In 2018, UMBC did what no 16-seed had ever done before in 135 previous attempts
The 2021 NCAA Tournament will be somewhat remembered for a rash of upsets in the early rounds. Nine teams seeded 10th or lower made it to the second round. Oral Roberts became just the second 15-seed (UMBC, 2018) to make the Sweet 16 (and came really close to advancing to the Elite Eight) and was one of four double-digit seeds (No. 12 Oregon State, No. 11 Syracuse, No. 11 UCLA) to advance to the second weekend. And the Beavers and Bruins weren't done there either as the former won one more game while the latter not only made it to the Final Four but took previously undefeated Gonzaga to overtime before finally falling on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
But were any of this year's upsets that occurred the most memorable in the history of March Madness? No. While they produced shocks, none of them caused jaws to drop like the below games, the 10 biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
10. Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 – 1991 First Round, East Region
March 14, 1991 (College Park, Md.)
This was the first time a No. 15 upset a No. 2, as the Spiders jumped out to a 44-36 halftime lead over the Orangemen and hung on to win. Richmond subsequently lost to Temple in the second round, but the upset proved that anything was possible during March Madness.
9. Loyola Marymount 149, Michigan 115 – 1990 Second Round, West Region
March 18, 1990 (Long Beach, Calif.)
Spurred by the tragic death of teammate Hank Gathers and the fastest offense in college basketball history, No. 11 Loyola Marymount overwhelmed defending national champion and No. 3 Michigan in the second round. The Lions continued their emotional run all the way to the Elite Eight where they were stopped by eventual national champion UNLV. But the upset of the Wolverines is the game that fans remember most.
8. Middle Tennessee 90, Michigan State 81 – 2016 First Round, Midwest Region
March 18, 2015 (St. Louis)
Upsets seem to occur more frequently in recent years (see this year's tournament) but this shocker stands out because Michigan State had won the Big Ten Tournament less than a week before this game and was the heavy favorite in many brackets. Approximately 22 percent of brackets submitted to the NCAA Capital One March Madness Challenge Game picked the Spartans to win the national title in 2016 and the Blue Raiders busted all of them. When you factor in that many more probably had Michigan State going deep into the tourney, it just emphasizes the significance of this upset. Middle Tennessee's Cinderella run ended in the second round against eventual Final Four-bound Syracuse, but that doesn't minimize what the Blue Raiders had already accomplished.
7. Gonzaga 82, Stanford 74 – 1999 Second Round, West Region
March 13, 1999 (Seattle)
When No. 10 Gonzaga met No. 2 Stanford in the second round of the 1999 Tournament, few in the college basketball world thought of the Bulldogs as a national power. The upset over Stanford represented their coming out party. Since that win, Gonzaga has made the Big Dance every year, advanced to the Sweet 16 11 times (including this year), the Elite Eight five times, and the Final Four twice.
6. Florida Gulf Coast 78, Georgetown 68 – 2013 First Round, South Region
March 23, 2013 (Philadelphia)
This is the highest of all the 15 vs. 2 upsets because it has the largest margin of victory, as the Eagles overran the Hoyas' very good defense en route to becoming the only No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16. The win is even more remarkable because the Eagles had only been in Division I basketball for two seasons and this game marked their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
5. Duke 79, UNLV 77 – 1991 Final Four
March 30, 1991 (Indianapolis)
It is very rare that a No. 2 seed's defeat of a No. 1 is considered a major upset, but UNLV was 34-0 and had not lost a game since February 1990. The Runnin' Rebels also had drubbed Duke 103-73 the previous year in the most lopsided national championship game in NCAA Tournament history. The Blue Devils got revenge with this upset of UNLV in the Final Four and the 1990-91 Runnin' Rebels are now considered to be one of the greatest teams to never win a title.
4. George Mason 86, Connecticut 84 – 2006 Regional Final, Washington, D.C., Region
March 27, 2006 (Washington, D.C.)
No. 11 George Mason reeled off wins against No. 6 Michigan State, No. 3 North Carolina, and No. 7 Wichita State to earn an Elite Eight showdown with No. 1 Connecticut. The Colonials then stunned the Huskies and become the first small conference school to make the Final Four since 1979.
3. NC State, 54 Houston 52 – 1983 National Championship Game
April 4, 1983 (Albuquerque, N.M.)
The No. 6 Wolfpack had to win the ACC Tournament just to get in the Big Dance. Upon arriving, they "survived and advanced" with gutsy win after gutsy win, but saved their best for last. In the championship game, NC State slowed down No. 1 Houston's "Phi Slamma Jamma" attack and then gave it a dose of its own medicine with an alley-oop dunk to win the game. No championship run has produced more drama.
2. Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 – 1985 National Championship Game
April 1, 1985 (Lexington, Ky.)
After barely squeaking into the NCAA Tournament, No. 8 Villanova became the greatest Cinderella story in basketball history. The Wildcats made it to the title game, where they faced defending national champion and No. 1 Georgetown. Villanova had lost to the Hoyas twice in the regular season but on this night, the Wildcats hit an amazing 78.6 percent from the field in the last college basketball game played without a shot clock. It was enough to score what for more than 30 years was the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.
1. UMBC 74, Virginia 54 – 2018 First Round, South Region
March 16, 2018 (Charlotte, N.C.)
Prior to 2018, no 16-seed had ever beaten a No. 1 seed in 135 tries. This game deserves the top spot for that reason alone, but if you need more arguments, here are a few:
1. Earlier in the 2017-18 season, UMBC lost 83-39... to Albany.
2. Virginia had lost only two games by a total of eight points.
3. UMBC was a 20.5-point underdog, but instead won by 20 points.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)