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NCAA Tournament 2011: The Biggest Upsets of the Tourney

PJ SapienzaContributor IIIMarch 27, 2011

NCAA Tournament 2011: The Biggest Upsets of the Tourney

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Upsets, upsets, upsets. 

    It's why we love tourney time and why the first weekend of games is so highly watched. In this slideshow, the 11 biggest upsets of the tournament are ranked. 

    A No. 5 seed taking out a No. 4 or No. 9 taking out a No. 8 isn’t worthy of this list. 

    What draws us in is watching double-digit seeds take down the mighty higher-seeded teams or seeing a No. 1 seed drop out the first weekend.

Gonzaga over St. John's

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    The element of surprise is gone when it comes to Gonzaga taking down a higher-seeded team.

    The Zags' 86-71 beatdown of St John’s is just another notch in this giant killer’s belt. 

Marquette over Syracuse

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    One might think that a No. 11 seed taking down a No. 3 should usually rank higher on the list. 

    This matchup doesn’t rank that highly because it was a rematch of a regular-season game that Marquette already won. In that contest, Marquette beat Syracuse by six points at home. 

Richmond over Vanderbilt

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    The No. 12 Richmond Spiders spun a web over the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores, holding them 10 points below their season average. The win was Richmond’s first in the tourney since 1998. 

    Clearly, Richmond was a much better team than their seeding showed.

Marquette over Xavier

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    Marquette came in as a controversial No. 11 seed. Marquette was the 11th team from the Big East to make the tournament, which many felt was too many for one conference. 

    In addition, the Golden Eagles also had 14 losses on the season and an RPI in the 60s. Xavier came in as the Atlantic 10 regular-season champs, with a 24-7 record and RPI of 26.

    Marquette walked away with a 66-55 win that not only surprised Xavier, but it also proved the invite to the tourney was justified.

Butler over Pittsburgh

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    How can a No. 1 seed falling in the first weekend be this far down on the list? It's easy when the teams are Butler and Pittsburgh.

    Butler is coming off one of the best Cinderella runs ever. Last season the Bulldogs made it all the way to the championship game. 

    They entered the tourney as a No. 8 seed this year.  Any higher-seeded team that played them this season should have been very aware of what they were capable of.

    Pittsburgh is the perennial underachieving team come tourney time.  The Panthers entered this year as a No. 1 seed, but most felt that they were the weakest of the top seeds. 

    Over the past 10 years, Pitt has lost to a lower-seeded team seven times.  Having the Panthers fall early in the tourney really wasn’t that big of a shocker. But still, a No.1 seed going down on the first weekend needs to make the list.

FSU over Notre Dame

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    The high-octane Notre Dame team entered the tourney as a No. 2 seed, dreaming of the program's first Final Four appearance since 1978. 

    Instead, the Irish ran into a surprising Florida State team. 

    The Seminoles entered the game with their best player, Chris Singleton, still trying to come back from injury. He only played 10 minutes, but Florida State was still able to walk away with an impressive 71-57 win.

Morehead State over Louisville

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    The No. 13-seeded Morehead State Eagles started the tournament with the first upset when they hit a three-point shot with less than five seconds left to take down No. 4-seed Louisville. 

Butler over Wisconsin and Florida

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    These upsets were equal and not above the next couple that follow, so they rank together.

    When George Mason made an improbable Final Four appearance in 2006, the Patriots followed it up with an 18-15 record and missed the tourney in 2007.  

    Entering this year’s tourney, Butler was attempting to prove that last year was not a fluke. The win over Pitt already made the tourney a success for the No. 8 seed, and should have placed all future tourney opponents on full alert.

    After beating Pittsburgh in the third round, the Bulldogs faced Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. The Badgers were a tough team. 

    Late in the season, they were in the battle for a No. 2 seed, but they were derailed by two horrific losses in their final two games. Their last regular-season game was a 28-point loss to Ohio State, and they followed that up with a criminally bad game in which they only scored 33 points in a loss to Penn State. 

    Those loses dropped them to a No. 4 seed, but one that could still prove dangerous in the tourney. Butler held Wisconsin to only 24 first-half points, then climbed to a 20-point lead in the second half.

    A late rally helped Wisconsin close the gap, but Butler moved on.

    In the Elite Eight, the Bulldogs faced the Florida Gators. The Gators came in as a No. 2 seed and SEC champs after a 26-8 season.  Florida dismantled UC Santa Barbara in the first game, then followed it up with strong wins over UCLA and BYU. 

    With Pitt out of the tourney, the Gators were the top seed in the Southeast and were eyeing a return to the Final Four. Butler ended that dream with an 74-71 overtime win.

Arizona over Duke

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    The No. 5 Arizona Wildcats entered the tourney after a 27-7 season. Many felt that the Pac-10 was down this year and overlooked the Wildcats, a team that was the regular-season conference champs.

    Duke was the defending national champion and entered the tourney as a No. 1 seed. The Blue Devils had been playing without star Kyrie Irving, but he returned for the tourney which put Duke among the favorites to win it all.

    Derrick Williams put up 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to help end the Blue Devils' hopes for a repeat.

Kentucky over Ohio State

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    How does a No. 4 seed beating a No. 1 rank higher than a No.5 (Arizona) over a No.1 (Duke)?  

    It happens when Ohio State’s loss busted more brackets than any other loss. The Buckeyes were the favorite to win the tourney and likely the most-picked team in your bracket pool.

    Kentucky was thought to be too young to really contend this year, but the Wildcats have now advanced to yet another Final Four.


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    Imagine being a college player watching Selection Sunday and seeing that your team has made it to the NCAA tournament.  After the jubilation of getting invited, you sit in horror as the pundits completely lambaste your team for being included. 

    Certain know-it-all analysts cried how they felt bad for the kids from the schools that, at least in their eyes, should have made it.

    They didn’t seem to feel bad for the over-the-top bashing they gave the VCU team.

    Imagine hearing the following comments:

    “This one doesn’t make it through the laugh test."

    “I wonder if some of the people of the committee know the ball is round."

    "It would be like a beauty contest, Roseanne Barr walking in versus Scarlett Johansson. No shot, none whatsoever."

    "We have never come in here and said they didn’t do a good job, this is not a good job."

    After being embarrassed like that on national TV, many teams would have been one and done. 

    Most would have resorted to playing outside their system and pressing too much in an effort to prove their worth. Instead, VCU took that embarrassment and just put it behind them. They decided to play within themselves, maintain their system and just win.

    VCU’s combination of upsets over big conference teams USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas easily takes the top spot. 

    In making this run to the Final Four, the Rams have taken out the Pac-10, Big Ten, Big East, ACC and Big 12 conferences. Hopefully, by making this run VCU will make the selection committee look at the second and third-place teams from some of the smaller conferences instead of the seventh or eighth or ninth team from the larger ones.

    For VCU and Butler, the dream isn’t over.

    One of them will make the championship game and hopefully put an exclamation point on the best string of upsets the tournament has ever seen.

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