The NCAA tournament has seen some truly amazing upsets over the years. In 1983 the North Carolina State Wolfpack, led by head coach Jim Valvano upset the mighty Houston Cougars, 54-52 that featured future NBA superstars, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler to win the National Championship. Two years later, the Villanova Wildcats, shot over 78% from the field to win the National Championship, stunning the Georgetown Hoyas led by, Patrick Ewing, 66-64.
Let’s look at some of the biggest upsets in the past 20 years.
2010 – #9 Northern Iowa Panthers vs. #1 Kansas Jayhawks (Midwest Region)
The Kansas Jayhawks were the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament having won the Big 12 regular season and tournament crowns. The Jayhawks were listed at 7/4 to win the National Championship. The Northern Iowa Panthers were Missouri Valley regular-season champions with a 15-3 conference record. They won the MVC tournament earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and a number nine seed in the Midwest.
After each team won their opening game; Kansas over Lehigh and Northern Iowa over UNLV, Kansas, at +160 to win it all would face Northern Iowa in the Round of 32. Northern Iowa had one of those games where all their shots just keep on falling. Ali Farokmanesh delivered the dagger with 35 seconds to go on a pull-up three-pointer for the 69-67 victory.
Northern Iowa was one of four teams seeded lower than number eight to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2010 NCAA tournament. The victory was significant because it was the Panthers first trip ever to the Sweet Sixteen; where they would fall to the Michigan State Spartans 59-52, and it was the first time in six season a number one seed was eliminated in the round of 32. Per ESPN.com, it was also the first time since 1962 that a team from the Missouri Vallery Conference had defeated a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
2006 – #11 George Mason Patriots vs. #1 UConn Huskies (Washington, DC Regional)
The George Mason Patriots from the Colonial Athletic Association earned an at large bid and entered the 2006 NCAA tournament has an 11 seed and +15000 to win the National Championship. UConn was +450 to win the title entering the 2006 NCAA tournament. They had won (at the time) the National Championship in 1999 and 2004, one of the true national powers in the country.
Playing the Washington, DC Regional Final (in the Verizon Center) only about 20 miles away from their Fairfax, VA campus, the 11th-seeded George Mason Patriots overcame the athleticism and size of UConn to shock the Huskies and the nation with an 86-84 overtime victory. The Patriots kept their composure throughout the contest, even when they were down 12 points late in the first half and trailing by nine points early in the second half. They hit six straight three-pointers in the second half, shot five out of six in overtime (outscoring UConn 12-10 in the extra session) and outrebounded UConn 37-34. All five starters for George Mason scored in double figures, led by Jai Lewis with 20 followed by Will Thomas and the regionals most outstanding player Lamar Butler each with 19 points.
Before their victory over UConn, George Mason had never won an NCAA tournament game, but they beat Michigan State and North Carolina, back-to-back in the first two rounds. The Patriots at the time were only the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four, LSU did so as an 11th seed in 1986. They were the first non-Power Five school to make the Final Four since the University of Pennsylvania and Indiana State both did so in 1979. The 2006 NCAA tournament was the first time since the field was expanded to 64 teams (in 1985) that no top-seeded team advanced to the Final Four, and only the second time in tournament history.
2016 – #15 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. #2 Michigan State Spartans (Midwest Regional)
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders entered the 2016 NCAA tournament as Conference-USA tournament champions; having gone 13-5 in conference play. The Michigan State Spartans were +675 to win the NCAA tournament as they were the number two team in the country and Big Ten Conference tournament champions. Additionally, the Spartans were on a nine-game winning streak as they headed into March Madness.
The 15th seed, Blue Raiders were phenomenal as all five starters scored in doubles figures, led by forward Reggie Upshaw who had 21 points, the club combined to shoot 55.9% from the field. Middle Tennessee drilled 11 three-pointers on their way to a stunning 90-81 victory in the first round and forcing many people to put their brackets in the trash. At the time it was the eighth ever win for a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 in NCAA tournament history. It was also the Blue Raiders third time advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament in program history.
2013 – #15 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. #2 Georgetown Hoyas (South Regional)
The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles made their NCAA tournament debut in 2013 in only their second year of Division One eligibility. They qualified for “The Big Dance,” by winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, beating top-seeded Mercer in the conference tournament finals. The Georgetown Hoyas won the Big East regular season championship and entered the tournament as the number eight ranked team in the country. Led by the third pick in the 2013 NBA draft, Otto Porter Jr., who led the team in scoring (16.2 points per game), the Hoyas were +1600 to win the National Championship.
Florida Gulf Coast held a two-point lead at the intermission over Georgetown, then the Eagles scored an impressive 54 points after halftime (including an unbelievable 21-2 run) with several key alley-oop dunks that got the fans in Philadelphia out of their seats. Guard Sherwood Brown led the Eagles in scoring with 24 points and Bernard Thompson added 23 points in the round of 64 victory.
This really started the moniker of “Dunk City,” in the American sports lexicon anytime Florida Gulf Coast was mentioned. It is still one of the most amazing upsets in tournament history when you consider the final score was 78-68 and Georgetown at the time was a trendy pick to win the National Championship. Historically, it was the fifth straight time, the Hoyas exited the NCAA Tournament in the first weekend due to an upset by a lower-seeded opponent. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles were the first number 15 seed to advance to the regional semifinals: eventually losing to Florida.
2018 – #16 UMBC Retrievers vs. #1 Virginia Cavaliers (South Regional)
Without a doubt this must be the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history when the number 16 UMBC Retrievers took down the overall number one seed Virginia Cavaliers who were +620 to win the National Championship in the round of 64. This is truly one of those sporting events where everyone remembers where they were when this unbelievable upset occurred; I was sitting in my living room with my two-year old son trying to explain to him how big an upset it was, but he just laughed and smiled at me.
Led by head coach Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers defense was the best in the country entering the 2018 NCAA tournament having allowed 53.4 points per game. But the UMBC Retrievers scored a stunning 53 points on the ACC Champions in the second half. Jairus Lyles had 28 points for the Retrievers in the victory. This was a game Virginia was simply dominated losing by 20 points, 74-54.