team. Their nERD rating of 17.57 is in line with the average nERD of a 2 seed. KenPom slots Houston fourth overall and rates them in the top 11 for both offense and defense.
The committee did Houston dirty, and there’s a compelling case for penciling in the Cougars to go deep in your bracket, especially if you’re in a large pool.
UAB isn’t a bad team by any means, and the fact they’re only 8.5-point underdogs says as much. The Blazers are 47th overall by KenPom, led by the 27th-best offense, and with a ranking of 80th in tempo, they’re going to push the pace on a Houston team that is 333rd in tempo. That could make the Cougars uncomfortable.
But this is the least likely 12/5 upset by our numbers. We hand Houston win odds of 84.7%.
3. Iowa (5) vs. Richmond (12)
Spread: Iowa -10.0
numberFire Win Odds: Iowa 73.3%
Going by the spread, Iowa is a bigger favorite over Richmond than Houston is against UAB, but our numbers don’t see it that way.
We give the Hawkeyes a 73.3% chance to beat the Spiders, making this game the second-least likely 12/5 upset.
Iowa and Richmond both won their conference tournaments, so they’re playing well at the right time. Iowa is a serving favorite, though.
The Hawkeyes own the 11th-best nERD rating, and like Houston, they were under-seeded. Iowa’s nERD score of 15.81 puts them closer to a 4 seed historically, and the Hawkeyes’ elite offense — second-best by KenPom — should be able to put up plenty of points versus a Richmond D that ranks 104th.
2. Saint Mary’s (5) vs. Indiana (12)
Spread: Saint Mary’s -3.0
numberFire Win Odds: Saint Mary’s 64.0%
This is where things start to get tighter.
Saint Mary’s is a quality squad. They’re 20th by nERD and 17th by KenPom. They’re a legit 5 seed and defeated Gonzaga by 10 points in late February — a win that is as good as any W for any team in the land this season.
The reason this game should be closed is that Indiana is a lot better than the average 12 seed. The Hoosiers’ nERD rating falls in line with the average nERD for 10 seeds, and IU checks in 35th overall for both KenPom and our numbers, spearheaded by a defense that is 18th-best.
On top of that, Indiana enters the Big Dance on a good run. Over their last five games, they’ve defeated Michigan, Illinois, and Wyoming — with the latter coming on Tuesday in a 12/12 play-in game — and suffered close losses to Purdue (one point) and Iowa (two points ). Close losses have been a theme of Indiana’s season and is a reason why they’re 264th in KenPom’s luck factor.
Trayce Jackson-Davis has been carrying IU of late. Over his last four games, all of which have been in postseason play, TJD is averaging 26.3 points, 8.5 boards, and 2.0 blocks while shooting 65.7% from the field. Wowzers.
One advantage St. Mary’s will have — other than just being the better team — is travel. IU played in Dayton on Tuesday and had to fly across the country to Portland for this Thursday game. Plus, this will be IU’s fifth game in eight days.
Still, the Gaels are only a 3.0-point favorite, and this should be a good one.
1. Connecticut (5) vs. New Mexico State (12)
Spread: UConn -6.5
numberFire Win Odds: UConn 61.1%
Connecticut is a 6.5-point favorite over New Mexico State, but according to our model, UConn isn’t as likely to win as St. Mary’s is.
The Huskies had a good year and are a top-20 team by both nERD (17th) and KenPom (20th). They’re not exactly flying high entering the tourney, though. Over their past six games, they’re just 4-2, and while they do have a top-notch victory over Villanova in that span, they also have underwhelming single-digit wins over blah DePaul (102nd by KenPom) and Georgetown (177th ) teams.
Something else that gives New Mexico State a fighting chance is Connecticut’s slow pace. UConn ranks 292nd in adjusted tempo. Fewer possessions increase the odds of something weird happening, and it should also help the Aggies hang around even if they’re not playing great.
The Aggies have won three straight, including two wins in the WAC Tournament to take home the tourney title, which pairs nicely with their regular-season crown. Among teams in the Big Dance, New Mexico State is 18th in block rate and 16th in free throw attempt rate.
Our model gives New Mexico State a 38.9% chance to beat UConn, the best win odds of any of this season’s 12 seeds.