Let’s start here – it’s not crazy to pick multiple 12 out of 5 surprises on your stand. It’s not crazy any year, and especially not crazy this year.
First, some historical numbers, starting with the 1985 tournament (when the field expanded to 64 teams):
35: years at least a 12 seed started a surprise
13: years at least two 12 seeds plucked a setback
5: years three 12 seeds plucked in an unexpected way
5: years, not 12 seeds plucked a surprise
That’s amazing, right? In the general list of seeds, the teams in the line of the 5 seeds are ranked 17-18-19-20. On that same seeded list, teams from the 12-seeded line are ranked 46-47-48-49. That is a big difference in the quality of the equipment. At least it looks like it would be. And yet, in the 40 years of an expanded group, 12 seeds have won 35.7 percent of their games (50-90).
HISTORY OF SEED DISORDERS:
15 against 2 | 14 against 3 | 13 against 4 | 12 against 5
Now, let’s take a look at the 12v5 matchups in the 2021 tournament.
12 Winthrop vs. 5 Villanova, South Region
FanDuel Odds: Villanova -6, o / u 141
Why this could happen: Look, nothing is certain in the NCAA Tournament. Especially annoying. The seemingly obvious pesky choices often end with the highest seed winning in a blowout. That said, this showdown has pretty much all the elements you’d look for when choosing a surprise.
Let’s start with Winthrop. The Eagles are 23-1, which is incredibly impressive, and they are playing their best basketball of the season. Here are Winthrop’s margins of victory in the Big South tournament: 29 points, 21 points, 27 points. Eagles point guard Chandler Vaudrin is the NCAA’s active leader in triple-doubles for life (eight). The great DJ Burns, a former four-star pick who transferred from Tennessee, scored 22 in the Big South title game, on 11 of 12 shooting from the field. Winthrop runs waves and waves of players on a regular basis – 11 players average 11 minutes or more, but Vaudrin is the only one to exceed 25 per game, allowing them to force the pace and wear down teams. Especially teams facing injury problems (track, track).
And then there’s Villanova. Wildcats were in the 1/2 seed conversation for a long time, but now they are not what they were. They have played four games in the last two weeks and have lost three of them. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is still an incredible player capable of taking over a game, no doubt. But senior point guard Collin Gillespie, who averaged 14.0 points and 4.6 assists per game and shot 37.6 percent from 3-point range, is injured. Justin Moore, who is averaging more than a dozen points, has been dealing with a painful ankle sprain. And even when Gillespie and Moore combined to play 70 minutes at Butler, the Wildcats lost on the road by a dozen. Let’s put it this way: Most coaches would prefer their team to be playing well and completely healthy heading into the NCAA Tournament, and Villanova doesn’t check any of those boxes.
12 Georgetown vs. 5 Colorado, West Region
FanDuel Odds: Colorado -4.5, o / u 138
Why this could happen: I haven’t looked at the numbers, but I’m relatively sure there’s never been a time when a “power” conference team won their league championship game by 25 points and finished 12 seeded. And the thing is, that’s probably the correct seed for the Hoyas, who are just 13-12 and had to win all four BET games just to go above .500 for the first time since going 1-0. But who in their right mind would want to face a team that is playing like Georgetown right now?
Look, Colorado is solid. The Buffaloes had won six in a row, including two W’s against a very good USC team, before falling to Oregon State in the Pac-12 title game. But they are capable of hiccups; the Buffs lost games this year to three Pac-12 teams that didn’t even smell big deals (Washington, Utah and California), and they could have been a little outbid with a 5.
MORE SUPPORT SELECTIONS: DeCourcy (Gonzaga) | Bender (Illinois) | Fagan (Gonzaga)
12 UC Santa Barbara vs. 5 Creighton, West Region
FanDuel Odds: Creighton -6.5, o / u 139
Why this could happen: Creighton has been a strange team this season. There are games where they look good in Elite Eight, like when they beat Villanova by 16 on February 13, and games where they seem completely lost on the court, like the Big East title game, when they lost to Georgetown. by 25 points. That hit-or-miss nature isn’t a huge trait for a team in March, to say the least. And will coach Greg McDermott’s horrible comments play a role in distracting the team when they should be concentrating solely on the next game? It is impossible to know for sure, of course, but it is not impossible for that to be true.
And yes, UC Santa Barbara is legit. They were 4-3 at one point earlier in the season, having lost back-to-back games at UC Irvine in late December. Since then, they are 18-1, and the 18th win was in Big West’s title game against, you guessed it, UC Irvine. UCSB won that by 16 points. They’re balanced, with point guard JaQuori McLaughlin leading the way with 16.2 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting from beyond the 3-point arc. Forwards Amadou Sow and Miles Norris combine to average 23.3 points and 12.1 rebounds.
12 Oregon State vs. 5 Tennessee, Eastern Region
FanDuel Odds: Tennessee -7.5, o / u 133
Why this could happen: I think this is the least likely surprise of 12 out of 5 in this year’s group, but don’t completely rule out the Beavers. They chewed up three Pac-12 teams overall, UCLA, Oregon and Colorado, during the league tournament to win the automatic Pac-12 bid. They wouldn’t have made it to the NCAA Tournament without him. They love to slow down the pace, and that works from time to time in March. Oregon State was 315th in adjusted tempo this year, averaging 65.4 possessions per game.
However, Tennessee is really solid. The Vols also play a deliberate style of basketball, ranking 233 in tempo, at 67.3, so controlling the pace isn’t a huge advantage for Oregon State. And Tennessee’s defense is tenacious; the Vols are fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency (87.0). It’s hard to change those kinds of squads in March.
BREAKDOWN OF REGIONS:
WEST | EAST | SOUTH | MIDWEST
What is the number 12 that is best for a surprise?
If you’ve made it this far, you know I’m choosing Winthrop. The combination of how good the Eagles are and Villanova’s recent injuries / struggles makes this an easy pick.
If you are considering the odds, and you are not Han Solo, Georgetown is probably your best option; the margin in that game is the smallest (4.5) of any of the 12/5 matchups.
If you only pick Pacific Coast time zone teams to win games, then go with Oregon State over Tennessee.
If you think potential team chemistry issues are a problem, you could do worse than pick Creighton to lose your opener.
In terms of ranking, from most likely to least likely: Winthrop, Georgetown, UCSB, and finally Oregon State.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.