BY JOHN ROHDE
March 15, 2017
From the jump, the 2017 NCAA Tournament will begin with an upset.
The No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup has become the tournament’s most magnetic opening-round game, and we won’t have to wait long for an upset.
The first two games in this year’s tournament are No. 5 vs. No. 12 showdowns Thursday with No. 5 Notre Dame facing No. 12 Princeton at 11:15 a.m. CT and No. 5 Virginia against No. 12 UNC-Wilmington at 11:40.
Here are the all-time records since the tournament’s 16-seed format began in 1985:
History shows No. 5 vs. 12 has the exact same overall record as No. 6 vs. No. 11 (8246), which mathematically defies the odds.
It’s also worth noting that No. 8 vs. No. 9, viewed as the opening round coin-toss game, is dead-even at 64-64, so I suppose the selection committees deserve a pat on the back for that.
The No. 12 seed posted its first upset the same year the seed made its tournament debut when Penn defeated No. 5-seeded Washington State 62-55 in 1980. (Officially, the NCAA defines a tournament upset as “when the winner of the game was seeded five or more places lower than the team it defeated.”)
As captivating as the 5-12 matchup has been, however, no No. 12 seed has ever advanced to the Final Four. Missouri came the closest, losing to No. 2-seeded Oklahoma 81-75 in the 2002 West Regional final at San Jose, Calif.
This year could bring the tournament’s first opening-round sweep for No. 12 seeds. The No. 12s previously won three of four against the No. 5s in 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2014.
Filling out this year’s bracket, I was tempted to pick every No. 12 over a No. 5. I selected Princeton over Notre Dame, UNC-Wilmington over Virginia and Middle Tennessee State over Minnesota. I couldn’t quite pull the trigger with Nevada over Iowa State, however. The Big 12 Tournament champion Cyclones are one a roll, having won nine of their last 10.
The No. 5 vs. No. 12 showdowns will come fast and furious this year with all four games played on Thursday. Here is this year’s TV schedule: