Ranking the Most Likely 12/5 Upsets in the NCAA Tournament

Aidan Cotter
Aidan CotterAidanCotterFD

The 12/5 upset has become synonymous with the NCAA Tournament.

In the last 38 tournaments, 32 have featured a 12 seed upsetting a 5 seed. Though all four 5 seeds won last year, multiple 12s won in 2022 and 2019.

Will the 12 seeds bounce back this year?

Using numberFire's nERD metric -- an indicator of expected point differential over an average opponent on a neutral floor -- and numbers from both KenPom and Bart Torvik, let's rank the most likely 12/5 upsets in the NCAA Tournament from least to most likely.

Odds via the college basketball odds at FanDuel Sportsbook

Most Likely 12/5 Upsets in the NCAA Tournament

4. San Diego State (-7.5) vs. UAB

numberFire Win Odds: UAB 25.6%

The East may be the toughest region, but it's the least likely to have a 12/5 upset.

This matchup has the widest spread (San Diego State -7.5) thanks to UAB being a historically bad 12 seed.

The Blazers -- automatic qualifiers via the AAC tournament -- are down at 108th in numberFire's ratings with a 4.06 nERD. Not only is that lower than all the other 12 seeds, it's lower than all the 13 seeds, too. Among the 68 teams in the field, UAB has the second-biggest difference between their nERD and the historic average nERD for their seed. Analytically, they're closer to a 14 seed.

San Diego State isn't the best 12 seed, but they're not far off. They rate out as the 22nd-best team in the field and the third-best 5 seed, according to numberFire's ratings. The Aztecs went 22-10 this season, but they finished 20th in the NET and were 18-1 outside of Quad 1. UAB -- 104th in the NET -- would be a Quad 3 matchup.

UAB, meanwhile, went 0-4 in Quad 1 games. They did take down Maryland on a neutral floor early in the season but otherwise struggled to hang with top competition away from home.

While the Blazers are 59th nationally in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency and 70th in scoring offense, they struggle mightily on the defensive end. They allow 75.2 points per game (276th) and are 202nd in adjusted defensive efficiency. They do an excellent job getting to the free-throw line (20th in FT rate) and crashing the offensive glass (22nd in OREB rate), but SDSU is equipped to handle that.

The Aztecs are top-10 in adjusted defense and 33rd in effective field goal D. Although they do foul a lot (200th in foul rate), they're a solid defensive rebounding team (109th in DREB rate).

Offensively, the Aztecs aren't world-beaters, but they shouldn't have any issues scoring on a soft UAB defense. San Diego State is 62nd in adjusted offense and averages 74.6 points per game (153rd). Though they're just 219th in effective field goal percentage, they hardly turn the ball over (101st in TO rate) and create second-chance points on the glass (69th in OREB rate). All-Mountain West First Teamer Jaedon LeDee averages 21.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, so expect him to feast.

This isn't the same San Diego State team that made the national title game last season, but there are several key pieces. They shouldn't have much of an issue with UAB and are far and away the least likely 5 seed to get upset.

3. Gonzaga (-6.5) vs. McNeese

numberFire Win Odds: McNeese 41.2%

The rest of the 12/5 matchups are where things get interesting.

Gonzaga opens up as a 6.5-point favorite against McNeese in the Midwest. As a +220 moneyline underdog, McNeese has a 30.8% implied chance to win. numberFire's model sees this as a tighter matchup, pegging Gonzaga to win by fewer than 2.5 points and giving McNeese a 41.2% chance to win outright.

McNeese was a mid-major darling all season, and they're a legit threat to be a Cinderella team. The Cowboys ran through the Southland Conference, going 30-3 along the way. They come in at 67th overall, according to numberFire's ratings, with notable wins over VCU (79th), UAB (105th), and Michigan (118th). McNeese has the third-longest active win streak in the country, winning 11 straight games.

McNeese features an explosive offense that ranked 37th in scoring and 51st in adjusted efficiency. They're highly efficient on that end, ranking in the top 30 in both effective field goal percentage and turnover rate. They finished seventh in three-point field goal percentage, 79th in offensive rebound rate, and sixth in forced turnover rate. The Cowboys can score in a number of ways, so they have a real shot to take down Gonzaga.

The problem is that Gonzaga's the second-best 5 seed and fits the mold of a National Champion. The Bulldogs rank 16th overall by numberFire's ratings while sporting a top-25 offense and top-50 defense. They're eighth in effective field goal percentage and have the 16th-lowest turnover rate. Gonzaga hardly takes threes, whereas McNeese surrenders outside looks at one of the highest rates in the country.

The Zags are 34th in effective field goal defense, but they are middle-of-the-road in three-point attempt rate allowed -- notable given McNeese's proficiency from beyond the arc. Still, Gonzaga comes into the field nearly as hot as McNeese. Since the turn of the calendar, Gonzaga has lost just three games -- two of which came at the hands of Saint Mary's.

McNeese over Gonzaga is a defensible 12/5 upset, but the Zags will be a tough out. While McNeese isn't a total longshot, there are two other 12 seeds with better shots to pull off a first-round upset.

2. Wisconsin (-5.5) vs. James Madison

numberFire Win Odds: James Madison 46.7%

James Madison over Wisconsin is the most popular 12/5 upset on ESPN's People's Bracket, and I'm buying what the public is selling.

Though Wisconsin is a 5.5-point favorite, the numberFire model gives James Madison a 46.7% chance to pull off the upset in the South Region. That's significantly higher than the 34.5% implied odds we get from their +190 moneyline odds.

James Madison made headlines after they upset Michigan State in the season opener, and they've kept rolling ever since. The Dukes ride the nation's longest active win streak into the Big Dance, winning 13 straight games dating back to February 1st.

The Dukes are strong on both ends of the floor, ranking 56th in adjusted offense and 79th in adjusted D. They're 59th in numberFire's ratings, second-best among 12 seeds. They finished 14th nationally in turnover margin and top-35 in effective field goal offense and defense. James Madison does an excellent job limiting outside looks, though they are vulnerable inside.

Wisconsin doesn't shoot many threes, instead preferring to pound it down low and get to the rim. Though the Badgers are 13th in adjusted offense and 47th in adjusted D, they're just 82nd in effective field goal percentage and 275th in effective field goal defense. Wisconsin is a strong rebounding team, and they don't turn the ball over much (39th in TO rate).

The Badgers at one point sat at 16-4 but proceeded to drop eight of their final 11 games to close out the regular season. However, they then won three games in the Big Ten tournament, taking down Purdue before losing the 'ship to Illinois.

It's hard to get a read on Wisconsin, but there's no question they could lose to James Madison. Their late-season collapse should be considered as much (if not more) than their Big Ten tournament run. James Madison already upset one Big Ten power this season -- don't be shocked if they make it two on Friday night.

1. Saint Mary's (-5.5) vs. Grand Canyon

numberFire Win Odds: Grand Canyon 47.3%

Though Saint Mary's-Grand Canyon won't be the most popular 12/5 upset, it's the most likely. numberFire gives Grand Canyon a 47.3% chance to win -- the highest mark among 12s and a significant difference from their 34.7% implied chance we get from their +188 moneyline odds.

This is the third straight tournament that Saint Mary's is a 5 seed, and they've taken down the 12 seed both years prior. I'm not sure they will make it three years in a row, however, as Grand Canyon is the best 12 seed in the field.

The Lopes are an absolute wagon. They enter the Big Dance with a 29-4 record and rate as numberFire's 53rd-best team. Historically, Grand Canyon profiles closer to an 11 seed than a 12, and their efficiency numbers are actually higher than Virginia, a 10 seed.

Coached by Bryce Drew -- yeah, that Bryce Drew -- and led by Kansas transfer Tyon Grant-Foster, the Lopes have now made the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four years. This is by far their best team over that stretch, and they're going to be an absolute headache for Saint Mary's. They notably took down San Diego State and lost to South Carolina by seven in non-conference play, so Saint Mary's won't be a dramatic talent jump from what they've seen this season.

Grand Canyon is strong on both ends, ranking 63rd in adjusted offense and 51st in adjusted D. They're 39th in forced turnover rate and 10th in effective field goal defense. Though they can struggle with turnovers themselves, GCU's ability to get to the line (fifth in FT rate) and crash the offensive glass (30th in OREB rate) gives them plenty of chances to get easy buckets.

Saint Mary's is a tough matchup for anyone, so this is by no means a surefire upset. The Gaels play at a snail's pace and can lock up on D. They're 16th in adjusted defense, third in effective field goal defense, and eighth in three-point attempt rate allowed. They force you to play inside the arc but then do an excellent job defending two-point baskets, ranking fifth in two-point field goal defense.

The Gaels did run into trouble with the more efficient offenses on their schedule, and that's where Grand Canyon has a chance. Saint Mary's played 10 games against top-75 offenses but went just 5-5. They otherwise went 21-2.

The Lopes have a ton of athleticism and the offense to put up points against the Gaels. If Grand Canyon can dictate the pace and get up early, they'll have a good chance to pull off the 12/5 upset out west.

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The above author is a FanDuel employee and is not eligible to compete in public daily fantasy contests or place sports betting wagers on FanDuel. The advice provided by the author does not necessarily represent the views of FanDuel. Taking the author's advice will not guarantee a successful outcome. You should use your own judgment when participating in daily fantasy contests or placing sports wagers.