March Madness: Biggest Bracket Busters of the Last 20 Years

Matt RyanCorrespondent IIMarch 6, 2012

March Madness: Biggest Bracket Busters of the Last 20 Years

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    One of the biggest reasons for interest in the NCAA men's basketball tournament is the anticipation and expectation for upsets to happen. Every year college basketball fans fill out their brackets and try to predict the crapshoot of all of crapshoots in sports. Nearly all of them are left dumbfounded year after year, when a school few have ever heard of before upsets a well-known school in the early rounds of the tournament. Sometimes it isn't quite midnight for Cinderella after just one upset. It's not too uncommon  to find a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16.

    Everyone seems to have experienced the loss of a Final Four (or two or three) on the first weekend of the tournament and some really unlucky people have even lost their title pick on the first day of the Big Dance. Upsets have helped put little-known programs in the national spotlight and are usually a bigger story than the title contenders. Sometimes it's easier to recall the upsets and the bracket buster from a particular year than the school you picked to cut down the nets. Bracket Busters and Cinderella teams are what March Madness is all about.

Arizona Wildcats in the Early 90's

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    The 1988 Final Four put Arizona on the map as an elite program. In the early 1990's, Lute Olson's squads were championship contenders as well as victims of the upset bug.

    Arizona was eliminated in the first round in back-to-back years as a top three seed.

    The Wildcats were a three-seed in 1992 when they lost to a 14th-seeded East Tennessee State team, 87-80 in Atlanta. A year later as a No. 2 seed they were eliminated by Steve Nash and Santa Clara, 64-61 in Salt Lake City. Arizona's shocking loss a year earlier paved the way for another surprising team to make a trip to the title game.

Fab Five

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    After their big win over Arizona in the 1992 tournament, East Tennessee State lost to sixth-seeded Michigan, 102-90, in the second round of play. It's difficult now to think of the Fab Five as a bracket buster because of their legacy, but at the time that Wolverine team shocked a lot of people by squeaking out close wins over two-seeded Oklahoma State (75-72 in the Sweet 16) and No. 1 seed Ohio State (75-71 in the Elite Eight) on their way to the third weekend of the tournament in Minneapolis.

    They beat Cincinnati, 76-72, in the semifinals before getting routed by the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils in the championship game. 

    Michigan would take no one by surprise the following season.

1994 Boston College

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    Expectations were not high for Jim O'Brien's Boston College team going in to the Big Dance. The ninth-seeded Golden Eagles were unranked and had just lost to Georgetown, 81-58, in the Big East tournament.

    After beating Washington State, 67-64, in the first round, Boston College pulled off a huge upset by beating defending-national champion and one-seed North Carolina 75-72 in the second round. This was followed by a nine-point win over Indiana in the Sweet 16. The Golden Eagles journey would end just short of the Final Four after losing to Florida in the Elite Eight.

Almost the Biggest Upset of Ever

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    In 1996 Western Carolina almost became the first 16th seed to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Purdue escaped with a 73-71 win over the Catamounts before falling to eighth-seeded Georgia in their next game.

1997 Arizona Wildcats

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    The eventual national champion usually isn't the Cinderella of the tournament. Arizona was the exception in 1997 after becoming the first team to beat three No. 1 seeds in the same year. Any team that does that is bound to bust a bracket or two.

    The Wildcats beat top-seed Kansas in the Sweet 16 (85-82), upset the Tar Heels in the Final Four in what was Dean Smith's last game as North Carolina's coach and cut down the nets after beating the defending national champions in what was Rick Pitino's last game as Kentucky's coach.

    Arizona's run to the Final Four as a fourth seed was helped by other upsets that happened in their region. Providence made it to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed after beating Duke, 98-87, in the second round and 14th-seeded Chattanooga beat Georgia in the first round, 73-70.

    Another notable upset that year was Coppin State's win over No. 2-seed South Carolina in the first round.

1998 Rhode Island

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    A year after Providence's Elite Eight appearance, another team from the Ocean State made a deep run in the tournament. Rhode Island coached by former-UCLA coach Jim Harrick entered the 1998 tournament as an eight seed. The Rams beat Kansas, 80-75, in the second round making it back-to-back years that the Jayhawks failed to make the Final Four as a No. 1 seed.

    That bracket buster was followed by a win over 13-seed Bryce Drew and Valparaiso, a team that will always be remembered for their buzzer-beating win over No. 4-seed Ole Miss in the first round. Harrick's team came up short of a trip to the Final Four after a disappointing 79-77 loss against Stanford.

The Rise of Gonzaga

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    During the 1999 tournament, Gonzaga went from a being a little-known school in Spokane, Washington to a mid-major powerhouse after their trip to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed. The Bulldogs beat two-seeded Stanford, 82-74, in the second round and squeaked out a 73-72 win over Florida to make it to the halfway mark of the Big Dance. Their Cinderella-run came to an end after a hard-fought 67-62 loss to the eventual national champion-UConn Huskies. 


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    The first NCAA tournament of the 21st century featured plenty of shockers and drama. Five of the Elite Eight teams that year were lower than a fourth seed. Eighth-seeded Wisconsin and sixth-seeded Purdue made the Albuquerque Region an all Big Ten affair after their bracket-busting upsets in the second round. The Badgers beat one-seeded Arizona 66-59 and Purdue won against a Oklahoma squad that was a three-seed that year. 

    North Carolina made it to the Final Four as an eight-seed after beating a seventh-seeded Tulsa team led by future Kansas coach-Bill Self. In round two the Tar Heels upset first-seed Stanford, while Tulsa managed to get past a second-seeded Cincinnati team that lost National Player of The Year Kenyon Martin to a broken leg during the Conference USA tournament.

    Elsewhere Florida made it to the title game as a five-seed. Their runner-up appearance was highlighted by their 87-78 victory over Duke in the second round of play.

    Despite the prevalence of upsets, Michigan State restored order to the blue bloods of college basketball by cutting down the nets in Indianapolis after a 13-point win over the Gators.  


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    The biggest upset of this tournament was Hampton's win over Iowa State as a 15-seed. Another bracket buster from this year was Temple who made it to the fourth round of play as an 11-seed.


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    Not one, but two double-digit seeds made it to the Elie Eight in the 2002 NCAA tournament. Missouri made it that far as a 12-seed and routed four-seed Ohio State, 83-67, in the second round. They went on to beat an eighth-seeded UCLA team in the Sweet 16 that had beaten No. 1-seed Cincinnati, 105-101, in the second round. 

    Kent State beat a two-seed (Alabama) and a three-seed (Pittsburgh) before falling to an Indiana team in the Elite Eight that had knocked off defending national champion-Duke in the Sweet 16.

    The fifth-seeded Hoosiers lost to Juan Dixon and Maryland in National Championship Game, 64-52.

Yellowhammer Bracket Busters

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    Schools from a state normally known for its football dominance became the talk of the tournament after knocking out two No. 1 seeds in the second round.

    As an eight -, Alabama beat Josh Childress and top overall seed Stanford, 70-67. This began a run to the Elite Eight for the Crimson Tide that ended in an 87-71 loss to a UConn squad that went on to win it all.

    UAB pulled off an equally impressive shocker as a nine-seed when they beat Kentucky, 76-75. Their tournament run would end in the following round after a 100-74 smackdown at the hands of Kansas.

    The surprising success of schools from the Yellowhammer State overshadowed the Elight Eight appearance that Xavier made as a seven-seed after an 89-74 rout over No. 2-seed Mississippi State in round two.

Kevin Pittsnogle

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    A runner-up finish in the 2005 Big East tournament got West Virginia in to the Big Dance and helped make Kevin Pittsnogle a household name for hoops fans. The seventh-seeded Mountaineers barely got by Creighton in the first round (63-61) before their  thrilling 111-105 double-overtime win over Chris Paul and Wake Forest in the second round. West Virginia beat Bobby Knight's Texas Tech squad in their next game before getting knocked out by Rick Pitino and Louisville in the second round.

The Year of the Upset

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    The 2006 tournament redefined the concept of a bracket buster and upset. It may have been the most drama filled ever. A No. 1 seed failed to make it to the Final Four for the first time in the 64-team era.

    UConn entered the tournament as the top overall seed and almost didn't make it out of the first round. The Huskies trailed Albany by 12 at one point in their opening game. Jim Calhoun's squad won close games against Kentucky (87-83 in the second round) and Washington (98-92 in overtime) before they were eliminated by 11th-seeded George Mason, a team that some people think shouldn't even have made it to the Big Dance all together.

    George Mason beat Michigan State and North Carolina on their way to the Sweet 16 where they faced a seventh-seeded Wichita State team that knocked out two-seed Tennessee in the second round.

    Jim Larranaga's team wasn't the only double-digit seed who made it to the Sweet 16. Bradley made it as 13-seed after beating Kansas and Pittsburgh in the first weekend of play.

    LSU made it to the Final Four by knocking out J.J. Reddick and Duke in the Sweet 16 and beating Texas, 70-60, in an overtime Elite Eight game.

    This was all in addition to 14th-seed Northwestern State getting a 64-63 win against Iowa in the first round.

    Joakim Noah and Florida cut down the nets after a Final Four weekend that was anticlimactic in comparison to the drama of the first two weekends. The final three games of the tournament were decided by more than 14 points.


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    The 2006 NCAA tournament might have had more drama than the next three tournaments combined.

    Seventh-seeded UNLV was the lowest seed in the Sweet 16 of the 2007 NCAA tournament. Seven of the top eight seeds made it to the Elite Eight that year. The only exception was a second-seeded Wisconsin that lost to that UNLV team in the second round.

    Stephen Curry and 10th-seeded Davidson were the Cinderella-team of the 2008 NCAA tournament. They nearly beat Kansas in the Elite Eight which would have prevented the first all-chalk Final Four.

    Fourteen of the top 16 seeds made it to the Sweet 16 in the 2009 NCAA tournament and only one game in the last four rounds was decided by less than five points.

The Return of the Upset

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    After several years with few surprises, March Madness once again became acquainted with the upset. Northern Iowa's point guard Ali Farokhmanesh became one of the biggest stories of the tournament when his three-pointer sealed the deal in their upset against a deep Kansas team that was once again a No. 1 seed. Northern Iowa would fall to Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

    Two-seed Villanova needed overtime in the first round against Robert Morris before they were eliminated by 10th-seed Saint Mary's and Omar Samhan in the second round.

    The biggest Cinderella of this tournament was Butler who made it to the national championship game and nearly cut down the nets against Duke after Gordon Hayward almost made the greatest play that never was

    Although the West Virginia Mountaineers won the Big East tournament that year and made it to the Final Four as a two-seed, their 73-66 win over a Kentucky team that had five players go in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft seems like a much bigger upset than it was.

V-C-Who?, Another Butler Surprise and More Kansas Heartache

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    The 2011 NCAA tournament marked the beginning of the 68-team era. VCU forever legitimized the addition of those extra play in games by going all the way from the First Four to the Final Four. Shaka Smart's team routed three-seeded Purdue in the second round 94-76, squeaked by Florida State 71-70 in an overtime Sweet 16 clash and then beat Kansas by 10 points in the Elite Eight.

    The Rams eventually met their match in the semifinals against the previous year's Cinderella . The Final Four that year was a battle of the blue bloods of college basketball (UConn and Kentucky) and the underdogs (Butler and VCU).

    After their miraculous run to the title game the previous year, Butler as an eight-seed, made it back to the once again. The Bulldogs upset one-seeded Pittsburgh (71-70 in the second round) and Florida (74-71 in overtime in the Elite Eight) on their way to Houston.

    Butler led UConn 22-19 at halftime in the title game, but lost by 12 points (53-41) after making only six of their 37 shots in the second half.

    Kemba Walker and the Huskies cut down the nets after going on an 11-game winning streak that included winning five games in five days in the Big East tournament.

    The Big East sent a record of 11 teams to the Big Dance that year, but only two of them made (Marquette and UConn) it to the second weekend of play. That in itself might have been the biggest upset of the entire tournament.