March Madness is one of the most exciting times of the year. That’s because the NCAA basketball tournament always throws up curveballs. Tiny underdogs face Goliath teams with massive funding, talent pools, and future NBA stars. But there are always dramatic March Madness upsets in the tourney.
Today, we’ll look at 40 of the biggest upsets in NCAA basketball tournament history. Some of the top programs across the nation have suffered shocking defeats. These have happened right through the decades. We celebrated them here via Medium.
40. Mercer vs. Duke (2014)
Duke has been on the wrong side of several upsets throughout the years. This isn’t as famous as the others but it’s worthy of a place on this list. Mercer came into this game as a No. 14 seed. They shouldn’t have had much hope against the No. 2 seed.
But March Madness loves to throw a curveball. That’s exactly what happened here as one of the tournament favorites suffered a freak result. Mercer knocked Duke out in the first round despite the latter having future NBA stars on its roster. They earned their 78-71 win (via USA Today).
Yes, we know, it probably seems crazy that a top-seeded team beating another No. 1 seed is an upset. But this truly was one of the biggest of the season. The Kentucky Wildcats had a phenomenal roster with the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker (via The Guardian).
On paper, they were one of the greatest teams in modern history. Or they should have been, at the least. After cruising to a 38-0 unbeaten record, they met the Badgers in the Final Four. Then, Wisconsin did what nobody else was able to achieve by beating Kentucky.
Georgetown is traditionally one of the strongest teams in the NCAA tournament. They’re always there or thereabouts but that’s also why their upsets are more dramatic. One of these came against Davidson with a baby-faced Stephen Curry in their ranks (via Washington Post).
This defeat aged a lot better because of the player Curry became in the NBA. But it was a major shock at the time because it was a clash of No. 2 vs. No. 10 seeds. There should only have been one winner but March Madness had other ideas. Curry’s 25 second-half points were crucial.
Some moments act as a catalyst for NCAA tournament success. This was one such occasion for Wichita State because they emerged from the wilderness. The No. 9 seed took on top-ranked Gonzaga and didn’t allow the odds to define them.
Future NBA stars Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker put on brave displays as they upset the odds. It’s games like this one that give March Madness its nickname. Gonzaga had one of the best records in the U.S. but couldn’t hold off plucky Wichita (via Kansas.com).
The women’s tournament doesn’t receive the same attention as the men’s. Nonetheless, it’s still exciting and produces some shocking moments. This was one of the most dramatic because Tennessee was a basketball powerhouse. They won three consecutive titles before they ran into the Blue Devils.
By all rights, Tennessee should have won this game. However, Duke didn’t read the script. The number three seed shut down Chamique Holdsclaw and won the game, 69-63. Then they progressed to the Final Four. It was a massive shock (via New York Times).
Second-seed Missouri came into 2012 with a lot of confidence. They defeated Baylor to win the Big 12 tournament and also maintained a strong record all season. However, they faced a Norfolk State with an inspired Kyle O’Quinn. He led them to a freak win thanks to a glorious performance.
Missouri had a couple of future NBA stars on their books but this wasn’t enough on the day. Instead, Norfolk progressed to the second round. This was because of O’Quinn’s 26 points and 14 rebounds in a magnificent outing (via Bleacher Report).
It’s true Valparaiso was a sizable underdog against Mississippi in 1998. They were No. 13 seeds facing Ole Miss’s No. 4. However, that’s not the main reason why this one stays in the memory. They pulled off a spectacular comeback to win this incredible game (via Spokesman).
Mississippi led by two points with four seconds left on the clock. It appeared as though Valparaiso had fallen just short of the spectacular shock. But then Jamie Sykes flung a Hail Mary to Bill Jenkins. Jenkins offloaded to Bryce Drew who scored a remarkable buzzer-beater.
Baylor’s women’s team is one of the strongest in the NCAA tournament. After winning 74 of their previous 75 games, they were massive favorites. They also had future WNBA star Brittney Griner in their ranks. That’s why it was a major shock when Louisville upset them in style.
Some results don’t make sense because they shouldn’t happen. Louisville had lost multiple games that season and was only the third-best team in the Big East. Some of those defeats came against unranked teams. Nonetheless, they won the game 82-81 (via TampaBay.com).
North Carolina was an NCAA powerhouse for almost two decades. Then they ran into lowly Weber and failed to win a March Madness game for the first time in 18 years. “We’re definitely the better team,” North Carolina’s Ed Cota said. “But in this tournament, the best team doesn’t always win (via CBS News).
This sums March Madness up nicely. The Wildcats used their speed and dynamism to great effect as they outworked their taller opponents. North Carolina had a massive opportunity to get the win, but in the end, Weber State held on. It was a glorious day for the Utah school.
The Bucknell Bison existed for 110 seasons before this game. Yet, this was their first victory in the NCAA tournament as well as a first for the Patriot League. The N0. 14 seed faced the Kansas Jayhawks in what should have been a total mismatch (via New York Times).
Many analysts consider the Jayhawks the best team in the league before the season. Things didn’t pan out that way but they were still a strong unit. However, they fell apart in the tournament as Bucknell produced a famous result. They won 64-63 on a famous day in Oklahoma City.
Lauren Jensen stole the show in the game because she sank her former team. The Creighton Bluejay star inspired her new side to glory against the Jayhawks. This was an electrifying occasion because it was so close. In the end, No. 10 Creighton defeated No. 2 Kansas 64-62.
Jensen transferred to Creighton before the new season and there was no love lost. She scored 19 points against Kansas as she proved a point. Meanwhile, it also upset the odds for gamblers. Women’s basketball produces fewer upsets but this was a big one (via The NY Post).
This game was important for several reasons. First, Kentucky was the top-ranked team before the tournament. In contrast, the Miners were third seeds. Then there was the matter of civil rights. Texas started five black players, a first in NCAA basketball tournament history.
The Miners won the game and the tournament. But most of all, they overcame the odds. That’s because they endured racism and strife to make it this far. There’s a Hollywood movie called Glory Road (2006) that celebrates this amazing achievement (via History).
This is one of the most emotional entries on this list because it occurred after a tragedy. Loyola Marymount suffered the loss of teammate Hank Gathers. But this propelled them to new heights when it came to March Madness. They were able to use it as a motivation to earn shocking wins.
No. 11 Loyola rocked Michigan in the second round. The Wolverines didn’t know what happened because this was a major upset. The underdogs won the game 149-115 in a dominant victory. It was a remarkable win but one that they completely deserved (via L.A. Times).
Gonzaga emerged as a basketball powerhouse after this game. But before it, they weren’t in the conversation about tournament favorites. The Bulldogs overcame Stanford, 82-74 in a deserved victory. It also hurt the hopes of gamblers across the nation (via Washington Post).
The 10th-seeded team proved their worth against an Ivy League team. On paper, Stanford had physical advantages because they were a taller team. But Gonzaga didn’t allow this to overwhelm them and played smart basketball. In the end, it paid off.
Millions of people across the world Googled Oral Roberts after their shocking win over Ohio State last year. The evangelical university pulled off one of the shocks of the decade when they defeated the Buckeyes. The 15 seeds pulled off the rare feat of beating a second-seeded team.
Their unexpected victory came in overtime after a sensational battle. Max Abmas and Kevin Obamor were an unstoppable duo for the Golden Eagles. They scored over 50 points between them and completely rattled Ohio. Then, they defeated Florida in the second round before a valiant Sweet 16 loss (via N.Y. Times).
This tournament was all about Danny Manning. He was the star of the Jayhawks’ unexpected run to tournament glory in 1998. Later, he became a No. 1 draft pick because of his inspired performances. It was all the more special because Kansas had a mediocre regular season.
They went 21-11 in the regular season but someone lit a fire underneath them when March Madness began. In the end, nothing could stop them, not even the Sooners. Finally, they became champions against the odds (via KU Sports).
March Madness always throws up upsets but this was a great one. Texas expected to comfortable beat Abilene Christian because of the disparity in rankings. The No. 14 seed also has much less money to fund their basketball program. Nonetheless, they sealed victory in style (via CBS Sports).
This was a close affair because both teams had their moments. In the end, Abilene refused to give up and scored a pair of free throws at the death. These proved to be the difference because Texas ran out of time. They were unable to blow the smaller school away because of their heart and skill.
The Hoosiers had a great opportunity to progress to the second round in 1986. They received an easy matchup against Cleveland State. Or at least that’s what it seemed like on paper but their opponents had other ideas. In the end, this March Madness clash ended in humiliation for Indiana.
Bobby Knight’s team suffered a first-round exit for the first time in the celebrated coach’s career. It was an acrimonious ending to a tournament where they had high hopes. But the 83-77 scoreline didn’t flatter Cleveland, who earned the victory (via The News-Herald).
Statistically, this was one of the biggest NCAA shocks ever in men’s or women’s tournament history. It’s the only time that a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in March Madness. This is why fans remember this game with a special fondness.
However, there are a couple of caveats. First, Stanford lost some key players to injury in the previous game. Meanwhile, Harvard had an elite star in their ranks in Allison Feaster. Nonetheless, this was still a shocker and worthy of its place on this list (via ESPN).
LSU had a dream run in 1986. The No. 11 seed benefited from a tournament that was still figuring out the rules. Firstly, they reaped the rewards of home advantage in their early games. Furthermore, the NCAA under-seeded them before March Madness began.
But they still went on a wild rampage on their way to the Final Four. This included a dramatic and unexpected victory over the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight. Many analysts saw the Wildcats as pre-tournament favorites but LSU stopped them in their tracks.
2012 saw a pair of outrageous upsets. Nobody saw this bracket-buster coming because it was so outrageous. Duke was one of the strongest teams in the entire tournament. Later, it emerged that they had eight future NBA stars on their ridiculously-stacked roster.
In the end, it didn’t matter. That’s because Lehigh boasted a future NBA player of their own in C.J. McCollum. He lit up the game as he posted 30 points in a glorious victory. This one stunned gamblers across the United States because there was no reason to expect it (via CBS Sports).
Ivy League schools rarely receive underdog status but that was the case for Penn in 1979. North Carolina was the top-ranked team in the tournament when they met. Nobody thought that the Quakers would beat them but they overcame the odds.
In the end, Penn made it to the Final Four after an exciting run. The final was beyond them but their run was exciting. Beating North Carolina was like their final because of the emotion they expended. Everyone was rooting for them (via ESPN).
Houston came into this game with two future NBA Hall of Famers in their ranks. Of course, we’re talking about Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. In theory, this should have translated to an easy victory over N.C. State, but that’s not what happened (via Goliath).
The Wolfpack barely qualified for the tournament so they didn’t have much hope of beating the favorites. In the end, a late Lorenzo Charles dunk was enough to seal the deal. It was a dramatic victory but a deserved one that sent their school into raptures.
Texas Tech became a powerhouse in 1993 after winning their first NCAA Tournament. They consolidated and progressed over the next few years. Nobody gave the Fighting Irish a shot against them in the 1998 installment. But Notre Dame overcame the odds to oust their opponents.
Ruth Riley was the star of the show after scoring 23 points in the second half. Amazingly they also won this game on Texas Tech turf (via Orlando Sentinel). This was against the odds because Notre Dame was 0-5 against ranked opponents that season. That’s the joy and pain of March Madness.
UCLA came into this installment of March Madness as the defending champions. Furthermore, they were the greatest team in college basketball history. People rarely root for an Ivy League underdog. After all, it’s less romantic than cheering for a tiny school that nobody has ever heard of.
However, the Princeton offense inspired the watching nation. Pete Carill maneuvered his N0. 13 seed team to overtime against UCLA. Then, the veteran coach executed the perfect strategy to seize the win. It was a legendary moment for the great man (via Inquirer).
One of the most recent shocks in March Madness history, this was a big one. Many viewers had never even heard of the tiny New Jersey college with a student body of just 3,500. However, Saint Peters ensured their place in everybody’s memories after beating Goliath (via N.Y. Post).
This was also only the 10th time that a 15th seed defeated a second-seed. The fact that it was Kentucky made this all the sweeter because of the school’s reputation as a basketball powerhouse. Meanwhile, amazing videos emerged online of the school’s supporters celebrating.
Coppin State is one of those schools that nobody knows exists until they pop up in the NCAA tournament. They were guppies in a lake before this installment of March Madness. The Eagles had never won a game before this one so nobody gave them a chance against South Carolina (via Washington Post).
However, they became the third No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed as they lit up the Gamecocks. This game wasn’t even that close as the Eagles won 78-65. It was a remarkable victory but one that they completely deserved. They went from blowout losses against ranked opposition to a stunning win.
Georgetown is a basketball powerhouse but they have endured some shocking upsets over the years. One of the most recent was against Florida Gulf Coast. The 15th-seeded team shouldn’t have had hope against the second seeds. But March Madness always delivers chaos.
‘Dunk City’ became one of the most fun teams of the month. Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson had the games of their respective young lives. Both men scored over 20 points as they stole the show. This was a great display because they dunked five times against the Hoyas (via S.F. Gate).
George Mason was the name on everybody’s lips after their unlikely run to the Final Four. This included an improbable victory over Connecticut in Elite Eight. The Big East winners should have probably had too much for the N0. 11 seed.
After all, the Huskies are one of the strongest teams in the NCAA tournament. But George Mason had a series of inspired performances. After beating Michigan State they continued to show resolve. Finally, they defeated Connecticut to win the hearts of the nation (via Yardbreaker).
Marist played No. 4 seed Georgia in 2012 and pulled off a shock victory. Statistically, this was unlikely because there are fewer upsets in the women’s game. That’s why Marist was the only 13th seed to win a tournament game in the 2010s (via SBNation).
The Red Foxes overcame the Lady Bulldogs 76-70. Corielle Yarde was on fire as she scored 21 points for Marist. This was a fantastic win for the school because everybody disregarded them. But they didn’t have an inferiority complex and surprised the basketball landscape.
Iowa had a lot of confidence in 2001 but they ground to an unexpected halt. They had a future NBA first-round draft pick in their ranks in Jamaal Tinsley. Meanwhile, the 2nd seeds had a good record in the tournament. They should have rolled over Hampton easily.
But they wouldn’t be on this list if they did. Instead, it was Hampton who celebrated a famous victory. The school took a late 58-57 lead with seconds left on the clock. Iowa still had a single opportunity to score but Tinsley fluffed his lines (via ESPN).
Arizona was in strong shape in 1993. They had a future NBA star on their hands in Damon Stoudamire. The No.2 seeds carried the favorites tag into their March Madness game against lowly Santa Clara. Many people had never even heard of the Broncos before.
However, Steve Nash and his exciting, dynamic teammates changed that. Nash blossomed in the spotlight as he scored six consecutive free throws. Meanwhile, the Broncos became just the second 15th seed team to win a tournament game (via L.A. Times).
Kansas suffered a shocking and humiliating loss in 2009. That’s because they became the first top overall seed to lose a first-round game. Northern Iowa became one of the all-time bracket busters when they shocked the Jayhawks. They just shouldn’t have pulled it off.
But somehow, they did. It was a back-and-forth clash of the titans with both teams leading at various points. The Panthers secured a narrow one-point lead with minutes left. But then they sealed the win with a glorious three-pointer. In the end, they made it to the Elite Eight (via Vegas Insider).
Duke was the victim of several March Madness upsets over the years. However, they also pulled off one of the most dramatic in history. In 1991, UNLV impressed everybody to the extent that they appeared unbeatable. Some analysts believed that the Larry Johnson-led team was the greatest NCAA team ever.
Then the Blue Devils broke their hearts. It was a take of revenge for Duke because they suffered a crushing loss to UNLV the previous season. But they stayed calm and pulled off a tight victory in the Final Four. UNLV couldn’t believe what had just happened (via Indy Star).
Many people didn’t think that VCU should even have been in the tournament. Tournament bettors didn’t expect them to stick around for long. But they received a couple of great fixtures that saw them cruise into the Elite Eight. That’s where they faced the Jayhawks.
Most gamblers expected their run to end because Kansas had a much stronger team. However, VCU roared into an insurmountable lead. They led by 17 points before the Jayhawks even got on the scoreboard. The No. 1 seed didn’t know what was happening (via L.A. Times).
A top seed rarely stumbles in the early rounds of the women’s tournament. But that’s what made this game such a massive shock. The Blue Devils took on Michigan State in the second round. They also had a clutch of future WNBA stars on their roster.
In the end, it didn’t matter because they couldn’t overcome Michigan. After beating Tennessee, Michigan came into this game with a lot of confidence. Their enthusiasm and desire surprised Duke. In the end, the Spartans came out on top as 60-59 winners (via State News).
Kermit Davis established his reputation as one of the most promising coaches in the college game after this victory. That’s because he helped plot Middle Tennessee’s victory over Michigan in March Madness. The 15th seeds somehow defeated one of the tournament favorites.
MSU had more turnovers but the Blue Raiders didn’t wilt. Their shooting was on point as all of their forwards went into double figures. It was a massive shock because they defeated a second-seed team. But they earned their victory because of their courage and gameplan (via The Comeback).
Richmond was the 15th seed in 1991. Needless to say, nobody had much hope of them beating the Orange. Syracuse carried 2nd seed tags into this game and had an excellent record. No 15 seed had ever won an NCAA tournament game before this one.
That’s what made this such a great day in Richmond school history. They claimed this accolade after beating Syracuse in a tight affair. In the end, they finished the game 73-69. It wasn’t the most exciting game in the world but it was a unique moment (via Baltimore Sun).
Many people will believe that this game deserves the top spot. They may have a point because it’s the only time a 16-seeded team defeated a top seed in history. This had never happened before in 165 opportunities but UMBC became the first (via Athlon Sports).
Virginia only lost a pair of games all season by just eight points. Meanwhile, UMBC suffered massive defeats to garbage teams like Albany. Nonetheless, form goes out the window when March Madness raises its head. UMBC won convincingly, 74-54.
This remains one of the biggest NCAA tournament upsets ever. On paper, Georgetown was the strongest team in the bracket. Firstly, they were the defending champions. Meanwhile, they also had Patrick Ewing on their books. The future NBA star performed brilliantly for them all season (via History).
They faced Villanova for the championship after beating twice already that year. Georgetown even led and outshot their rivals at several stages. But Villanova was clinical on the day. They defeated two first seeds and a pair of seconds seeds to win the title. It was one of the greatest wins in college basketball history.