NCAA tournament bracketology: How vulnerable are the No. 5 seeds?

No. 5 seeds lose at a historic rate in the NCAA tournament. Last year, three of them fell in the first round. Since the tournament expanded in 1985, there have been 50 wins by No. 12 seeds against No. 5 seeds which equates to a 35% upset rate.  Which leads us to this year’s field. How vulnerable are each projected No. 5 seed? 

Michigan State, the preseason No. 1, hasn’t been the national title contender coach Tom Izzo anticipated. The up-and-down Spartans (19-9) have been struggling lately with a 3-4 February record in Big Ten play. 

Another Big Ten team, Iowa finished February 4-3.  And the Hawkeyes (19-9) have shown that if they’re not shooting the ball well they’re extremely beatable. They lost to Purdue, a non-tourney team, by 36 points earlier this month.

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) and Michigan State forward Malik Hall fight for position during the second half of their game at the Breslin Center.

Butler is another No. 5 seed that hasn’t looked sharp. The Bulldogs (19-9) have lost three in a row and went 2-5 in February. For a team that started 15-1 and was a Big East front-runner, Butler finds itself trying to rekindle its November and December success.  

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West Virginia, currently posting the weakest résumé of the projected No. 5 seeds, has lost five of six and is spiraling in the wrong direction heading into March. The Mountaineers (19-9) have a NET score of 16 and posts five Quadrant 1 victories on its portfolio but is far from the team it was in non-conference play when they went 10-1. 

Should this quartet hold their positions on Selection Sunday, don’t be surprised if one or more fall in the first round.

 No. 1 seeds: Baylor, Kansas, Gonzaga, San Diego State.

► Last four in: Oklahoma, Rutgers, Utah State, Cincinnati.

 First Four out: Richmond, UCLA, Stanford, Arkansas.



NCAA tourney explainer:

  • Quadrant 1 wins: Home games vs. 1-30 NET teams; Neutral-site games vs. 1-50 NET; Away games vs. 1-75 NET
  • Quadrant 2 wins: Home games vs. 31-75 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 51-100 NET; Away games vs. 76-135 NET
  • Quadrant 3 wins, losses: Home games vs. 76-160 NET; Neutral-site games vs. 101-200 NET; Away games vs. 136-240 NET
  • Quadrant 4 wins, losses: Home games vs. 161-plus NET; Neutral-site games vs. 201-plus NET; Away games vs. 241-plus NET

Others considered for at-large bid (in order):  Georgetown, Memphis, Texas, UNC-Greensboro, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Alabama, Syracuse, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Purdue.

On life support (in no particular order): Virginia Tech, Tulsa, Utah, St. Johns, Furman, Oregon State, Minnesota, Clemson.

Multi-bid conferences: Big Ten (10), Big East (7), ACC (5), Big 12 (5), Pac-12 (5), SEC (4), AAC (3), West Coast (3), Atlantic 10 (2), Mountain West (2). 

Leaders or highest RPI from projected one-bid conferences — (22 total): America East – Vermont, Atlantic Sun – Liberty, Big Sky – Montana, Big South – Radford, Big West – UC Irvine, Colonial – Hofstra, Conference USA – North Texas, Horizon – Wright State, Ivy – Yale, MAAC – St. Peters, MAC – Bowling Green, MEAC – North Carolina A&T, Missouri Valley – Northern Iowa, Northeast – Saint Francis (Pa.), Ohio Valley – Belmont, Patriot – Colgate, Southern – East Tennessee State, Southland – Stephen F. Austin, SWAC – Prairie View A&M, Summit – South Dakota State, Sun Belt – Little Rock, WAC – New Mexico State.

  • Transition schools ineligible to participate: Cal Baptist, North Alabama, Merrimack.
  • Banned from participating: Georgia Tech, Detroit.


Note:  Mostly all statistical data is used from The NCAA’s NET rankings are also a reference point. 

About our bracketologist: Shelby Mast has been projecting the field since 2005 on his website, Bracket W.A.G. He joined USA TODAY in 2014. In his seventh season as our national bracketologist, Mast has finished as one of the top three bracketologists in the past six March Madnesses. He’s also predicted for The Indianapolis Star, and is an inaugural member of the Super 10 Selection Committee. Follow him on Twitter @BracketWag.

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.

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