The 10 Biggest Men's March Madness Upsets of All Time

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMarch 23, 2019

The 10 Biggest Men's March Madness Upsets of All Time

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    UMBC. Florida Gulf Coast. Mercer. George Mason.

    Those are just some of the college basketball programs that come up every year when discussing the best upsets in NCAA men's basketball tournament history. 

    Over the last decade, mid-major programs have come into the upset spotlight for their surprising victories over some of the most prestigious teams in the nation.

    But before the mid-majors stole the show, a few power-conference teams delivered memorable upsets in some of the most remarkable contests to ever be played in the Big Dance.   

No. 6 NC State over No. 1 Houston, 1983

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    No one remembers the seed assigned to the 1983 NC State Wolfpack, but what they are aware of is how massive the upset over the Phi Slama Jama Houston team was. 

    Jimmy Valvano's team pulled off one of the most incredible finishes in NCAA tournament history, as Lorenzo Charles pulled down a short shot from Dereck Whittenburg and beat the buzzer for the game-winning shot. 

    The win was so remarkable because the Wolfpack upended a team led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. 

    In fact, Olajuwon ended up winning the Most Outstanding Player award despite falling short at the hands of the Wolfpack. 

No. 8 Villanova over No. 1 Georgetown, 1985

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    One of the most historic upsets in NCAA tournament history came in the 1985 championship game, when Villanova took down Big East rival Georgetown. 

    Dwayne McClain, Ed Pinckney, Harold Jensen and Harold Pressley led the eighth-seeded Wildcats to a two-point win over the Hoyas, who were one of the top seeds and featured Patrick Ewing. 

    The Wildcats weren't supposed to be in the final in the first place, but Rollie Massimino's team earned upsets over Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina and Memphis before knocking off the Hoyas. 

    Before Villanova won two titles in three years in 2016 and 2018, the 1985 triumph was the only title in program history. 

No. 14 Cleveland State over No. 3 Indiana, 1986

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    No one expected the Indiana Hoosiers, led by Steve Alford and Bobby Knight, to lose in the first round of the 1986 NCAA tournament. 

    However, the Cleveland State Vikings became one of two No. 14 seeds to win in 1986 along with Arkansas Little-Rock, who knocked off Notre Dame. 

    The 1985-86 team wasn't Knight's best squad during his long tenure at Indiana, but the defeat was the first he suffered in the first round. 

    After it was knocked out by Cleveland State, Indiana added Keith Smart and Dean Garrett to a team that already included Steve Alford. 

    The infusion of talent for the 1986-87 season helped the Hoosiers rebound from their early tournament exit and win the national championship

    However, two years later, Indiana suffered another upset as a No. 4 seed in the first round to 13th-seeded Richmond. 

No. 15 Richmond over No. 2 Syracuse, 1991

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    Twenty-seven years before UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to win a men's tournament game, Richmond became the first No. 15 seed to earn a victory.

    The Spiders upset the Orange 73-69 in College Park, Maryland, where they got out in front before halftime on the way to a stunning upset. 

    Richmond was able to fend off the Orange despite a strong performance from Billy Owens, who was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 1991 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings. 

    Three other Syracuse players reached over 10 points in the contest, but it still wasn't enough for Jim Boeheim's team to avoid the upset. 

    Richmond wasn't the only double-digit seed to win in its bracket that year, as Temple made it all the way to the Elite Eight as the No. 10 seed. 

    Since Richmond's triumph, seven other No. 15 seeds have won NCAA tournament games. Two came in 2012, when Lehigh and Norfolk State beat Duke and Missouri, respectively.

No. 13 Princeton over No. 4 UCLA, 1996

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    One of the most frustrating first-round games for a power-conference team ever came in 1996, when UCLA was held to 41 points by Pete Carril's Princeton Tigers. 

    The Bruins entered the 1996 NCAA tournament as the defending champions, and they were poised for another deep run behind Charles O'Bannon, Toby Bailey and J.R. Henderson. 

    Instead of repeating, the Bruins were knocked out in the round of 64 by a Princeton team that played terrific defense and executed Carril's offense in key situations. 

    Since the historic win over UCLA, the Tigers have one victory in the NCAA tournament (1998) in six appearances. 

No. 11 George Mason over No. 1 UConn, 2006

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    GERALD HERBERT/Associated Press

    Before VCU and Loyola-Chicago broke onto the scene as mid-major teams to advance to the Final Four, George Mason captivated us throughout the 2006 NCAA tournament. 

    The Patriots' upset of top-seeded UConn in the Elite Eight was their biggest victory, and it secured one of the most unlikely Final Four berths in March Madness history. 

    The Huskies were the final team in a line of power-conference teams that fell to George Mason, as it knocked off Michigan State, North Carolina and Wichita State to get to the Elite Eight.

    George Mason's run ended in the Final Four at the hands of Florida, but the Patriots are still talked about as one of the best Cinderella teams in the tournament's history. 

No. 15 Lehigh over No. 2 Duke, 2012

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    Long before CJ McCollum was a star in the NBA, he was a star guard for the Patriot League champions in the 2012 NCAA tournament. 

    McCollum's 30-point outburst for Lehigh led to an upset of second-seeded Duke, which has been prone to first-round upsets in its program history. 

    The Mountain Hawks only allowed a pair of double-digit scorers on a Duke team that featured Miles and Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Austin Rivers. 

    Of course, Duke's 2012 unit was far from the best in Mike Krzyzewski's tenure, but no one expected the Blue Devils to drop out of the tournament after one game. 

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast over No. 2 Georgetown, 2013

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Florida Gulf Coast is likely the most popular No. 15 seed to come out on top in the NCAA tournament. 

    The Eagles, who received the "Dunk City" moniker for their play, defeated Georgetown 78-68 in Philadelphia in 2013. 

    FGCU became the story of the tournament in 2013 when it then moved on to the Sweet 16 with a victory over San Diego State. 

    The victory propelled head coach Andy Enfield to the USC job, which he has held since the 2013 tournament. 

    Since their magical run to the Sweet 16, the Eagles have made two NCAA tournament appearances and earned one win in the First Four in 2016 over Fairleigh Dickinson. 

No. 14 Mercer over No. 3 Duke, 2014

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Two years after Duke's season came to a halt against Lehigh, Mercer did the same thing to the Blue Devils. 

    In the 78-71 win, Mercer had five players score in double digits against a Duke team that featured Quinn Cook, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.

    What made Mercer's win so shocking was that it came in front of Duke's home crowd at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

    Since their 2014 meeting, Mercer hasn't made it back to the NCAA tournament. A year later, Duke won the national championship and has won all four of its first-round games since this upset.

No. 16 UMBC over No. 1 Virginia, 2018

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Let's start with the upset that is still fresh on everyone's minds. 

    UMBC became the first men's No. 16 seed to win a game in NCAA tournament history in 2018 as it stunned top-seeded Virginia. 

    The Retrievers didn't just beat the Cavaliers; they blew out Tony Bennett's team by 20 points, 74-54, in one of the most shocking games in March Madness history. 

    Jairus Lyles was the star of the game for UMBC, scoring 28 points for a team that had 53 second-half points to break a halftime tie and go down in March Madness lore forever. 


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