Why is the 5-12 upset so common in the NCAA Tournament?
March 15, 2010 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Why is the 5-12 upset so common in the NCAA Tournament?

I've always heard that there are 2 upsets that happen unusually frequently in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, 8-9 and 5-12. I have no problem believing that the 8-9 upset is common (I think it happens more than half of the time), because those teams are presumably very close. 5 and 12, though? The only thing I could think of is that 5 seeds tend to be the 3rd best team in a good conference, and thus probably a little overrated, while 12 seeds are more likely to be the best team in a bad conference, and thus probably a little underrated, but there's no reason why that's true of 5s and 12s and not 6s and 11 or 4s and 13s. Does anyone have any other explanations for this, other than random chance over a small sample size?
posted by Copronymus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a bracket junkie, but one theory might be that the 5-12 and 4-13 match ups are where the highly-motivated little conference teams end up against the slumping-down-the-stretch big conference teams.
posted by hobu at 11:31 AM on March 15, 2010

my shoot-from-the-hip take on it.

I believe this is because 12 is usually about where the last of the "at large" berth teams land (13-16 is where all of the auto bids for either teensy conference champions or those rare sub-.500 teams in larger conferences that win their conf. tourney).

What you get in the last at large teams is often a say, 28-4 team from a mid-major conference that got upset in the first round of its conference tournament. Those teams are often better than the NCAA committee is willing to understand.

Or to summarize: 12 seeds are more often, compared to 10 or 13 seeds, great teams from non-major conferences, and the NCAA committee is heavily biased to the big boys.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:35 AM on March 15, 2010

With no data to back me up, I'll say that I don't think 6-11 upsets are any less common than the 5-12. The 5-12 gets more hype because a 12 is usually a small conference team and a 5 a big conference team. This isn't always the case; I think recently Butler was a 5 matched up against a big conference 12 (illinois?) . I always think it's lame to put a big conference team in a 12 seed, because like it's way exciting when teams like western KY, Gonzaga (back in the day), Bucknell or Utah State beat a big name school. 13-4 is even more exciting, for the exact same reason, but it probably doesn't happen as much because the higher seed is usually stronger and the lower seed is weaker than in a 5-12 matchup.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 11:40 AM on March 15, 2010

oof, on proofread, where it says "because like" in my comment above, just pretend it only, like, says "because."
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 11:42 AM on March 15, 2010

Do you have any stats to show that 12 beats 5 more often than 11 beats 6 or 10 beats 7?
posted by lukemeister at 11:55 AM on March 15, 2010

Stats, not sure what year it goes up to:

9 thru 12 seed NCAA bracket trends since 1985:
9 seeds are 52-44 against 8 seeds.
10 seeds are 38-58 against 7 seeds.
11 seeds are 30-66 against 6 seeds.
12 seeds are 31-65 against 5 seeds.

So, 12-5 does seem to have more upsets than expected.
posted by smackfu at 12:08 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I agree halfway with mcstayinskool. I don't really think that mid-major conference teams are too underrated but he points out that a great many of the 13-16 seed teams are automatic bid conference champions from weaker conferences that would never get an at-large bid. A lot of these teams might not really be in the top 64 in terms of talent.

It's usually about the same number of these teams each year and they start to run out around the 12-13 seed. So it's more that the 12 seeds are significantly better than the 13-16 teams and the tournament starts to get more competitive at that point.
posted by solmyjuice at 12:12 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: This has some records for seeds 11-16 and seems like it's probably up to date. I've definitely heard the 0-100 thing for 16 seeds other places this year.

11 is 31-69, 12 is 34-66, 13 is 21-79, 14 is 15-85, 15 is 4-96, and 16 is 0-100

Looking at those numbers, 3% better than the 11 seed isn't really that much (3 wins over 25 years). Maybe it's just luck combined with not-very-good minor conference champions taking up most of the 13-16 slots.
posted by Copronymus at 12:17 PM on March 15, 2010

to provide some support for the argument a 12 seed is usually around where team quality starts to flatten out here is a post from Basketball Prospectus they just put up today.
Graph at the top make this point.
posted by JPD at 12:17 PM on March 15, 2010

Response by poster: to provide some support for the argument a 12 seed is usually around where team quality starts to flatten out here is a post from Basketball Prospectus they just put up today.

Dammit, I knew I should have checked Basketball Prospectus.

That graph also indicates that 5 seeds are worse than 6 seeds, which might also be part of what's going on. I can see it being the case that, much like 12s are the last of the good teams, the 5 slot is where the committee stops being able to distinguish the relative qualities of the teams quite so easily, so they just throw in the 3rd best ACC team because they're familiar and have a good reputation.
posted by Copronymus at 12:26 PM on March 15, 2010

It could be that 5s tend to be schools which are usually very good but not this year while 12s are schools that are not usually very good but have a great team (for them) this year. So biases in opposite directions, in other words.
posted by callmejay at 1:20 PM on March 15, 2010

The Basketball Prospectus article linked is a good one (I actually came in here to link it) but I don't think it answers the question.

The BP article simply tells us that the gap between 12-seeds and 13/14-seeds is quite large. Larger than the gap between 11-seeds and 12-seeds, or 10-seeds and 11-seeds. But you already knew that, because you know that 12 seeds upset 5 seeds more than 13 or 14 seeds upset 4 or 3 seeds. So in my view, the question still remains: WHY are the 12 seeds that much better than 13 or 14 seeds?

I think the answer has something to do with the selection committee's favoritism toward BCS conferences. Teams from the mid-majors (excepting those that are traditional basketball contenders like Gonzaga, Xavier, Memphis etc) are quite undervalued by the committee. They play lesser competition generally, as they are often far and away the best team in their conference. Their games are less hyped, less-often televised, and they have less "name brand" players who are on the national media radar.

This means that NM St and Utah St are going to get 12 seeds, while the 3rd or 4th (or 5th or 6th) best team from the ACC or Big East is going to get a 5-9 seed. More people are familiar with Oklahoma State, and Georgia Tech, and Florida State, than are familiar with New Mexico State. And thus, more people will watch the games, more people will travel, more money.

Secondarily, I think at this point the committee probably knows the 12/5 upset is a big expectation out there, and seed some of the better mid-majors in that 12 spot to increase the hype for those games. This year, look out for NM St and Utah St...
posted by jckll at 1:35 PM on March 15, 2010

First, 12 seeds are where they stick the last teams to make it in. Usually. Sometimes 11s and 10s go these teams for location/conference-mixing purposes. 13-16 generally go to weak auto-bid teams, so the twelve line is the bottom of the at-large group. So there's a 'we got no respect' element in play.

Second, these last-in slots often go to underachieving power conference teams. I disagree with everyone saying it's mostly mid-majors at 12. It's about 50/50. There aren't any major conference 12s this year, but that's an outlier. These teams can be really dangerous because they often have elite talent levels and can put it together for a game or two.

Third, the mid-majors who make it into these slots are usually ones who played well against very soft schedules, but didn't win their conference tourney. They might only have 3 or 4 losses, so it's hard to leave them out, but they haven't played enough teams to really know how good they are.

Bottom line: the 12 line is where the committee puts most of the teams that it's most uncertain about. Higher variance = more upsets.
posted by shadow vector at 1:53 PM on March 15, 2010

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