Arkansas-Little Rock And Yale Prevail, What Is The Deal With 12-5 Upsets?

Makai Mason

It didn’t take long for the 2016 NCAA Tournament to get chaotic as Yale and Arkansas-Little Rock each pulled off the upset in their first round matchups on Thursday. Yale took down No. 5 seed Baylor 79-75 in Providence while Little Rock came from 13 down with under four minutes to play to stun No. 5 seed Purdue 85-83 out in Denver. Yale advances to play No. 4 seed Duke in the round of 32 while Little Rock will take on No. 4 seed Iowa State. 

Every year there is some type of upset on the first day of the NCAA Tournament, but maybe the most common upset is the 12 seed over a 5 seed. In 2016, we’ve already seen two 12-5 upsets. So, is there a reason why the 12-5 upset is the most common, or is it just a crazy coincidence that a five seed tends to fall early more than any other top-seven seed in the NCAA Tournament? Maybe it is because five seeds tend to be teams that were ranked anywhere between No. 14 and No. 22 in the season’s final rankings before the tournament. Because of that ranking, these teams are awarded matchups against 12 seeds that were champions of their non-major conference (Yale won the Ivy League Little Rock won the Sun Belt). Had these 12 seeds been in a major conference such as the ACC, Big 12 or Big 10, they could have very well been a top-25 team with the records they hold (Little Rock: 29-4, Yale: 22-6). Many will argue that if Little Rock or Yale were in a major conference, their win totals would be a fraction of 29 or 22. That may be true in some cases, but are Little Rock and Yale playing like 13-14 win teams right now? Absolutely not. In fact, they are playing better than some teams that play in major conferences and qualified for the tournament in Baylor (Big 12) and Purdue (Big 10), and for that the Bulldogs and Trojans are advancing while Baylor/Purdue are golfing. 

Obviously, fans of either Purdue or Baylor might argue for the NCAA to amend its procedures when it comes to seeding teams in the tournament, but there really isn’t a way that the NCAA can change this process. If you move a team like Yale or Little Rock down to a No. 15 or 16 seed, it is unfair to them for winning 29/22 games and their league title, and it isn’t fair to the one seeds who have dominated college basketball throughout the entire season in order to get an easier first-round matchup. 

In the end, if you are a No. 5 seed entering the NCAA Tournament, you must expect to get a tough matchup in the first round. As good as your team may be, your opponent likely snagged that No. 12 seed because they are the champions of a non-major conference by either putting up impressive records and numbers throughout the entire season or got hot at the right time. Teams seeded No. 9, 10 or 11 normally received an at-large bid rather than winning a non-major conference. Teams that win their conference are normally seeded anywhere from 12-16 so you can bet that the teams getting the 12 seed rather than the 16 seed are the best of the non-major conference champions. That is why 12-5 upsets are the most common. 


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