The 10 Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History

This is why we watch.

The Madness received its nickname from the craziness that surrounds the NCAA tournament. While millions of confident fans predict brackets, there are almost always multiple cross-outs and red “Xs” by the tournament’s end (and usually well before). These are due to the numerous upsets that occur in the tournament each year. Underdogs beat favorites and even become “Cinderella” stories on some occasions, making for some of the most memorable sports moments of all time.

In honor of this year’s tournament and the surprises we are on the verge of surely witnessing–starting in the VERY FIRST GAME with Ohio State losing to Dayton–below are the top ten upsets in tournament history.

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10. 2012: (15) Norfolk St. vs. (2) Missouri
“We messed up some brackets!” Those words were proudly said by Kyle O’Quinn, forward of the Norfolk State basketball team following their monumental upset over Missouri. The Spartans shocked the basketball world, defeating the two-seeded Tigers, whom many predicted to advance to the Final Four.

9. 1997: (15) Coppin St. vs. (2) South Carolina
The Eagles entered the 1997 NCAA tournament as 30-plus point underdogs against the Gamecocks, but pulled off the miraculous victory behind Danny Singletary‘s 22 points. It was the first tournament win in Coppin State’s history.

8. 2006: (11) George Mason vs. (1) Connecticut
Led by legendary head coach Jim Calhoun, the Huskies brought an impressive 27-3 record into the tournament and were among the favorites to win it all. Yet the Patriots overcame the obstacles and became the second double-digit seed and the first mid-major team to ever advance to the Final Four.

While UConn boasted five starters that would all eventually get selected in future NBA Drafts, George Mason’s whole roster never had a single player chosen in the draft.

A true underdog story.

7. 1993: (15) Santa Clara vs. (2) Arizona
The Wildcats came into this first-round matchup as 20-point favorites, but the Broncos of the West Coast Conference made one of the nation’s top teams suffer an excruciating loss. Despite a 25-0 run during the game led by Damon Stoudamire, Santa Clara fought back, with the help from their small, funny-looking point guard. His name? Steve Nash.

6. 1998: (13) Valparaiso vs. (4) Mississippi
Ole Miss was up two points with four seconds left to play and had their Second Team All-American forward Ansu Sesay at the free throw line. Uncharacteristically, he missed both shots, which allowed the Crusaders one last possession to either send the game into overtime or better yet, win the game. Bryce Drew did just that.

5. 1996: (13) Princeton vs. (4) UCLA
Down by seven points with just six minutes to play, it appeared as though the Bruins were going to escape in the first round against their Ivy League opponent. The Tigers, however, remained resilient and railed against the defending champions. With the clock winding down and the score knotted at 41, Princeton executed their iconic backdoor layup play, securing the victory.

4. 1966: Texas Western vs. Kentucky
Not only was this National Championship Game memorable for what happened on the court, but it was also who was on the court that made it truly significant.

Coached by Adolph Rupp, the Wildcats were considered to be the pinnacle of collegiate basketball success and were gunning for their fifth tournament title. Texas Western–now UTEP–became the first team to ever have a starting lineup of five black players and in the process, defeated the all-white Kentucky squad. Their triumphant season was the basis for the 2006 film Glory Road.

3. 1991: (2) Duke vs. (1) UNLV
Duke is one of the most storied programs that sports has to offer, but the Blue Devils still stunned everyone in the Final Four. After UNLV embarrassed them by 30 points in 1990’s National Championship Game, Duke defeated the Runnin’ Rebels 79-77 in the semifinal matchup the following year, despite a team that returned most of their key players such as Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony.

2. 1985: (8) Villanova vs. (1) Georgetown
The former Big East rivals faced off for the third time in the 1993 season in the national title game. After Georgetown–the defending champions–led by future pros in Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams and David Wingate defeated the Wildcats in the first two instances, the game seemed to be a mismatch. Yet the Hoyas allowed ‘Nova to shoot 78 percent from the field, while missing just one shot in the second half, to come away with the improbable victory.

1. 1983: (6) North Carolina St. vs. (1) Houston
The Wolfpack wasn’t even expected to be part of the tournament, but a late run to win the ACC Tournament got them an automatic bid. Houston, on the other hand, was riding a 25-game winning streak as the No. 1 team in the country and featured players such as Akeem (later “Hakeem”) Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

The score was tied and the clock was ticking down in the second half, and State’s Dereck Whittenburg‘s desperation shot fell short. Lorenzo Charles, however, leaped and grabbed the ball from mid-air, dunking it at the buzzer and sending the University Arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico into a frenzy. The Wolfpack’s charismatic coach Jim Valvano, better known as Jimmy V, memorably ran around the court “just looking for someone to hug.”

Which game will be this year’s biggest upset?

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