Nothing gets the blood rushing throughout the first four days of the NCAA Tournament quite like the element of chaos, and there’s no better agent of chaos than a good, old fashioned 12-over-5 upset.
Under-the-radar stars like 2019 Murray State guard Ja Morant have imprinted their name into the national consciousness by lifting their underdog team to victory. Meanwhile, the hopes of potential tournament darkhorses like the 1995 Arizona Wildcats have been crushed with one loss.
As the 2021 men’s tournament quickly approaches, let’s take an extended look at this common upset...
Rate of Occurrence
The 12-over-5 has been the most common of ‘high-seed over low-seed’ upsets since the men’s tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 with 12-seeds prevailing 50 out of 140 tries according to NCAA.com, equating to a 35.7 percent success rate for potential spoilers. In comparison, there’s a significant dropoff when tabulating 13-over-4 upsets with just 29 out of 140, or 20.7 percent of 13-seeds pulling off shockers to advance to the next round.
Five’s Against the Spread
Wagering on the five-seed against the spread has been a risky proposition for the past two decades. Since 2000, five-seeds are 34-45-1 against the spread per thelines.com.
A 12-over-5 upset has occurred most years since the expansion in 1985 as there hasn’t been a stretch of more than two years where one hasn’t occurred. The only year where all five-seeds successfully advanced were 1988, 2000, 2007, 2015 and 2018.
In turn, the longest streak of upsets has been 11 as at least one of these upsets occurred in every tournament from 1989 to 1999.
There’s never been a year where all for 12-seeds have advanced but there has been four separate years in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2019 where three of them stood tall and advanced to the next round.
2002 witnessed Tulsa edge Marquette, Missouri knock of Miami (FL) and Creighton survive Florida in a double overtime thriller. In 2009, Wisconsin defeated Florida State in overtime, Arizona downed future conference-mate Utah and Western Kentucky edged Illinois.
2013 saw Ole Miss take down Wisconsin, Cal upend UNLV and Oregon take out the Marcus Smart-led Oklahoma State Cowboys. And finally in the most recent NCAA Tournament in 2019, Liberty toppled Mississippi State, Oregon defeated Wisconsin and the aforementioned Murray State upset of Marquette happened.
After the Upset
The good fortunes of a 12-seed typically fizzle out in the next round as only 21 of these teams have made the Sweet 16.
The 2002 Missouri Tigers are the only 12-seed, and thus lowest seed to ever make the Elite 8 as they followed their upset of Miami with victories over Ohio State and UCLA before eventually falling to then conference rival Oklahoma in the quarterfinals.
2021 No. 5 vs. No. 12 games
Here are the 5/12 games in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, with odds from DraftKings Sportsbook:
The only surprise might be if none of the No. 12 seeds make it to Round 2 this year.