Do 12-Seeds Really Overperform Against 5-Seeds in the NCAA Tourney?

Do 12-Seeds Really Overperform Against 5-Seeds in the NCAA Tourney? article feature image

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the NCAA Tournament bracket has been released, workplace productivity will grind to an all-time low as water-cooler talk is dominated by Cinderallas, sleepers, busts and upsets.


Conventional wisdom suggests that you should have at least one 12-seed upsetting a 5-seed, but I decided to dig through the deep tools and data here at The Action Network to determine whether historical results back this as a savvy move and if bettors can take advantage.

To start, I polled Bet Labs’ college basketball database for both against the spread and moneyline results for 12 vs. 5 matchups in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64.

The table below summarizes the performance of 12 seeds, since 2005:

Over the past 12 NCAA Tournaments, 12-seeds have won at a clip just over 40% for a moneyline profit of almost six units. ATS profits are eerily similar, producing a 56.9% win rate against the number for +5.37 units.


Based on the numbers above, we can conclude that 12-seeds have outperformed oddsmakers’ expectations when playing 5-seeds in the the Round of 64.

So which 12-seeds should you be considering? Let’s take a quick look at our bracket simulations (which you can view in full here), along with some of our betting market data (which you can view in full here).

No 12. New Mexico State vs. No. 5 Clemson (-5)

Friday, 9:55 p.m. ET

New Mexico State: 34% chance to advance
ESPN Tournament Challenge: 25.7% of brackets


Not only does New Mexico State have a decent 34% chance to beat Clemson according to our sims, but it’s also the most trendy 12-seed among bettors, currently garnering 78% of spread bets as a 5-point underdog.

No. 12 Davidson vs. No. 5 Kentucky (-5.5)

Thursday, 7:10 p.m. ET

Davidson: 34% chance to advance
ESPN Tournament Challenge: 18% of brackets

Just like New Mexico State, Davidson has a 34% chance to advance to the Round of 32, according to our simulations. Interestingly, Davidson is a 5.5-point underdog to Kentucky compared to New Mexico State’s +5, despite the same probabilites to move on.


Furthermore, Davidson has only been picked in 18% of brackets submitted in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, making them a very interesting upset pick when building a contrarian bracket.

No. 12 South Dakota State vs.  No. 5 Ohio State (-8)

Thursday, 4:00 p.m. ET

South Dakota State: 23.2% chance to advance
ESPN Tournament Challenge: 21.9% of brackets

Bettors may not expect the Jackrabbits to win straight up, but 72% of spread tickets are banking on them to keep this game within eight points.

No. 12 Murray State vs. No. 5 West Virginia (-9.5)

Friday, 4:00 p.m. ET

Murray State: 21.4% chance to advance
ESPN Tournament Challenge: 15.2% of brackets

Murray State has the worst chance of any 12-seed to advance, topping West Virginia in only 21.4% of our simulations. Oddsmakers agree, making Murray State the biggest underdog of all four 12/5 matchups.

Top Photo: Davidson Wildcats players celebrate with the trophy after their game against the Rhode Island Rams in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 conference tournament; credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports