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A history of the 5-seed vs. 12-seed matchup

The most popular upset pick in the first round of the tournament every March is a 12-seed over a 5-seed, and for good reason.

Since the men’s NCAA tournament expanded to a 64-team field in 1985, there have been 148 matchups between a 5-seed and a 12-seed. 

The #12, often a mid-major university matched up against a power-five team with superior talent, coaching, and resources, has seen tremendous success in the first round, more so than any other low seed. 

In those 148 first-round matchups, 12-seeds have a combined 53-95 record. 

While that comes in as a winning percentage of just 35.8%, the frequency of a 12 vs. 5 resulting in an upset is greater than any other first round matchup. For reference, 13-seeds have an inferior 21.5% winning percentage in the first round since 1985. Just five of the last 37 men’s tournaments have seen all four 12-seeds lose in the first round. 

Will this theme continue in the 2023 edition of the men's NCAAB Championship?

This year's 5 vs. 12 matchups

What#5 San Diego St. vs. #12 Charleston
WhenThursday, March 16th @ 3:10 PM ET
WhereAmway Center (Orlando, FL)
How to watchTSN
What#5 Duke vs. #12 Oral Roberts
WhenThursday, March 16th @ 7:10 PM ET
WhereAmway Center (Orlando, FL)
How to watchTSN
What#5 Saint Mary's vs. #12 VCU
WhenFriday, March 17th @ 2:00 PM ET
WhereMVP Arena (Albany, NY)
How to watchTSN
What#5 Miami vs. #12 Drake
WhenFriday, March 17th @ 2:00 PM ET
WhereMVP Arena (Albany, NY)
How to watchTSN

Why 12 vs. 5?

Due to the constant turnover of personnel in college basketball, and new teams being in the 12 vs. 5 matchup each year, it is impossible to pin down a specific reason why this first-round matchup has resulted in so many upsets.

Typically, 5-seeds are not among the elite teams in the nation, and have displayed their fair share of struggles throughout the regular season. If the top four teams in the country at the end of the regular season are the tournament’s 1-seeds, that would indicate the four 5-seeds are somewhere between the 16th and 20th best teams. 

That does not necessarily mean 12-seeds are around the 50th best in the nation, though. 

Unlike the higher-seeded teams, schools that fill out the 12-, 13- and 14-seed slots are usually mid-major schools that were the cream of the crop in their conference for the past four months. These teams play with confidence and believe they can beat anybody. 

They may not match their opposition for talent, but that can be made up for with effort, consistency, and a good game plan. Plus, their underdog nature adds an aura of calmness to how they play in March. 

Related College Basketball News

Men's NCAAB Championship: The favuorites to win it all

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The Most Successful Teams in Men's NCAAB Championship History

Recent and notable upsets

At least one 12-seed triumphs in most every NCAA tournament, so there have been plenty of notable players, teams, and coaches that have taken part of these games.

In the 2022 edition of March Madness, #5 Iowa, which boasted player of the year candidate and future No. 4 overall pick in the NBA Draft Keegan Murray, fell to #12 Richmond in Buffalo, New York.

Less than four hours later, on the same court, #5 Connecticut put up a dud against #12 New Mexico State, losing 70-63. 

In 2019, now-NBA superstar with the Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant led No. 12 Murray State to a first-round blowout over No. 5 Marquette. Morant posted a triple-double (17 points, 11 rebounds, 16 assists) as his team raced to a 19-point victory.

There have been 15 tournaments since 1985 in which multiple 12-seeds won in the first round, and five tournaments with three of the four 12-seeds advancing (2002, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2019).

Only once has a 12-seed actually been favoured over their first-round opponent. This came in 2017 when #12 Middle Tennessee St. closed as a 1.5-point favourite over #5 Minnesota. MTSU came into the game with a 31-4 record on the season and eliminated Minnesota by a score of 81-72.

In 2004, #12 Manhattan routed #5 Florida in the first round in the very first game of the tournament, coming as a big shock. Florida was the number one team in the country in December and were led by up-and-coming head coach Billy Donovan, who now coaches the Chicago Bulls. What makes this upset notable is Donovan led UF to back-to-back national titles starting just two seasons later.

Two 12-seeds – Ball State (vs. Oregon St. in 1990) and Western Kentucky (vs. Drake in 2008) – won their first round matchups in the most dramatic way possible: via a buzzer beater. 

Every #12 to win over a #5

Below is a list of every 12-over-5 upset in NCAA tournament history (since 1985). List courtesy of

Year#12 vs. #5 matchupFinal score
1985Kentucky def. Washington66-58
1986DePaul def. Virginia72-68
1987Wyoming def. Virginia64-60
1989DePaul def. Memphis State66-63
1990Dayton def. Illinois88-86
1990Ball State def. Oregon State54-53
1991Eastern Michigan def. Mississippi State76-56
1992New Mexico State def. DePaul81-73
1993George Washington def. New Mexico82-68
1994UW-Green Bay def. California61-57
1994Tulsa def. UCLA112-102
1995Miami (Ohio) def. Arizona71-62
1996Drexel def. Memphis75-63
1996Arkansas def. Penn State86-80
1997College of Charleston def. Maryland75-66
1998Florida State def. TCU96-87
1999Detroit def. UCLA56-53
1999Missouri State def. TCU96-87
2001Utah State def. Ohio State77-68 (OT)
2001Gonzaga def. Virginia86-85
2002Tulsa def. Marquette71-69
2002Missouri def. Miami (Fla.)93-80
2002Creighton def. Florida83-82 (2OT)
2003Butler def. Mississippi State47-46
2004Pacific def. Providence66-58
2005Milwaukee def. Alabama83-73
2006Montana def. Nevada87-79
2006Texas A&M def. Syracuse66-58
2008Villanova def. Clemson75-69
2008Western Kentucky def. Drake101-99 (OT)
2009Wisconsin def. Florida State61-59 (OT)
2009Arizona def. Utah84-71
2009Western Kentucky def. Illinois76-72
2010Cornell def. Temple78-65
2011Richmond def. Vanderbilt69-66
2012South Florida def. Temple58-44
2012VCU def. Wichita State62-59
2013Ole Miss def. Wisconsin57-46
2013California def. UNLV64-61
2013Oregon def. Oklahoma State68-55
2014Harvard def. Cincinnati61-57
2014North Dakota State def. Oklahoma80-75(OT)
2014Stephen F. Austin def. VCU77-75 (OT)
2016Little Rock def. Purdue85-83 (2OT)
2016Yale def. Baylor79-75
2017Middle Tennessee def. Minnesota81-72
2019Liberty def. Mississippi State80-76
2019Murray State def. Marquette83-64
2019Oregon def. Wisconsin72-54
2021Oregon State def. Tennessee70-56
2022Richmond def. Iowa67-63
2022New Mexico State def. UConn70-63
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