The NCAA tournament is one of the most bittersweet opportunities in sports.
For the small schools, it’s their one chance to be recognized on a national stage, their chance to create a memory that will last a lifetime.
The same can be said for the power teams, but they have much more pressure and higher expectations on their shoulders.
If a No. 1 seed goes 3-1 in the tournament, it’s considered a disappointment.
But all it takes is one win for (insert mid-major here) to be the talk of the town…and the country.
Over the years, David has beaten Goliath on more than one occasion. Here are the 40 best examples, as we countdown the greatest upsets in the history of the NCAA tournament.
Remember Stuart Hare’s dunk over three Trojans in OT?
It was one of the most athletic plays ever, which is pretty ironic considering that most believed the athleticism of USC was going to dominate UNCW.
In a wild game that seemed like it was never going to end, Petey Sessoms and the Monarchs wore down Kerry Kittles and Co. to knock the Wildcats—and their incredibly ugly uniforms—out early.
The coaching career of Jud Heathcote came to a rather abrupt ending when Michigan State was shocked by the Wildcats. I hear the next coach of the Spartan’s ended up having a pretty solid career….
The last game of Gary Payton’s illustrious career ended abruptly when the Cardinals hit a free throw with zero seconds left on the clock to seal the shocking upset.
"The Glove" was not happy.
Nothing like starting a game with a 20-2 lead to get your confidence going.
The Mocs ended up holding on for dear life, which was a good thing considering they ended up making it to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Rams had already pulled off three shocking upsets in a row over Georgetown, Purdue and Florida, but nobody believed they could beat the Morris twins and reach the Final Four.
But, they did just that behind 26 points from Jamie Skeen and eight turnovers by Markieff Morris.
That set up the lowest combination of seeds in a Final Four ever when they met Butler in Houston.
The NBA talent on Duke was insane, and it was the main reason they found themselves in the title game as heavy favorites. We’re talking about guys like Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, Corey Maggette and William Avery—four players that were selected in the Top 14 of the ’99 draft.
But it was Khalid El-Amin and Richard Hamilton that destroyed Duke on the perimeter and pulled off the stunning championship-game upset.
It was the first time the Huskies had ever made the Final Four, and the first time they ever cut down the nets.
The Bears made quite a strong impression in their first-ever appearance in the tournament.
Side note: For some reason, the Summit League website only has black and white photos from 1987. Wow.
The star of this game for the Muskies was Byron Larkin, who is now the color commentator for the team’s radio broadcasts.
He’s also the brother of Barry, one of the newest additions to the baseball Hall of Fame. Quite an athletic family.
In a brick-fest where both teams shot under 40 percent, Kelyn Block displayed the sort of toughness rarely ever seen on a basketball court.
In a horrific collision with Hollis Price, Block had three teeth knocked out and had a root canal right after the game.
But, he didn’t let that stop him.
Block scored five of his 17 points in overtime in one of the gutsiest performances in history.
The OVC was put on the map with the win, and it was the first of many upsets that the Ohio Valley Conference has produced over the years. What better way to get on the map than beating a blue-blood team like Kentucky?
This was before the 64-team tournament, so it was a first-round matchup.
This game was a blowout, but the Tigers shouldn’t feel too bad. David “The Admiral” Robinson was dominant, and it was his first introduction to the national stage.
How crazy would it be for a player with Robinson's skill to choose a military school today?
The Buccaneers had suffered three straight first-round defeats heading into this matchup, but the fourth time was the charm.
This was the beginning of multiple first-round exits by Lute Olsen’s crew in the coming years.
Remember the name Ali Farokhmanesh?
It was his three in the closing seconds that sealed the fate for a Jayhawks team that entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament.
It also won Farokhmanesh and his team the ESPY award for "best upset."
Travis Best and the Yellow Jackets led by as many as 15 in the first half before the Jaguars began to take complete control of the game.
The highest-scoring team in the nation that year ran, ran and ran some more, before they caught up midway through the second half and never looked back from there. Jervaughn Scales was the main man, scoring 27 points and grabbing 18 rebounds.
This was the classic formula for an underdog to blow it. Weber State jumped out to a huge lead, only to lose it all in the second half, as the more talented team stormed back. All of their momentum had vanished.
But, Harold “The Show” Arceneaux wouldn’t let his team give up. He scored 36 big points and showed incredible poise down the stretch, hitting his free throws and taking care of the ball to ensure the upset was official.
Arceneaux is the perfect example of a star on the small stage coming up big when the light's were shining the brightest.
The Tigers had the “Round Mound of Rebound” in Charles Barkley and Chuck Person—two players who had plenty of success at the NBA level.
The Spiders didn’t care.
They went up by 17 at the half before holding on for dear life in the end. This came after the Spiders had to win a play-in game just to reach the Big Dance.
This was one of the first years where major upsets starting occurring on a semi-regular basis.
Cleveland State incorporated a full-court press from start to finish, and it ended up dooming a Hoosiers team that was led by the top coach in the country in Bob Knight.
Needless to say, his face was juuuust a bit red after this one.
On the same day as Cleveland State’s big win, the Trojans also shocked the world behind future NBA player Pete Myers' 29 points.
What a wild day.
Digger Phelps was not a happy camper.
The Red Hawks were led by 24 points from Wally Szczerbiak, one game after scoring a ridiculous 43 points in a win over Washington.
He was named a first team All-American for a reason. He ended up having a rather productive NBA career as well.
But this is when we all first learned about "Wally World."
After needing a 30-foot buzzer-beater just to reach the Big Dance, the Governors’ Tony Raye calmly drilled the free throws to tie and win the game with only two seconds remaining.
Northern Iowa blew a 12-point lead with five minutes remaining, as all of the momentum looked to be on the previously top-ranked Tigers' side.
In a tie game with the clock running out, Maurice Newby drilled a 25-footer as the buzzer sounded for one of the most dramatic upsets in history.
This ended up being the first of many runs for the Zags in the NCAA tournament.
Despite playing against Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Teddy Dupay, the Zags shot 55 percent from the floor and pulled off the shocker to reach the Elite Eight.
Anybody remember Richie Frahm?
It was a wild year for Siena.
The campus had a measles outbreak in the middle of the season that forced a quarantine. The ECAC title game on ESPN showed a gym that had exactly zero fans in attendance...only players, coaches and media members.
It was Stanford’s first NCAA appearance since 1942 and Siena’s first ever.
Mark Brown’s career-high 32 points, including the game-winning free throws with three second to go, iced the game.
And Siena fans were allowed to attend, in case you were wondering.
Stephen Curry, who is now a star for the Golden State Warriors, scored 25 points in the second half to stun the Hoyas and make the Elite Eight, where Davidson ultimately fell to the eventual champion Kansas Jayhawks.
Curry's draft stock rose about 20 spots with his heroics in March of 2008.
Before the tournament featured 64 teams, only 25 were invited to the dance, with each conference sending one team.
It took four overtimes, but little ol’ Canisius shocked the best team in the ACC. This is almost the equivalent of a No. 1 seed losing in the first round today.
Anything can happen when you slow down the pace of a game to ensure every possession counts, and the Tigers patented backdoor-cut offense frustrated the defending champs to no end.
Leave it to Pete Carril to win one of the lowest-scoring games ever in what turned out to be his last season as head coach.
We’ve seen this upset before, but you have to understand how dominant the Tar Heels had been.
They were the No. 1 overall seed and had made an insane 13 consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances. The run was unprecedented.
So, for UNC to fall to a Boston College team that was in and out of the Top 25 all year was a major deal.
BC landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated that week, as they collected the biggest win of the 1994 tourney.
The Jayhawks entered the game with the best RPI in the nation and looked primed to show the experts they were deserving of a higher seed.
There was a controversial intentional-foul call in the last minute that gave the Jayhawks a one-point lead and swung the momentum in the direction of the basketball powerhouse.
But, the Bison refused to lose and ended up hitting the game-winning basket that not only ruined brackets all across the country, but earned the team an ESPY for their efforts as well.
One of the most memorable shots of all time belongs to Bryce Drew. The most memorable play call belongs to his dad, Homer.
The full-court pass and lighting-fast dish to the cutter worked like clockwork.
What made it so crushing for ‘Ole Miss is that they had never won a tournament game before and could smell it. If only Ansu Sesay had made one of the two free throws before Drew’s shot, then this game wouldn’t have made this list.
Not only was it one of the greatest upsets in history, it was won by a comfortable margin of 13 points. The hero was Danny Singletary, who poured in 22 points to cement his status in Eagles—and NCAA—history.
The Wildcats were the undisputed favorites to win the title, and the Tigers were unranked, having just lost multiple players to the chicken pox. Yes, the chicken pox.
After already shocking No. 2 Georgia Tech in the Sweet Sixteen, they incorporated “The Freak” defense to shock the royalty of college basketball.
LSU had already lost to UK three times that season, but the fourth time was the charm. They became the lowest seed to ever make the Final Four at the time.
This was America’s introduction to a young freshman with a killer dribble drive and a floppy mop of hair.
I’m talking about Steve Nash.
The future NBA MVP drilled six straight freebies down the stretch to beat the Vegas spread by a whopping 19.5 points, a tournament record.
While a glance at the seedings doesn’t make this look like a shocker…you have to remember how dominant the Runnin’ Rebels were in the early '90s.
They were undefeated and sported an almost unheard of 45-game winning streak, as they looked poised to collect their second straight title over Duke. In 1990, they beat the Blue Devils by a whopping 30 points, but Duke got its revenge behind the heroics of Grant Hill, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley.
It was really the last time the Runnin’ Rebels were championship contenders.
The Spiders were the first-ever No. 15 seed to win in the first round, and they did so leading throughout the game.
Anything can happen when you shoot 50 percent from the field.
These were the glory days of the Larry Eustachy era for the Cyclones, as Jamaal Tinsley had a fantastic regular season and won the Big 12 Player of the Year award.
The expectations where sky-high, and everything came to a crashing halt in a hurry. Iowa State blew a nine-point lead in the second half, and a Travis Williams jumper with 6.9 seconds remaining gave Hampton the lead.
Tinsley took the ball coast to coast and got a good look in the lane that fell short.
Missouri was not only a No. 2 seed, but as the third-ranked team in the country heading into the tournament, most expected a deep run by the Tigers.
Even the President had the team going to the Final Four.
None of that mattered to Norfolk State, which shot an incredible 54.2 percent from the floor and 10-of-19 from three.
The Spartans became the fourth 15-seed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament and look to become the first ever to reach the Sweet 16.
The Patriots had never won a tournament game until their magical Final Four run in 2006. They knocked off the cream of the historical crop by beating Michigan State, then defending champion North Carolina, and, finally, the Huskies to land in the Final Four.
They erased a four-point deficit in the last 10 seconds and shocked a team that had Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone.
This game was not only a huge upset, but it was a cultural statement. Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky team was the overwhelming favorite and ended up losing to the first all-African-American starting lineup in championship-game history.
Remember, this was for the title, not just an early round upset. Give credit to Texas Western for putting forth one of the most valiant runs in the history of the tournament.
This was truly historic.
With Patrick Ewing running the show, the Hoyas were double-digit favorites entering the ’85 NCAA title game.
But in one of the most incredible performances in NCAA history, the Wildcats shot a blistering 78 percent from the field and shocked the world. It was one of the most efficient performances of all time.
To this day, they are still the lowest seed to ever take home the title.
The Cougars had two future NBA Hall of Famers in Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. They finished the season No. 1 in the nation and had the sweet nickname “Phi Slama Jama.” This was one of the best teams of all time.
So when Lorenzo Charles dunked in the winning two points off an air ball and coach Jimmy Valvano infamously ran around looking for somebody to hug, it was one of the most memorable moments in the history of all sports—not just college basketball.
This game is the perfect example of the raw emotions that can be triggered by the NCAA tournament.