The Most Memorable Upsets in NCAA Tournament History

When it comes to upsets and underdog stories, March Madness is the gift that keeps on giving! March is always the best time of year for sports fans because of all the excitement that surrounds the NCAA Tournament. Nothing is guaranteed in the tournament. The favorite to win the entire thing can be knocked out in the blink of an eye. A team that just barely made the cut can go on an unbelievable run. A previously unheard-of player can make a name for himself in just a few short games.


The reason why March Madness is so exciting is that anything can happen. And what is March Madness without a few upsets?


So far in the 2021 NCAA Tournament through the Sweet Sixteen, 17 lower-seeded teams defeated higher-seeded teams. According to the NCAA, in order to qualify as an upset, the team that won needs to be seeded five spots or higher. In this year's tournament, that has happened 13 times, an all-time record. The biggest upset in this year’s tournament is #15 Oral Roberts defeating #2 Ohio State in the first round. This is the first time since 2008 that the Golden Eagles are in the tournament and their first wins since 1974. And now they are just the second 15-seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.


So, in honor of upsets and Cinderella stories, let’s take a look at some of the most exciting upsets in tournament history:


2018 First Round: No. 16 UMBC over No. 1 Virginia (74-54)

First and foremost, my apologies to AFTR PRTY Co-Founder Jalen Carr. I know UVA is your school, but this has to go down as the greatest upset in tournament history. Before 2018, 16-seeded teams were 0-132 in the tournament. That is until UMBC came to play.


Virginia was a defensive juggernaut, frustrating opponents all year. They lost two games all year by an average of four points. Before the tournament, only eight teams were able to score 60 or more points against Virginia. Many picked them to win it all, including me. But the Retrievers had a different plan in mind. They stuck with the Cavaliers throughout the first half and let it rain three’s in the second half. When a team gets hot in March, it’s already over.


2013 First Round: No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast over No. 2 Georgetown (78-68)

The birth of “Dunk City.” Florida Gulf Coast wasn’t even a full Division I member until 2011. In their first Division I NCAA Tournament in school history, FGCU didn’t just beat Georgetown… they embarrassed the Hoyas.


Georgetown was led by future No. 3 overall pick in NBA Draft Otto Porter Jr. The team had won 12 of their last 13 games heading into the tournament. FGCU, however, didn’t take notice of it as they dropped 54 points in the second half, including a 21-2 run. The reason for the dunk related nicknames, such as “Florida Dunk Coast,” is because the team had some of the most jaw-dropping slams in the tournament. One crazy dunk will get your team ready to run through a brick wall. Times that by ten and you have the momentum that FGCU was riding on.


2012 First Round: No. 15 Lehigh over No. 2 Duke (75-70)

In a tournament where there are no guarantees, there are actually two guarantees: fans rooting for the upset and fans rooting for Duke to lose. A few variables assisted Lehigh with the upset such as fellow 15-seed Norfolk State upset 2-seed Missouri just a couple hours beforehand. That doesn’t compare in scale to the fact the arena was packed with UNC fans since the Tar Heels were also playing that weekend. Right place right time for Lehigh.


Duke is one of the biggest powerhouses in the modern era of college basketball, churning out NBA players. This 2011-12 roster was no different, as it had eight players later play in the NBA. Even with Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Mason Plumlee leading the charge, the Blue Devils just couldn’t get it done. It also didn’t help that future NBA Superstar C.J. McCollum dropped 30 points on the opposite side.


2011 Elite Eight: No. 11 VCU over No. 1 Kansas (71-61)

This was supposed to be an easy win for Kansas. The Jayhawks only lost twice during the season and had five future NBA players, headlined by the Morris twins. They beat their previous tournament opponents by an average of 17 points. On the other side, VCU didn’t even win the CAA tournament and the team was an at-large bid placed in the First Four.


Led by young and charismatic head coach Shaka Smart in his second year, the Rams were able to complete one of the most stunning upsets in tournament history. From all the tournament’s I’ve watched, VCU’s run is one of the craziest Cinderella runs of all-time. VCU is the only men’s Division I basketball team to have their tournament start in the First Four and finish in the Final Four. This run not only put VCU on the map, it also put Shaka Smart on the map.


2006 Elite Eight: No. 11 George Mason over No. 1 UConn (86-84 OT)

George Mason walked so VCU could run. Before it was VCU, fellow CAA members George Mason went on a Cinderella run of their own. Their run, however, started a bit different. George Mason lost in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament to Hofstra University (Go Pride!). Hofstra beat them twice in a span of ten days, but George Mason controversially got the at-large bid over the Pride. But maybe it was the right choice?


The Huskies, led by Rudy Gay, never slipped below No. 4 in the AP Poll. Like most of the Goliath's on this list, many had UConn winning the National Championship. The Patriots were all over the Huskies throughout the entire game, taking them to their second straight and third overtime game in their past five. George Mason never lost the lead in overtime, sending UConn home with their tails between their legs.


1985 National Championship: No. 8 Villanova over No. 1 Georgetown (66-64)

This game is up there for one of the best David vs. Goliath stories. Georgetown spent five weeks when they weren’t ranked No. 1 in the country… they were No. 2 instead. The Hoyas were headlined by future Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, who pretty much won every National Player of the Year award. Georgetown was no joke.


Their opponent, Villanova, was a formidable opponent, having been ranked in the Top 25 for a few weeks during the year. This was a revenge game for Villanova, however, as they lost TWICE to Georgetown during the year - the first time by two and the second by seven. The Wildcats played the Hoyas tough and walked away as the lowest seed to win a National Championship. Villanova set NCAA Tournament Championship game records for highest shooting percentage (78.6 percent) and the fewest shot attempts (28 total).


1983 National Championship: No. 6 NC State over No. 1 Houston (54-52)

The run NC State went on to win the National Championship was absolutely remarkable. Between the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, NC State won only three games by five or more points. The Wolfpack’s seeding is high, but taking down Houston’s Phi Slama Jama squad makes this one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.


Going against a team that sports both Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in their starting five would have shook any team. But that’s what makes this win so much better, and NC State did it in dramatic fashion. Just as time is about to expire, Lorenzo Charles pulls down a short three-point attempt from Dereck Whittenburg to win the National Championship on a quasi-alley-oop.

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