Ranking the Most Shocking Losses Thus Far in 2021-22 Men's CBB Season
No matter how many times Jon Rothstein tweets about the unexpected becoming the ordinary, men's college basketball still manages to deliver shocking upsets on a regular basis.
The 2021-22 season is only six weeks young, but there have been 35 unranked-over-ranked upsets already. There have also been a bunch of surprising results that had nothing to do with the AP poll—Syracuse giving up 100 points to a toothpaste, or South Dakota State losing by "two touchdowns" to Idaho as a "three-touchdown" favorite, for example.
However, our elite eight of early upsets focuses exclusively on the unranked-over-ranked variety, with our ranking based on a combination of how unlikely the loss was and how ugly the margin was.
Basically, if you woke up the morning after and were just scrolling through scores to see what you missed, this is a ranking of the degree to which you did a double take.
Seton Hall 67, No. 4 Michigan 65 (Nov. 16)—Knowing what we know now, Michigan was overrated and Seton Hall was woefully underrated. Nevertheless, the Pirates winning this early road game was one of the first major upsets of the season. They rallied from eight down in the final seven minutes for a last-second victory.
Colgate 100, Syracuse 85 (Nov. 20)—A result that looks even more ridiculous in the aftermath of Colgate's subsequent losses to Harvard, Niagara, Northeastern and Pittsburgh. The Raiders shot 18-of-43 from three-point range and grabbed 19 offensive rebounds against Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
Ohio State 71, No. 1 Duke 66 (Nov. 30)—Barely even an upset as far as Vegas was concerned, but No. 1 losing to an unranked opponent might register as shocking to some. Duke led by double digits late in the second half before going ice cold while the Buckeyes ended the game on a 14-1 run.
Idaho 98, South Dakota State 84 (Dec. 8)—Not a high-profile game by any means, but KenPom No. 74 South Dakota State was heavily favored against KenPom No. 352 Idaho. The Vandals simply could not miss, though, scoring 38 points in the span of less than 11 minutes in the second half of their highest-scoring game against a D-I opponent since November 2008.
Memphis 92, No. 6 Alabama 78 (Dec. 14)—Alabama was only favored by a couple of points, but this was still a stunner, considering the Crimson Tide had just beaten both Gonzaga and Houston while Memphis entered on a four-game losing streak that included losses to Georgia and Murray State.
Creighton 79, No. 9 Villanova 59 (Dec. 17)—It's not often that we're left to wonder if Villanova simply isn't good this year, but this 20-point loss in Omaha—coming on the heels of the 21-point loss at Baylor the previous weekend—sure begs the question.
8. Arizona 80, No. 4 Michigan 62 (Nov. 21)
Play this game again today and Arizona would be favored, probably by multiple buckets. The Wildcats are on the ever-dwindling list of the nation's undefeated teams while Michigan has sputtered to a 7-4 start, devoid of quality wins and interior defense.
When it was played four weeks ago, though, Michigan was the clear favorite, despite suffering the two-point home loss to Seton Hall just a few days prior.
After all, the Wolverines had one of the top returning players (Hunter Dickinson), a potential lottery pick freshman (Caleb Houstan), a second very intriguing freshman prospect (Moussa Diabate) and a fifth-year senior who was the ultimate glue guy last season (Eli Brooks). Surely they could find a way to win a neutral-site game against a young Arizona team that needed overtime to survive Wichita State in the previous round of the Roman Main Event, right?
Arizona destroyed Michigan in the paint, shooting 29-of-45 from inside the arc with 23 assists on 33 made buckets overall. Christian Koloko had his way with Dickinson, finishing with 22 points and four blocks while the big Wolverine went for just 11 points and seven rebounds. And in what has been an alarming trend in its losses this season, Michigan was helpless from the perimeter, shooting just 1-of-14 from downtown.
Where things got ugly for Michigan was early in the second half when Arizona scored on 11 consecutive possessions and made each of its first nine field-goal attempts after the intermission. Not to take anything away from Arizona's offense, but that's a staggering stretch of futility for a defense that ranked fourth in the nation in adjusted efficiency last year.
7. Iowa State 78, No. 9 Memphis 59 (Nov. 26)
It feels like a lifetime ago that Memphis was No. 9 in the AP poll and a trendy pick to reach the Final Four.
With freshman phenoms Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren leading the way, the Tigers raced out to a 5-0 start to the season, including a solid win over Virginia Tech just two days before this game against Iowa State. Turnovers and fouls were already red flags for the Tigers, and though it seemed they had the talent, the depth and the defensive intensity to overcome those issues more often than not.
However, against an Iowa State team that went 2-22 last season, Memphis hero balled itself into oblivion.
The Tigers committed 22 turnovers and 27 fouls, gift-wrapping points for the Cyclones time and again. They also inexplicably lost the rebounding battle, despite a starting five that collectively stands 16 inches taller than Iowa State's.
Even though the second half of Iowa State-Memphis overlapped with the first half of Duke-Gonzaga, my eyes kept gravitating to the screen with the ongoing train wreck.
Credit to still undefeated Iowa State, which is way better on defense than anyone could have expected. Memphis made a ton of mental mistakes, but there were also a lot of forced errors courtesy of the Cyclones. And they broke Memphis so badly that the Tigers proceeded to lose their next three games against Georgia, Ole Miss and Murray State.
6. Cincinnati 71, No. 14 Illinois 51 (Nov. 22)
When this game was played, we had no idea Andre Curbelo was still dealing with concussion symptoms. (He has since missed Illinois' last six games with no timetable for a return.)
His head/neck injury was suffered in an October exhibition game, and though he did miss the season opener against Jackson State, Curbelo played in what seemed to be a full capacity in the two games prior to facing Cincinnati.
Assuming that the preseason All-Big Ten first-team guard was OK and knowing that Kofi Cockburn was making his season debut after missing the first three games because of a suspension, the expectation was that the Illini would assert their dominance against a Bearcats team barely rated in the top 100 on KenPom.
Instead, after jumping out to an early 23-8 lead, Illinois devolved into a disjointed mess.
Curbelo played 23 minutes, but he clearly wasn't right. Cockburn scored 18, but didn't demand the ball nearly enough. Trent Frazier missed all nine of his field-goal attempts. Jacob Grandison had his worst game of the year. And it wasn't until after this one that Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer (six points against Cincinnati) turned into Stephen Curry, scoring at least 21 points in six consecutive games.
Add it all up and Cincinnati was gradually able to turn that 23-8 deficit into a 61-38 blowout, as the Illini scored 15 points in the span of 25 minutes.
5. BYU vs. AP No. 12; BYU at AP No. 12
First Upset: BYU 81, No. 12 Oregon 49 (Nov. 16)
Second Upset: Utah Valley 72, No. 12 BYU 65 (OT) (Dec. 1)
We're pairing these two together at No. 5, even though it wouldn't be difficult to argue that each upset belongs in the top 10 by itself.
The first one was stunning because of the margin. Oregon was slightly favored in what was effectively a home game in Portland, but BYU put a hurting on the Ducks in a hurry. Oregon was down by nine within the first eight minutes, trailed by 22 before halftime and ended up losing by 32 points—just its third loss by 30 or more points since 2010-11, and the only one in which the Ducks were ranked at the time.
As it turns out, that was just the beginning of a tumultuous start for the Ducks. They are now 6-6 with several other losses that were never remotely close. But eight days into the season when we still thought Oregon was one of the top teams in the Pac-12, that was a jaw-dropper.
Two weeks later, BYU had vaulted up to No. 12 in the AP poll in advance of a road game against Utah Valley, which had never beaten a team that finished the season in the KenPom Top 50. In fact, in 22 previous tries since joining the D-1 ranks in 2004, the closest the Wolverines had ever come was a seven-point loss at No. 47 Utah in December 2016.
Lo and behold, Fardaws Aimaq racked up 24 points, 22 rebounds, five steals, four assists and three blocks in a stunning come-from-behind overtime victory.
In BYU's defense, one starter (Gideon George) was out with an illness and another (Gavin Baxter) suffered a torn ACL early in the first half. That plus an off night from starting point guard Te'Jon Lucas was more than the Cougars could overcome.
4. Iona 72, No. 10 Alabama 68 (Nov. 25)
Despite entering the game with a 5-0 record, the Rick Pitino-coached Iona Gaels were a substantial underdog on a neutral floor against AP No. 10 Alabama. KenPom had the Crimson Tide projected for a 14-point victory.
And even that felt generous to the Gaels.
Prior to this game, Iona's most recent win over a KenPom Top 100 opponent was against No. 95 Saint Peter's in the 2017 MAAC semifinals. Since then, the Gaels had lost 14 consecutive games against that subset of opponents, and by an average margin of 17.5 points per game.
Iona's most recent win over a team that finished the season in the KenPom Top 50 was the 2012-13 season opener against No. 47 Denver. And in the site's more than two-decade history, the Gaels had never beaten a KenPom Top 25 foe.
One of the aforementioned 14 straight losses came against Alabama in the 2021 NCAA tournament—though the Gaels did give the Crimson Tide quite the battle for the first 31 minutes of that one. As was the case in last year's dance, Iona was dead set on running Alabama's shooters off the three-point line, limiting the Crimson Tide to just five makes on 17 attempts.
Without that deep ball, Alabama's usually potent offense floundered, allowing Iona to hang around just long enough to catch fire for 33 points in the final 11 minutes.
The real problem, though, was Alabama's free-throw shooting. The Crimson Tide went 13-of-25 for the game and 6-of-13 in the second half, repeatedly leaving the door open for the Gaels.
3. Dayton 74, No. 4 Kansas 73 (Nov. 26)
In most seasons, Dayton winning a neutral-site game against Kansas wouldn't be that shocking. An upset, for sure, but the Flyers have been an at-large candidate far more often than not over the past quarter century. And two years ago, they were in the running for the No. 1 overall seed in the dance—a year in which they took Kansas to overtime before losing on a neutral court, and no one was surprised in the slightest.
This season, however, the Flyers arrived in Kissimmee, Florida with a 1-3 record, featuring dreadful home losses to UMass Lowell, Lipscomb and Austin Peay—each of which currently ranks well outside the KenPom Top 200. Anything better than a sixth-place finish in the eight-team ESPN Events Invitational seemed like an unrealistic goal.
Nevertheless, the Flyers won the whole darn tournament, including a massive stunner in the semifinal against No. 4 Kansas.
The Jayhawks seemed to have things under control throughout the first half. They had 13 points before Dayton's first field goal and opened up a 15-point lead prior to the intermission. But a 16-1 Dayton run spanning barely three minutes early in the second half made things interesting in a hurry, and Mustapha Amzil's running fadeaway teardrop at the buzzer gave the Flyers the unlikely victory.
Per KenPom, Dayton is the least experienced team in the entire country, which at least partially explains those terrible early losses. That freshman-heavy bunch grew up in a hurry on that Friday afternoon, though.
2. Rutgers 70, No. 1 Purdue 68 (Dec. 9)
For the first time in program history, Purdue made it all the way up to the top spot in the AP Top 25. And in its first game as the No. 1 team in all the land, Purdue inexplicably lost to a Rutgers team that appears to be well on its way to a sub-.500 season.
Normally one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, the Boilermakers endured some unusual dry spells. After jumping out to an early 24-17 lead, they were held scoreless for the next six minutes. And then after going on a brief tear to turn a 44-41 deficit into a 57-47 lead, they went cold again, scoring just 11 points in the final eight and a half minutes.
Nevertheless, Purdue was able to re-gain a one-point lead with less than four seconds remaining when Rutgers' Ron Harper Jr. put one heck of a cherry on his 30-point sundae with a buzzer-beating game winner from near half-court.
Jaden Ivey finished with 15 points, three steals, three assists and a handful of highlights, including the breakaway windmill dunk that gave Purdue a six-point lead late in the second half. Trevion Williams had a solid performance as well with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
But the supporting cast really let Purdue down. Starters Caleb Furst and Isaiah Thompson were held to a combined two rebounds with no points, assists, blocks or steals. Sasha Stefanovic couldn't buy a bucket. Reserves not named Trevion Williams shot 3-of-15 for 10 points. Even Zach Edey's 13 points felt hollow, as he had just three rebounds, one block and no points in the game's final 16 minutes.
Had it happened against an Indiana, Michigan State or Ohio State, oh well. But it was downright stunning for the Boilermakers to lay that kind of egg against a Rutgers team that had already suffered a home loss to Lafayette and which entered the game fresh off an 86-51 drubbing at the hands of Illinois.
1. Texas Southern 69, No. 20 Florida 54 (Dec. 6)
Texas Southern goes on the road for buy game after buy game year after year. And every now and then, the Tigers knock off a major-conference foe.
In 2014-15, they won road games against both Michigan State and Kansas State in the span of nine days. In November 2018, they shocked both Baylor and Oregon, and won at Texas A&M the following month.
But no one thought the 0-7 Tigers had any hope of winning at No. 20 Florida earlier this month.
Per Vegas Insider, the Gators closed as a 23.5-point favorite, and the Texas Southern money line was as high as +1600 (bet $100 to win $1600) at DraftKings and other books. To put that number in perspective, as of Friday night, both St. John's and Syracuse were getting +1600 odds of reaching the Final Four.
Yet, the Tigers embarrassed Florida.
Texas Southern was sloppy (22 turnovers) and barely got to the free throw line (five attempts), but it annihilated the Gators on the glass by a 46-23 margin. After starting out fine for the first seven minutes, Florida simply could not buy a bucket for the longest time, and then seemed helpless to corral a rebound. The game wasn't even close at any point in the second half.
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Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.