The 5-12 upset has become the great equalizer in the NCAA Tournament.
It used to be a tightly guarded secret, something you told only those closest to you about, a nugget of inherited knowledge. Now, everyone in your office pool undoubtedly knows.
In 2014, North Dakota State defeated Oklahoma. Stephen F. Austin squeaked by VCU. Harvard stopped Cincinnati.
The secret is unquestionably out. Saint Louis was the only favorite to win a 5-12 matchup in last year’s tournament, beating N.C. State in overtime.
In 2013, three No. 12-seeds won their opening matchups, too. Wisconsin was victimized by Ole Miss, which then went on to lose to 13th-seeded LaSalle. Cal took out UNLV, spoiling what had been a dream season for the Runnin’ Rebels. Oregon took down Oklahoma State.
A No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 in every NCAA Tournament since 2007, when the favorites all managed to hold serve. There’s no longer any point to play contrarian. A No. 12 is going to beat a No. 5 this year, too. It’s now a matter of identifying which one.
Here’s a little help, though consulting with your kid’s third-grade teacher or the guy who smiles at you when collecting your toll on the expressway may work just as well.
Be warned, these 5-12 matchups are as unassuming as ever. Eight different states have teams involved in the matchups and if you closed your eyes and were asked to respond to the eight most obscure teams in the field you can think of, you would probably do really well in identifying the participants.
From Ali Farokhmanesh to Bobby Hurley, this year’s 5-12 matchups will take you down memory lane while you’re breaking down the matchups.
Northern Iowa vs. Wyoming: The Panthers have lost only twice in 2015, faltering on Jan. 1 at Evansville and losing the regular-season finale at Wichita State to surrender the Missouri Valley regular-season title. Because the Shockers were surprised by Illinois State in the MVC Tournament, there was no rubber game between the Valley’s top teams.
UNI took down the Redbirds to save what turned out to be Dayton’s at-large bid, rallying from a halftime deficit to win March Madness. The Panthers are led by one of the top big men in the NCAAs, MVC Player of the Year Seth Tuttle. He’ll have to work against Larry Nance, Jr., who returned from a bout with mono to help the Cowboys win three games in three days in the Mountain West Tournament.
Wyoming won two games decided by a single possession in Las Vegas and have seen senior guard Josh Adams take his game to another level. The spread here opened at seven, which is laughable.
Take the points and back the NCAA Tournament’s top dunker, though you should be aware Tuttle is deadly from the free-throw line, which makes the Panthers an elite team in covering late. He gets the rebound on your late desperation look, gets fouled and knocks down two free-throws.
Hopefully the game is close enough where that won’t matter. Odds are it will be.
Utah vs. Stephen F. Austin: The Utes have Dorell Wright’s little brother, Delon, leading their war with inconsistency. There’s no question they are under-seeded as a No. 5, but no one is going to cry for them considering they failed to cover in four of the last five games they played.
They were 7-point favorites against Oregon in the Pac-12 semis and lost outright, so seeing them installed as a favorite by roughly the same number at most books is definitely interesting. Stephen F. Austin won last year’s 5-12 battle.
You should definitely be aware that the Lumberjacks have won their last 18 games by at least nine points.
West Virginia vs. Buffalo: The Mountaineers held out senior guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne down the stretch, opting to make sure they’re healthy for this NCAA Tournament and sacrificing themselves down the stretch.
It helped that their at-large candidacy was secure and certainly did get their freshmen guards some valuable experience.
Both Staten and Browne are likely to play in this tournament, but be sure to double-check on their availability before placing your final wager.
The Bulls have a tremendous frontcourt that is really athletic, not to mention solid guard play. As far as 12-seeds that can win a game like this go, Buffalo is out of central casting, right down to Hurley pulling the strings as a head coach.
Arkansas vs. Wofford: The SoCon squares off with the SEC in this one, so the little brother mentality is definitely in play. The Razorbacks failed to cover against Kentucky in the conference championship game due to an inability to grab defensive rebounds. If they don’t improve in that area, the Terriers are going to eat them alive.
Karl Cochran, recently named the SoCon Player of the Year, is one of those kids who fell through the cracks recruiting-wise and should relish a chance like this one. Wofford also has a big man in Lee Skinner that should at least challenge Bobby Portis, reigning SEC Player of the Year. If the Terriers can handle the press, they can steal this game.
Of course they can. It’s a 5-12. Nobody is safe.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Contact Tony at [email protected].