The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is famous for its Cinderella stories. While some lower seeds have stolen the show in previous years, the most common upset is in the No.5 vs. No.12-seeded games.
Ever since Kentucky, then a No. 12 seed, upset Washington, a No. 5 seed, in the 1985 tournament, this matchup has become a key opening-round game. Since 1990, at least one No. 12 seed has upset a No. 5 seed in the Round of 64 every year except 2000 and 2007. In three of those seasons, including last year, the 12 seed won three of the four matchups, with the others coming in 2002 and 2009.
In the opening round, it’s common for Las Vegas odds-makers to have some of the teams favored by double-digit figures. But in the 12-5 games this year, odds-makers are predicting close matchups. In a single-elimination tournament, at least one of these matchups has a high chance of providing an opening-round upset.
Which ones are most likely to end in an upset?
The most popular 12-5 upset prediction among college basketball analysts is Harvard defeating Cincinnati in the East Region. Playing in their third consecutive NCAA tournament, Harvard (25-4) will not be intimidated by Cincinnati, as the Crimson upset No. 3 seed New Mexico in last year’s opening round. Many are considering this year’s team to be even better, with seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey.
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The Crimson traveled to both Colorado and UConn this season, and only lost in single digits to both teams, while Cincinnati lost three of their last six games. The Bearcats are just a three-point favorite over Harvard.
North Dakota State has the highest shooting percentage of any team in the country, at 50.9 percent, and is also a popular pick to upset the Oklahoma Sooners. Back in November, the Bison knocked off Notre Dame. With forward Taylor Braun, they have one of the more efficient and dynamic players in the nation. Oklahoma is just a four-point favorite over North Dakota State.
VCU faces a Stephen F. Austin team that enters the tournament with a 31-2 record and has not lost since five days before Thanksgiving. While Shaka Smart’s defense leads the nation in defensive turnover rate, the Lumberjacks aren’t far behind, ranking third. With talented guards like Trey Pinkney, Deshaunt Walker and Desmond Haymon that take care of the ball, VCU might find it hard to force turnovers with the press defense. The Rams are a 6.5-point favorite over Stephen F. Austin.
A slumping Saint Louis squad faces the winner of Xavier-North Carolina State, which will be played Tuesday evening. The Billikens sputtered down the stretch this season, losing three of their last four games in the regular season. They fell to lowly St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals, so a matchup with either of these teams could be difficult.
Prediction: Look for Harvard and North Dakota State to pull off upsets, but Stephen F. Austin and Xavier or North Carolina State will likely come up short.