The Biggest March Madness Busts of All Time

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2012

The Biggest March Madness Busts of All Time

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    There have been some major busts in the history of the NCAA tournament, although Syracuse was able to survive being instantly shot up to the top of this list.

    March Madness is full of high seeds that have lost in the first round of the tournament to far superior teams. Other teams are expected to do great things, but fall short of their goal of a championship. 

    Which squad holds the honor of the biggest bust of all time?

40. Connecticut, 2008

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    With a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, many projected the University of Connecticut to be a sleeper en route to the Final Four. 

    Unfortunately for the Huskies, starting point guard A.J. Price was injured during the game, and it left the door open for San Diego to pull the upset on a last-second shot in overtime.

    This Huskies team was talented enough to go to the Final Four a year later, but this was still a disappointing result for Jim Calhoun's squad.

39. Louisville, 2011

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    Rick Pitino has the honor of being the only coach to (officially) take three different teams to the Final Four.

    However, in the last two seasons, his teams have made early exits.

    Last season, Pitino's team was the fourth seed and was set to face little-known Morehead State. The Cardinals just could not stop Kenneth Faried up front, and it led to a 62-61 upset.

    I guess it at least allowed Pitino more time for "extracurricular activities."

38. Villanova, 1995

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    Not many NCAA tournament games have lasted three overtimes, but in 1995, Villanova and Old Dominion left everything on the floor. 

    The game ended with a score of 89-81 in favor of Old Dominion, which was a surprising result considering the Monarchs came in as a 14th seed.

    In longer games, the better team usually has an advantage due to depth, but this was not the case, as Villanova could not pull out a win.

37. North Carolina, 1979

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    The 1979 tournament is known for an amazing final between Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores. 

    However, the first round was also noteworthy due to Penn's amazing upset over the University of North Carolina. 

    Penn was only a No. 9 seed, but the difference between the teams was enormous. 

36. Connecticut, 2005

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    Coming off a National Championship and armed with a bunch of young talented players, Connecticut came into the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed.

    Unfortunately, Julius Hodge never seemed to leave North Carolina State, and he came back to haunt the Huskies one more time in the second round.

    Jim Calhoun was able to lead his team to the Elite Eight next season, but disappointment followed the team for a few years.

35. Mississippi, 1998

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    This was not the biggest upset in the history of the tournament, and Ole Miss was not projected to go very far, either.

    Still, there was plenty of disappointment on the sidelines when Bryce Drew of Valparaiso made the game-winning shot as time expired in what has become one of the most iconic plays in tournament history.

    In those final 2.5 seconds, Mississippi was a bust.

34. Illinois, 1987

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    No. 3 seeds are starting to fall more often, but in 1987, only two teams had ever lost to a 14th seed in the first round.

    Austin Peay continued the tradition by upsetting Illinois with a score of 68-67.

33. Syracuse, 2005

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    Two years removed from winning a National Championship, Syracuse went on a great run to win the 2005 Big East tournament.

    The luck ran out there, though, as Vermont was able to upset the talented team in the first round behind Taylor Coppenrath and coach Tom Brennan. 

    Syracuse has not had much luck in the NCAA tournament since.

32. Washington, 2005

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    With future NBA talents such as Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy, Washington expected a special season.

    The team was impressive enough during the year to earn a No. 1 seed, but fell to Louisville in the Sweet 16. While their hopes were not as high as other top seeds, the Huskies should have gone farther with such a talented squad.

31. UCLA, 1996

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    UCLA was only a fourth seed in 1996, but as defending national champions, the Bruins were expected to win a few games in March.

    This led to one of the biggest upsets of all time, as Princeton controlled the pace and eventually won 43-41. 

    The talent difference on the court was not as great as the difference in the programs, which was vast. It showed that anyone had a chance in the NCAA tournament.

30. Kentucky, 1986

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    Kentucky made it to the Elite Eight in 1986, but their loss once there was inexcusable.

    After defeating LSU three times during the season, the heavy favorites lost to the 11th-seeded Tigers with a berth to the Final Four on the line.

    Kentucky was considered a championship favorite, but this loss ended their season early.

29. LSU, 1985

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    A year before LSU was able to surprise everyone with a Final Four berth, it shocked the world by becoming the first fourth seed ever to lose to a 13th seed.

    The amazing thing is that the game was not even close, with Navy completely dominating the Tigers in a 78-55 rout. 

28. North Carolina, 1999

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    North Carolina does not necessarily expect to win a National Championship every season, but it should at least expect to get out of the first round. When its proud program faces a school like Weber State, there score should not even be close.

    In 1999, however, No. 14 Weber State was able to defeat the Tar Heels in what was one of the lowest points for the school in the last few decades.

27. Kansas, 2011

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    Bill Self did not have his best team in 2011, but it seemed like all the breaks were falling for an easy run to the Final Four. Alongside the top-seeded Jayhawks in the Sweet 16 were No. 12 Richmond, No. 10 Florida State and No. 11 VCU. 

    It would be tough to project Kansas losing at that point, but that is exactly what happened when VCU shot lights-out in to reach its first Final Four.

    Kansas is no stranger to disappointment, but this one had to hurt.

26. Iowa, 2006

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    Iowa might not have the history of some other teams on this list, but as a No. 3 seed in 2006, the team expected bigger things.

    Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes could not even get out of the first round, as Northwestern State was able to pull the huge upset on a last-second three-point shot.

    It was everything that is great about March Madness—unless you were an Iowa fan.

25. Duke, 2005

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    Duke fans were expecting multiple National Championships under J.J. Redick, but instead they got zero.

    One of the biggest busts was in 2005, when the top-seeded Blue Devils could not get past Michigan State. Both Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski have excellent resumes, but it seems that the Spartans are more often able to exceed March expectations.

24. Kansas, 2005

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    Kansas had won numerous National Championships while Bucknell had never won a tournament game.

    This is what makes March Madness so great; the Bison were able to forget about history and defeated the third-seeded Jayhawks in a one-point win. 

23. Georgetown, 2008

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    John Thompson III was on his way to rebuilding one of the top programs in the nation, and Georgetown had earned a No. 2 seed in the 2008 tournament.

    However, the team ran into red-hot Stephen Curry, as he took Davidson on an impressive run into the Elite Eight.

    While it was fun to watch Curry, Georgetown fans should have expected more.

22. Vanderbilt, 2008 (2010 and 2011)

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    Vanderbilt makes this list this high due to the constant string of opening-round upsets.

    In 2008, the Commodores fell to Siena as a No. 13 seed. In 2010, it was No. 13 Murray State. In 2011, the team lost to 12th-seeded Richmond. 

    Vanderbilt looks like a stronger team this year, but the recent losses have to be on the team's mind.

21. Duke, 1993

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    It was hard for Duke to lose Christian Laettner following back-to-back National Championships, but fans still expected great things from Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley.

    These players were not able to come through, though, and it led to an early second-round loss to California.

20. Stanford, 2000

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    Stanford had to be disappointed when the bracket came out. 

    Despite being the No. 1 seed, the Cardinal were forced to face a young but talented North Carolina team in the second round.

    Freshman Joseph Forte led the Tar Heels past Stanford and into the Final Four, though this was not the only early exit for the Cardinal.

19. Cincinnati, 2002

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    Bob Huggins had a history of great seasons and early exits in the NCAA tournament, but 2002 might have been the worst of the bunch. 

    His top-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats were upset by UCLA in the second round in an epic double-overtime game, causing an early spring for many fans in Ohio.

18. Indiana, 1986

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    Although Bobby Knight and Indiana won the National Championship in 1987, that was sandwiched between two first-round exits in 1986 and 1988.

    In 1986, Indiana became one of two No. 3 seeds to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It seems Cleveland State did not fear the Hoosiers.

17. Notre Dame, 1986

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    It is hard to separate two teams who each lost as No. 3 seeds in the same tournament, so Notre Dame finds itself right here.

    Led by head coach-turned-analyst Digger Phelps, the Fighting Irish were upset in the first round by Arkansas at Little Rock. 

    I wonder what color highlighter Phelps was using during that game.

16. Duke, 2002

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    A year after winning the National Championship, Duke was the favorite to repeat as the champion.

    Guard Jay Williams returned as one of the best players in country and was rewarded with the National Player of the Year award.

    This was not enough for the Blue Devils, though, as they were upset in the third round by Indiana, who went on to lose in the finals to Maryland that season.

15. Georgetown, 2010

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    After a down year in 2009, most thought Georgetown had finally returned to form by the 2010 season. And as a No. 3 seed, many expected the Hoyas to surprise people and make a run deep into the tournament.

    Well, they certainly surprised people—but that was due to a loss to Ohio in the first round.

14. Arizona, 2000

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    Arizona was loaded with talent in 2000. The roster included future NBA stars Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton, but the Wildcats were unable to even reach the Sweet 16.

    No. 8 seed Wisconsin was able to pull the upset, and then continued that momentum toward a berth in the Final Four.

13. Houston, 1983

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    Known as one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all time, the 1983 North Carolina State basketball team went on a magical run to the National Championship.

    However, this is a major choke from Houston's perspective.

    Known as "Phi Slama Jama," the team was a huge favorite to win, featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Coming up short in the finals must be considered a choke.

12. Stanford, 2004

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    2004 was a wild year for the NCAA tournament, as it saw two top seeds go down before the Sweet 16.

    Kentucky was more highly touted, but Stanford also came up short with the season on the line. In the second round, Alabama was able to look past the resume and upset the Cardinal.

11. Duke, 2006

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    With seniors J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams, many believed this was one of the best Duke teams in years. The previous few postseasons were a disappointment for the Blue Devils, but there were few teams in the nation who would be able to top this vaunted team.

    That was until Duke was matched up against the athletic LSU Tigers, who were able to shut down Redick and pull off the upset, en route to a Final Four.

10. Connecticut, 2006

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    For a team of future first-round NBA picks Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong, Rudy Gay and Josh Boone, plus second-round pick Denham Brown, the Elite Eight is not good enough.

    Connecticut was by far the most talented team in the nation during the 2006 season, but the team just could not get it together. The Huskies eventually fell to George Mason during the school's Cinderella run to the Final Four. 

9. Iowa State, 2001

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    Iowa State had a surprisingly good season in 2001 behind guard Jamaal Tinsley, who brought the team as high as the No. 6 ranking in the country.

    Although the Cyclones earned a No. 2 seed, they became only the fourth-ever casualty to a No. 15-seeded team. This time it was Hampton, with a hard-fought 58-57 victory.

8. Kentucky, 2004

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    In 2004, the NCAA decided that it was going to start seeding the No. 1 seeds in order to make a better Final Four.

    It might have been an example of getting ahead of themselves, as top overall seed Kentucky could not make it out of the first weekend. 

    Ninth-seeded UAB took out the Wildcats in the second round, signifying the beginning of the end of the Tubby Smith era in Lexington.

7. South Carolina, 1997

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    South Carolina was one of four No. 2 seeds to lose in the first round, but it is the only one of the group to lose by double-digits.

    Although many believed the Gamecocks had a solid chance of reaching the Final Four, Coppin State was able to pull off the 78-65 upset. 

    Not bad for 30-point underdogs.

6. Kansas, 2010

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    After running through the Big 12 regular season and conference tournament, Kansas was easily selected by the committee to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

    However, many brackets were ripped up before the first weekend ended, because Ali Farokhmanesh and Northern Iowa sent the Jayhawks home early. 

    Even with All-Americans Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich, the team could not get to the Sweet 16. 

5. Arizona, 1993

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    Arizona had consistently been one of the highest-ranked teams during the late 1980s and 1990s, so it had to feel comfortable as a No. 2 seed in 1993.

    Its opponent, however, was unknown Santa Clara, which featured unknown guard Steve Nash. 

    Future NBA MVP Nash led his team to only the second-ever victory by a 15th-seed in NCAA tournament history.

4. North Carolina, 1994

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    North Carolina was not only the No. 1 team in the country going into this game but it had also been to the Sweet 16 an impressive 13 straight times. 

    With freshman Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse, the Tar Heels could not continue the tradition going. They fell to Boston College in the second round. 

3. North Carolina State, 1956

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    Technically, a No. 1 seed has never lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but this is only because there were no seeds in 1956.

    North Carolina State was the second-ranked team in the country and the overwhelming favorite against Canisius College.

    The Wolfpack could not take care of business, and it led to a four-overtime upset by Canisius.

2. Syracuse, 1991

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    Until this point, it was inconceivable that any of the top seeds could go down in the first round.

    As the Big East regular-season champions, many expected Syracuse to go on a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

    However, Richmond had another idea, and became the first 15th-seed ever to upset a No. 2 seed.

1. Georgetown, 1985

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    Although many other teams on the list lost in the first and second rounds, the fact that Georgetown did not win a championship in 1985 puts them at the top of the list.

    Led by Patrick Ewing, most expected this team to cap off a dominant season with its second consecutive National Championship.

    Unfortunately, the Hoyas lost in the finals to eighth-seeded Villanova, a team Georgetown defeated twice during the regular season.

    A juggernaut like this should have won multiple championships—not just one.