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The 10 Biggest NCAA Tournament Upsets Ever
AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File

March is a beautiful thing.

Spring is in the air and the sun is shining, making it the perfect time to spend three straight weekends on your couch watching college basketball.

On 11 a.m. on the opening Thursday, workplaces across America cease functions. The game plan is discreetly watching hoops while pretending to be busy. You put one earphone in in case your boss comes over asking for an update. The form your filling out is definitely a status report and not your bracket.

You stood up and cheered not because your team won but because you just met your quarterly quota. For the real pros, coworkers raise eyebrows when you come down with a new sickness every March but no one says anything.

Of the few things better than opening day, one of them is that you get to do it all again tomorrow.

The NCAA Tournament is the lifeblood of March, and the lifeblood of the NCAA Tournament are upsets. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been the better team all year. You just need to be the better team for 40 minutes.

Let’s take a look at some of the Big Dance’s biggest upsets:

10 Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History

10. (15) Middle Tennessee State over (2) Michigan State, 2016 First Round

According to Jon Rothstein, the calendar is January, February, Izzo, April. The Spartans seem to sneak up on everyone, even though they’ve found themselves in the Final Four eight times since 1999.

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Fresh off a Big Ten Tournament title, Michigan State was a sexy pick to win the whole thing in 2016. Middle Tennessee State, the Conference USA champions, stopped the bracket darlings in their tracks with a 90-81 shocker.

9. (10) Davidson over (2) Georgetown, 2008 Second Round

The introduction of Steph Curry. I remember this distinctly because one of my friends picked Davidson to go to the Final Four and won his dad’s office bracket pool.

Davidson upset Gonzaga in the first round to take on Georgetown. Anchored by Curry’s 30 points, the underdogs took down a Hoyas team that lived in the top-10 for most of the season. Davidson beat Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 only to fall short by two points against eventual national champion Kansas in the Elite 8.

Curry’s individual performance is one of the best in recent NCAA Tournament history.

8. (14) Weber State over (3) North Carolina, 1999 First Round

The blueboods have all slipped at some point. North Carolina’s rare blip came against Big Sky champion Weber State.

The Tar Heels’ loss is the only time the program has fallen in the first round in the modern era.

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7. (15) Richmond over (2) Syracuse, 1991 First Round

The Spiders secured a double-digit lead early in the game only to win 73-69. The huge upset is the first 15 over 2 in the tournament’s history.

6. (15) Lehigh over (2) Duke, 2012 first round

The opening Friday of the 2012 NCAA Tournament featured two 15-seeds over 2-seeds in one day. Norfolk State took down Missouri, and Lehigh squandered Duke.

Lehigh’s victory was especially sweet for everyone who loves to hate on the Blue Devils. Future NBA star CJ McCollum‘s 30 points and six assists carried the Hawks.

5. (15) Florida Gulf Coast over (2) Georgetown, 2013 First Round

Florida Gulf Coast University was founded in 1997. 16 years later, the men’s basketball team was slamming all over the sports’ biggest stage in its tournament debut

The Eagles’ fast paced game proved too much for the Hoyas, who won the Big East regular season title. FGCU then beat San Diego State to advance to the Sweet 16, where it fell to North Carolina.

Dunk City: Population one.

4. (11) George Mason over (1) Connecticut, 2006 Elite Eight

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RELATED: March Madness? Greatest Cinderella Stories of All Time

George Mason’s clock was thought to strike midnight against UConn. The Cinderella beat Michigan State, North Carolina, and Wichita State en route to a date with the 1-seed Huskies.

The Patriots clock held on for another 40 minutes. By a score of 86-84, the program reached its first Final Four and kept a riveting run alive for another game.

3. (11) VCU over (1) Kansas, 2011 Elite Eight

The team that put Shaka Smart on the map. The 33-year-old, second-year head coach propelled the Rams to upset wins over Georgetown, Purdue, and Florida State to meet top-seed Kansas with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Behind Jamie Skeen’s 26 points and 10 rebounds, VCU knocked off Kansas by 10 and Cinderella kept rolling.

2. (8) Villanova over (1) Georgetown, 1985 National Championship

The bigger the stakes, the bigger the upset. Patrick Ewing and Georgetown were a force to be reckoned with in the mid-1980s, making the national championship game in 1982 and winning it in 1984. In the way of a second straight national title stood Big East rival Villanova.

The Hoyas defeated the Wildcats twice in the regular season. In the third matchup, It was Nova’s familiarity with its conference foe that led to its victory. The team shot an incredible 78.6 percent from the field and made all of but one of its 10 shots in the second half.

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Yes, a team won the title by only taking 10 shots in a half.

1. (16) UMBC over (1) Virginia, 2018 first round

We were all waiting for it. Every year, we wondered if this was the time a 1-seed would fall to a 16-seed.

That year was 2018.

Virginia came into the tourney as the ACC’s regular season and tournament champions. There were realistic expectations to capture the program’s first national championship.

The Cavaliers then met the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers, who made the big dance on a buzzer beater in the America East tournament. The two went into halftime tied, and UMBC prevailed by a final score of 74-54 to give us the first and only 16 over 1 in March Madness history.

#RetrieverBeliever

Honorable mentions: (15) Santa Clara over (2) Arizona, 1993 first round; (14) Cleveland State over (3) Indiana, 1986 first round; (15) Hampton over (2) Iowa State, 2001 first round; (14) Mercer over (3) Duke, 2014 first round; (13) Princeton over (4) UCLA, 1996 first round; (1) Wisconsin over (1) Kentucky, 2015 Final Four

MORE: The Best March Madness Sleepers to Watch in 2021

Joe Grobeck About the author:
Joe is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and lives in Austin, Texas. He believes Ndaumkong Suh should've won the 2009 Heisman and is an avid basketball fan.
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