Sweet 16 is where Cinderella mostly goes to die, but that is not the case in this list. Today we will look at the greatest upsets in regional semi-final history that put these underdogs just one win away from the Final Four.
Kansas State made history during a thrilling 2018 Sweet 16 that denied eight-time national champion John Calipari his fifth Final Four appearance in nine seasons. Despite being outrebounded and inefficient on offense, K-State used defense to shut down Calipari’s freshmen and advance to the Elite Eight.
After barely escaping Charleston, Arizona wasn’t considered a favorite to beat Kansas in this matchup, especially against a star-studded five-man lineup featuring Paul Pierce and three other future NBA players. Yet it was Arizona who started their title run with this matchup, avenging an earlier Sweet 16 loss to Kansas the year prior by holding onto a tight first-half lead and getting at least 17 points from three different starters — including Mike Bibby, who scored 17 points!
George Mason continued its remarkable run after beating No. 6 Michigan State and No. 3 North Carolina, shocking their competition with stout defense. Limiting Wichita State to just 19 first-half points, the Patriots led by as many as 19 points at one point – extending their first-ever NCAA tourney run and surprising critics who hadn’t given them a single Top 25 vote all season long.
Missouri made history when it upset UCLA to become the first No. 12 seed to ever reach the Elite Eight – against what some considered “the most talented eight seed ever”. Twenty-three points from Clarence Gilbert helped the Tigers overcome an eight-point second-half deficit and reach their first Elite Eight since 1994.
In 1985-86, LSU faced everything from transfers and suspensions to a chickenpox outbreak that threatened their chances of making the Final Four. Despite taking an early six-point lead in the first half, Don Redden scored 27 points to secure their victory – marking only the second Sweet 16 win by an 11-seed team in two decades.
This upset predates the NCAA’s 1985 expansion of the tournament to 64 teams, as North Carolina took on St. Bonaventure in 1968 when only 23 teams were in the bracket.Without star Bob Lewis for the first time in years, UNC put a dent in St. Bonaventure’s perfect 22-0 record by defeating All-American Bob Lanier and Co. by 19 points.
Indiana entered as the clear underdog. It seemed appropriate when they fell behind by 17 points to Duke’s No. 1 seed, especially with Mike Krzyzewski touting a roster that rivaled his defending championship team. But behind sophomore Jared Jeffries’ 24 points and 15 boards performance, Indiana stormed back and rode its momentum all the way to the national title game.
In had been almost a decade, Xavier earned its first trip to the Elite Eight by stopping one of NCAA’s top offensive teams – Arizona – when they led by eight with four minutes left. A 9-0 run to close out the game gave Xavier victory over one of America’s most recognizable programs and added to a storybook tourney run that began after six consecutive losses and the loss of point guard Edmond Sumner late in the season.
Darryl Banks III’s 14 points led the charge for Saint Peter’s, as they pulled off an incredible upset despite shooting just under 39% from the floor and 28.6% from three. But when it mattered most, the Peacocks made their free throws to secure victory.
Saint Peter’s finished the game on a 15-8 scoring spree, with most of their points coming from free throws.
The only question may be, how can this game be at the top of the list? Matt Painter does this a lot, but in Painters’ defense it usually happens in the first round, not the Sweet 16.
Indiana vs North Carolina, how can this blue-blood matchup be at the top of this list? Look at the names in the scorebook. Alford in his freshman season, and Blab and Dakich and Marty Simmons and Mike Giomi and Stew Robinson knocking aside Michael Jordan and Brad Daugherty and Sam Perkins and Kenny Smith. This is the game were you know without a doubt that Bobby Knight was a better coach than Dean Smith. The Hoosiers got Michael Jordan in foul trouble early and he never got back on track as the Hoosiers pulled an enormous upset.
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