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The Definitive Top-10 March Madness Upsets

The Definitive List of March Madness Upsets!
Publish Date: 02/23/2018
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa


We are now two-thirds of the way through the NBA season and March is upon us. So, it’s time to start getting pumped up for the NCAA Tournament. Let’s look at a few of the biggest upsets in tournament history and prepare ourselves for some more of the ‘WTF!’ moments that a sure to come next month.

To say the greatest upsets ever is subjective. So to make it more objective, I am not going to talk about Championship games. There is a reason that it came down to just those two teams, so I wouldn’t really call losing the Final a true upset. Instead, we are going to focus on those super-long shots that nobody thought had a chance.

This is in no particular order (accept for our #1 pick), but let’s start with some recent upsets and then bounce around a bit.

2016 – Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State was the #2 seed. So, it makes perfect sense that they were the second most picked team to win it all in brackets across America. But MTSU had other things in mind. They held Denzel Valentine —a player of the year nominee— to just thirteen points and pressured him into committing six turnovers. The 90 to 81 loss for MSU in the First Round was total jaw-dropper.

2017 – Xavier Musketeers vs. Florida State Seminoles

The #11 Musketeers looked good in the First Round against Maryland, but they were a 13-loss team who struggled a lot late in the season. Nobody thought they had a chance against the #3 in the nation, Noles. It was a blowout. Not only did Xavier have a double-digit lead within 10 minutes, they kept the gas on the pedal the entire game. The 8-point underdogs won 90-66 … Basketball fans stared in awe and FSU fans cried themselves to sleep.

2012 – Lehigh Mountain Hawks vs. Duke Blue Devils

It’s not very often that #15 beats #2 … Eight, to be exact. One of those was already mentioned above. But C.J. McCollum had his sights set on greatness. He put up 30 points on Mason Plumlee and Austin Rivers’ Duke team, shocking the world.

1993 – Santa Clara Broncos vs. Arizona Wildcats

The reason that this might be the biggest upset ever —other than the simple fact that it is freaking Santa Clara taking down Arizona— is that the Broncos were down double-digits in the second half before they made their unlikely, 41-61 comeback against the #2 ranked Wildcats squad. This was only the second time a #2 had been taken down by a #15 in history. Which brings us to …

1991 – Richmond Spiders vs. Syracuse Orange

In 1991 this was the biggest upset ever … Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, no #15 had ever beaten a #2. By continually changing up their defensive look, Richmond kept the Orange off-balance offensively and pulled off the first-ever #15 over #2 win, 73-69.

1996 – Princeton Tigers vs. UCLA Bruins

Headlines actually read, David, 43 Goliath 41. UCLA was the defending national champs and somehow the Tigers managed to beat the Bruins to the backdoor and off outlets just enough to squeak out with a low-scoring, one-bucket win.

2005 – Bucknell Bison vs. Kansas Jayhawks

Go Bucky, go! Some might say it was the Kevin Bettencourt show … I say it was Wayne Simien barely missing a buzzer-beater attempt allowing Kansas to lose 64-63. However you look at it … it was an intense, down to the wire game where a #14 ended up getting the better of #3.

2015 – Georgia State Panthers vs. Baylor Bears

There is a method to the madness here … Just like Simien took the possible game winner but failed, R.J. Hunter launched a deep three from the top of the arch with just seconds remaining. The difference here: R.J. sunk the shot, knocking his coach out of his chair and winning the game. #14 Georgia State beat the #3 Baylor Bears 57-56.

2001 – Hampton Pirates vs. Iowa State Cyclones

Another of the few #15 vs #2 and more last-second drama! Travis Williams dropped a beautiful over-hand bucket inside the paint on the Cyclones with 10 seconds to play. And Jamal Tinsley gets the ball at the other and shoots a turn-around jumper at the buzzer … but bricks it off the rim. Hampton 58, Iowa State 57

1986 – Cleveland State Vikings vs. Indiana Hoosiers

Back in Hoosier heyday, the Cleveland State Vikings pulled off the unthinkable. Ken McFadden and Clinton Ransey became instantly famous with their dominating performances in the 83-79 win over Indiana. This victory was made all the sweeter by Cleveland State winning again against St. Josephs to move on to the Sweet 16. The only other #14 seed in history do this was Chattanooga in 1997. The Vikings were the first.

Cleveland State’s victory is my #1 upset, though you might like a different game. Let us know what you think. We’ll have to check Betrivers after Selection Sunday for all the odds.

If you enjoyed the Top-10 March Madness upsets check out our Top-10 College Basketball Coaches of All-Time by TGT Mike Goodpaster.

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