Betting the 12 vs. 5 Matchups in the 2019 NCAA Tournament

Betting the 12 vs. 5 Matchups in the 2019 NCAA Tournament

They’ve become the most ballyhooed of the opening round matchups. They’re the games the higher seeds have come to dread being slated for on Selection Sunday.

The four No. 5 seed versus No 12 seed contests that fans of March Madness betting will be treated to this week are already getting healthy helpings of hype.

So how should one bet these unpredictable battles? The answer might surprise you this season.

Liberty vs. Mississippi State (-6.5 with FanDuel)

Ben Howland is back in the Tourney for the first time since 2013, and his squad will have plenty to prove. Most will likely consider the Bulldogs an afterthought but they're deceptively well-rounded.

They may have a lower ceiling than most teams due to their lack of true star power, but they'll probably have a higher floor thanks to experienced coaching and team chemistry.

That's bad news for a team like Liberty that would've hoped for a streakier roster to take advantage of. The Flames played in the extremely competitive Atlantic Sun conference and defeated a very good Lipscomb team that was highly touted and expected to be an NCAA bracket buster.

The Flames have plenty of players that can play above expectations like guard Lovell Cabbil Jr. and lead scorer and rebounder Scottie James. But there's just not enough there when looking at their conference schedule and non-conference results, to suggest that this team is Cinderella material.

MSU should be able to keep its head and avoid being upset in the first round and continue to improve under Howland's guidance. What they do beyond the opening round is incredibly hard to predict, but it wouldn't be out of the question to give them a shot at the Sweet Sixteen. Pick: Mississippi State (-6.5)

Murray State vs. Marquette (-4 with SugarHouse)

The matchup everyone's talking about is Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard. The matchup that will actually matter is Ja Morant vs. Sacar Anim.

There's no denying that Morant is a bona fide NBA prospect and one of the best point guards in the country, but it's equally undeniable that Marquette is a better overall team than Murray State.

In order to win this game, as many experts are predicting, Murray State will need one of the best games of Morant's career, if not the best. Given the level that Anim played at in the Big East tournament defensively against players like Shamorie Ponds and Myles Powell, he's likely capable slowing Morant down at the very least.

Barring a catastrophic shooting performance, that should be what Marquette needs to move on to the round of 32 for the first time since 2013. Pick: Marquette -4

New Mexico State vs. Auburn (-6 with FanDuel )

There's not a whole lot to look at in terms of sample size when trying to watch New Mexico State against top flight competition. What we've got is an intriguing December result at Kansas in which the Aggies pushed the Jayhawks all the way to the final buzzer despite losing 60-63.

They were able to keep that game so close because Kansas wasn't hitting its outside shots and they could pack the defense tightly under the basket. That's likely not going to be the case against Auburn as the Tigers make 38.1% of their three-pointers which is good for 27th in the country from beyond the arc.

One area that New Mexico state outperforms Auburn substantially in is rebounding where the Aggies average 37.8 (47th) per game to the Tigers' 33.7 (242nd).

That's obviously a fundamental part of the game, but it could be due in large part to the differences in conference. The SEC is a very physical, grind-it-out conference while the WAC is considerably softer.

Add that to the fact that New Mexico State is bad at free throws (67.3%) and the choice becomes clearer.

As with Marquette, barring an uncharacteristically bad shooting performance, the Tigers are a safe pick to at least advance (-285 moneyline) and most likely cover. Pick: Auburn -6.

Oregon vs. Wisconsin (-1 with SugarHouse)

Oregon has had it rough against the Badgers when the pair of teams have met in the NCAA Tournament. The Ducks were bounced in back-to-back seasons by Wisconsin in 2014 and 2015, but since then both programs' fortunes have changed.

The fact is that while its remained competitive, Wisconsin just isn't the same under Greg Gard as it was under Bo Ryan, at least not yet. Meanwhile Oregon has flourished under Dana Altman who's in his 9th season at head coach.

People often claim that the Pac-12 is overrated and they do so for good reason, but the Pac-12 teams that actually get into the tournament tend to overperform based on low expectations.

The best examples of that have been Oregon's 2016 and 2017 tournament runs when the Ducks made the Elite Eight and the Final Four in consecutive years.

After losing freshman phenom Bol Bol early in the season, it took a while for this season's squad to find its identity. But over a recent eight-game win streak it appears to have done so.

The oddsmakers have this matchup extremely close and a lot of that has to do with how hot Oregon is behind the play of point guard Payton Pritchard. Over Oregon's last three victories, Pritchard is averaging 19.3 points, 6.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

He's developed into a great distributive point guard which is what good teams need to thrive in the tourney, while Wisconsin is a bit of a one-man show behind do-it-all big man Ethan Happ. Pick: Oregon +1

The History of the 12-5 Game

One upset might seem a bit low, but start with this question: Just how accurate is the claim that “there’s always 12-5 upsets”?

Looking back on NCAA Tournament history, the 12-5 upset occurs about 32.1% of the time.

In other words, that’s 50 occurrences in which the lower seed has won the 156 total matchups over the last nearly 40 years.

The most recent and current 12-5 craze, however, saw its peak from 2012-2014. Between those three tournaments a whopping eight No. 12-seeds (Stephen F Austin, North Dakota State, Harvard, Oregon, Mississippi, California, South Florida and VCU) knocked off fives.

The fervor caused by these wild upsets started to fundamentally change the way people picked brackets.

Then, as the law of averages dictates, things started to cool down.

Starting in 2015 and ending in the present day, No. 5 seeds have gone 13-3 and last season was the first since 2007 in which there were no 12-5 upsets.

But again, purely using history as our guide, there was a boost to five 12-seed opening round victories between 2008 and 2009. So with that being said, there’s a real chance we’ll be due for at least one such upset this year.

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