10 Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History

UMBC did what no 16-seed had ever done before in 135 previous attempts

This year’s NCAA Tournament has been abundant with upsets. Through the first two rounds, there have already been 12 instances where a lower-seeded team has defeated the higher seed. And that’s not including the three wins by No. 9 seeds over No. 8 in the first round.

 

However, no upset was bigger than No. 16 UMBC shocking overall No. 1 Virginia on Friday night in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Retrievers not only sent shockwaves through the bracket, but they also carved out their own place in history in the process.

 

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, CA)

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 seven times (including this year) and the Elite Eight 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, DC)

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, NM)

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 the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.

 

1. UMBC 74, Virginia 54 – 2018 First Round, South Region

March 16, 2018 (Charlotte, NC)

Prior to Friday, 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 this 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)

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