College Sports

March Madness: These Top-Ranked Teams Got Smoked By Cinderella Stories

Darren - March 27, 2023
College Sports

March Madness: These Top-Ranked Teams Got Smoked By Cinderella Stories

Darren - March 27, 2023

March Madness is one of the most exciting events on the college sports calendar. Every year, millions of people create brackets and bet on these games. But even the strongest powerhouses have shockingly flamed out against supposed minnows. Today we’ll look at some of the most stunning upsets in NCAA tournament history.

2023 saw Purdue suffer one of the most humiliating losses ever when 16th seed FDU defeated them. But the Boilermakers weren’t the first team who flamed out early. Each season there’s at least one notorious incident where one team underperforms while another one wins against the odds.


Virginia – 2023

Furman stunned Virginia with one of the most shocking results of the year. The Southern university isn’t a basketball powerhouse and entered the tournament as the 13th seed. But they rocked Virginia who embarrassingly flamed out as a top seed for the second time in three years (via Newsweek).


In the end, JP Pegues became Furman’s hero when he scored a buzzer-beater to win the game. There were two seconds left on the clock when he secured the defining three-pointer. The final score was 68-67 as Furman defeated the No. 4 seeds and blew up brackets across the nation. The gamblers hated it but everyone else loves an underdog story.

San Antonio Express-News

Georgetown – 2013

Harvard pulled off a major upset in 2013 but then Florida Gulf Coast overshadowed their achievement. They became the seventh No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 and did so in style. Many Americans had never heard of FGCU before this game but the small state university became the story of the nation.

New York Times

They didn’t stop there either because they defeated San Diego in the next round. However, their unexpected victory over the Hoyas was arguably a bigger story because of Georgetown’s status. The Hoyas almost reeled FGCU back but the Eagles showed incredible poise and composure to win (via CBS News).

Sports Illustrated

Houston – 1983

NC State rocked a spectacular Houston team with one of the greatest finishes in March Madness history. For context, this was an elite edition of the Cougars with players like Hakeem Olajuwon on their roster. The future NBA star also won the tournament’s best player award despite the way Houston flamed out.

Sports Illustrated

But this day belonged to Lorenzo Charles who entered into NCAA folklore with his stunning buzzer-beater. The Wolfpack entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed and shocked the favorites. Nobody expected this to happen because Houston had ‘The Dream’ Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Nonetheless, these kinds of victories are what make March Madness so special (via AP News).

New York Times

Duke – 2014

The shadow of the Lehigh defeat remained in Blue Devils’ memories in 2014. Perhaps that’s why the traumatized program suffered another humiliation two years later. This time they flamed out against Mercer in one of the most surprising results of the year. The No. 14 seed upset No. 2 Duke in a brilliant victory.


Mercer outscored the Blue Devils 78-71 as they made gamblers cry across the nation. But neutral fans loved this moment because it’s always fun to see a Cinderella story. However, it also lit a fire under Duke because they came back and won the tournament the following season (via Augusta Chronicle).

NBC Sports

Florida – 2021

Florida entered this game as the No. 7 seed against No. 15 Oral Roberts. It isn’t the biggest margin on this list but it should have been enough. Oral Roberts shocked everybody when they beat Ohio State in the opening round. It was a fairytale result but most people thought that they would go home after this brave effort.

New York Post

However, they added Florida to their collection of high-profile scalps. This victory earned them a place in the Sweet Sixteen but that was the end of the road. Nonetheless, there was no shame in this because they overachieved to reach this point. Florida couldn’t believe what happened to them that day (via CBS Sports).


South Carolina – 1997

The Gamecocks couldn’t believe it when Coppin State beat them in this first-round clash. That’s because the Eagles had never won a tournament game before 1997. But South Carolina flamed out against the minnows in a shocking result. Coppin State was a 30-point underdog against South Carolina.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nonetheless, they became the third No. 15 seed in history to win a March Madness game. However, they were easily the most obscure of the three teams to achieve this so far. Most people outside of Baltimore had no idea who they were before the tournament. But everybody knew about them afterward (via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).


Duke – 2012

Traditionally, Duke is one of the strongest teams in the NCAA tournament. But lowly Lehigh refused to allow this to intimidate them in 2012. The No.15 seeds faced the second favorites in the first round. Everybody expected Duke to blow them away but they flamed out in a bracket-buster.


It was also the day that C.J. McCollum became a mainstream star. The future NBA player exploded into life in this game as he scored 30 points. Duke has had some miserable defeats in its history despite its lofty status. But this was up there with the worst and humiliated the program (via Sports Illustrated).

Indiana – 1986

Cleveland State sealed its place in the Sweet Sixteen with this amazing victory over the Hoosiers. It was one of the greatest days in the Vikings’ history because nobody saw this coming. The legendary Bobby Knight didn’t have the strongest Indiana roster at his disposal. But they remained third-overall seeds against the No. 14 seeds.


Coach Kevin Mackey inspired his Cleveland players to a mighty 83-79 victory. Clinton Ransey had a game that supporters never forgot as he put up 27 points. March Madness is fantastic because sometimes analysis and predictions go out of the window. This is a classic example of a Cinderella story (via News-Herald).

Sports Illustrated

Michigan State – 2016

The Spartans endured one of the biggest shocks in recent years when they flamed out against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Nobody thought Middle Tennessee would come to town and smash Michigan State. But that’s exactly what happened as the No. 15 seed defeated the No. 2 Spartans (via USA Today Sports).

Sports Illustrated

Middle Tennessee maintained their composure throughout this game and was prolific from distance. Meanwhile, Michigan dropped the ball at key moments. The Blue Raiders had an amazing work rate and treated this game like their final. They won battles all over the court and broke the hearts of gamblers everywhere.


Arizona – 1993

The Santa Clara Broncos trampled over the Wildcats in one of the best results of 1993. One of the most notable aspects of this game was that Santa Clara missed a lot of shots. Somehow they managed to win despite only a 37 percent shooting rate. But Arizona played even worse than the Broncos despite the presence of star point guard Damon Stoudamire.

L.A. Times

In the end, future NBA icon Steve Nash led his team to victory. This also made Santa Clara the second No. 15 seed in history to win a March Madness game. It made their achievement even more special because it so rarely happens. Seeds exist for a reason and usually, results go the way we expect (via Stadium).


Iowa State – 2001

The Cyclones were victims of another infamous bracket-buster in 2001. They faced the plucky Hampton Pirates in the opening round of March Madness. Iowa State had a future NBA star on their books in Jamaal Tinsley. But this wasn’t enough for them to overcome the best underdog story of the year.


They flamed out against the Pirates in a tight defeat that nobody saw coming. Hampton won the game by a single point as Iowa suffered an agonizing loss. The final score was 58-57 but this game was on the edge of a knife throughout. It remains the most famous day in the program’s history (via

Lex 18

Kentucky – 2022

One of the best parts of March Madness is discovering all of the random private schools across the U.S. No. 15 St. Peters faced the second-seed Wildcats in the opening round of the tournament. Viewers witnessed one of the most shocking upsets ever as the Peacocks stunned Kentucky (via North Jersey).

Bergen Record

The Wildcats flamed out but we must give the Peacocks the credit they deserve. Kentucky entered the game as -18 favorites but this didn’t bother St. Peter’s. They won the game 85-79 as they blew up thousands of betting brackets across the world. But that’s the joy of the NCAA tournament.


UConn – 2006

Sometimes an underdog comes out of nowhere like an invading alien space fleet. George Mason entered the 2006 tournament as the No. 11 seed but they belied their lowly status. Amazingly, they blazed their way to the Final Four after a massive win over UConn. Remember, the Huskies were the No.1 seeds and everybody expected them to win.

Sporting News

The Patriots had a dream campaign as they demolished brackets like a wrecking ball. They defeated Michigan, Wichita, and North Carolina before achieving their biggest scalp. In the end, the Final Four was a bridge too far for the Patriots but they entranced the nation. Even the Huskies begrudgingly gave their respect to the smaller school (via The Post Game).

Philadelphia Inquirer

UCLA – 1996

Princeton rocked UCLA in one of the most unexpected victories ever. The Bruins entered this tournament as No.4 seeds but they were also the defending champions. They weren’t the best team on paper but they should have had more than enough to overcome the Tigers. But that’s not what happened as the Bruins flamed out.

New York Post

This game was all about Princeton’s defense because they were as strong as a dam. They held firm against UCLA’s offense and frustrated the glamor team. No power conference team wants to fall out in the round of 64 but that’s exactly what happened. They flopped and this was a major disappointment for their fans (via Time Magazine).

Fox News

Arizona – 2023

This was one of several high-profile shocks in 2023. FDU stole the headlines with their mesmerizing win over Purdue. But Princeton also deserved immense credit for their victory against Arizona. The final four moments were some of the most entertaining in recent March Madness history (via Arizona Sports).

Roanoke Times

Arizona’s misses proved costly as they went 3-for-16 on three-point attempts. Princeton made this game ugly for the Wildcats as they snatched a 59-55 win. They came from behind to seal one of the greatest wins in modern NCAA tournament annals. People don’t feel as sentimental about an Ivy League school, but it was a brilliant achievement.


Ohio State – 2021

Most people had never heard of Oral Roberts University before this edition of March Madness. The Pentecostal school caused one of the biggest shocks in NCAA tournament history when they beat Ohio State. It was the biggest upset of the previous couple of years as a 15th seed beat the second-ranked team.


Remember, it was six years since Middle Tennessee defeated Michigan State in similar circumstances. It was a stunning moment for the school but they didn’t have wild celebrations. Oral Roberts has a dry campus and students must abide by a curfew. Meanwhile, there’s a dress code and they must cover tattoos (via Sportsnet).


Notre Dame – 1986

Typically, smaller schools lose against the big programs because they lack depth and quality. However, the Little Rock Trojans decided to throw caution to the wind against the Fighting Irish. They thought it was better to go out guns blazing instead of capitulating against the No. 3 seed.

Notre Dame Insider

This proved to be a brilliant decision because they rattled Notre Dame in an iconic shootout. It was a very entertaining game for the neutrals because it was all about the offense. In the end, Notre Dame flamed out against the Trojans. Hampton won 90-83 in a high-scoring and entertaining clash (via Indy Star).

Syracuse Basketball

Syracuse – 1991

Richmond made history in 1991 when they overcame the Orange. This was a notable moment because they became the first No. 15 seed ever to win an NCAA tournament game. Syracuse had one of the nation’s stand-out players on their roster, Billy Owens. But he couldn’t help them beat the Spiders as Syracuse flamed out.

Richmond Athletics

This wasn’t a fluke result either because the Spiders took the lead before half-time. Then they held firm against a tide of Syracuse offense and won the match. In the end, Richmond outscored Syracuse by 73-69 in College Park. It was a moment that none of those players will ever forget (via Richmond Spiders).

Sports Illustrated

Missouri – 2012

Every year there’s a small team with an elite player who destroys a betting bracket. In 2012, Kyle O’Quinn inflicted the damage as Norfolk State stunned Missouri. This was a tight and tense 86-84 victory that entranced everybody watching. Nobody saw this coming because it was Norfolk State’s tournament debut.

Augusta Chronicle

Their future NBA star put up an impressive 26 points against one of the pre-tournament favorites. Even Barack Obama projected that Missouri would make the Final Four. In the end, the Spartans emerged as one of the best underdog stories ever. O’Quinn still considers it the greatest moment of his career (via Gainesville Sun).

New York Times

Georgetown – 1985

This Championship game remains one of the most shocking results in NCAA history. The Hoyas had the mighty Patrick Ewing on their roster and were also a traditional basketball powerhouse. Meanwhile, the Wildcats had never won a title before and entered the tournament as the No. 8 seed (via SBNation).


Everybody took it for granted that Georgetown would roll over Villanova in the final. Yes, the Wildcats had some great displays en route to the showpiece event. They beat the likes of Michigan and Maryland but, on paper, this was a bridge too far. In the end, Georgetown flamed out and Villanova had the greatest day in their history.

The Ringer

Virginia – 2018

March Madness reached its peak in 2018 when UMBC pulled off the most implausible result ever. They became the first No. 16 seed in history to beat the number-one ranked team. The Cavaliers didn’t know what hit them as they flamed out against the Retrievers. Nobody saw this coming but that’s why it was so special.

Some of the results on this list saw underdogs squeak over the line with buzzer-beater victories. But UMBC demolished Virginia and they won by 20 points. They played with confidence and didn’t show any signs of nerves against the No. 1 seed. It remains one of the most fantastic days in NCAA history (via Bleacher Report).

New York Times

Purdue – 2023

The Boilermakers endured arguably the worst loss in NCAA history when they flamed out against FDU. Nobody gave the Madison-based school a chance against Purdue. This was a clash of the number one seed against the 16th seed so a Purdue win felt like an inevitability. But FDU’s high press rattled the Boilermakers and they secured an amazing win.

Las Vegas Review-Journal

FDU had a three-point lead as the game entered the penultimate stages. Heroic blocks prevented Purdue from scoring before FDU put the finishing touches on their win. This made FDU the second 16th seed to beat the number one seed in March Madness. Nobody will forget this victory because it was historically miraculous (via Journal & Courier).