It didn't take long for the 2016 NCAA Tournament to give us a massive upset. Middle Tennessee State knocked off Michigan State to blow up the champions in millions of people's brackets. The Blue Raiders had the lead from start to finish and the Spartans didn't play poorly, it didn't come off as a huge upset, so they didn't make this list. You'd think we'd be prepared for miracle wins when revisiting the history of the tournament. But yet, every year there are teams we could never predict would win that survive and advance.
While we watch the greatest single elimination tourney in America intently and are prepared for the upsets, we will still be shocked by some David knocking off a Goliath every season. What team of "Cinderfellas" will shock the sporting world with a dramatic upset going forward in the tournament? Will it make this list in the future? We have never witnessed the ultimate upset of a 16 seed toppling a #1 in the men's game. The #1 seeds sweeping again this season made them 128-0 since the tourney had that possible matchup.
The following is a list of the greatest upsets in the history of the tournament. It's not just small schools knocking off the big boys, it's a list of teams that were thought to have no chance of winning, or even competing, and coming through versus a team that no one thought they had a chance against.
Is your team on the list? Hopefully, your team is pulling the upset and not getting upset.
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15 Jacksonville 106, Kentucky 100 - Elite 8 - 1970
The best team in the country that entire season was not the usual powerhouse of that era, the UCLA Bruins. Kentucky was clearly the best team all season and their deep team earned the nickname, "The Magnificent 10." The Wildcats needed to be a deep team to even keep the game close because Jacksonville's center, Artis Gilmore, was so dominant that four Kentucky players fouled out. The death knell for them was when All-American Dan Issel committed his fifth foul with 10:56 left to play. Kentucky fought back and was within two late, but Jacksonville's Rex Morgan erupted late to maintain the lead. But, it was Gilmore's 24 point, 20 rebounds performance that knocked out Kentucky and coach Adolph Rupp.
14 Norfolk St 86, Missouri 84 - First Round - 2012
Because of their early exit from the 2012 tourney, the #2 Mizzou Tigers have been all but forgotten for that season, but they were a good team. Many experts claimed they deserved a #1 seed. However, none of that mattered when they went up against the Norfolk State Spartans, the champions of the MEAC. Norfolk dominated the boards by a tune of 34-23, with center Kyle O'Quinn leading the way with 14 boards and 26 points. The guards also did their job versus the 30-5 Tigers who won the Big 12 Tournament that season. The Spartans were 10 of 19 from behind the arc and guards Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin both had 20 points.
13 George Mason 86, UConn 84 OT - Elite 8 - 2006
Basketball fans were impressed when Jim Larranaga coached his defensive-minded team all the way to the Elite Eight, but it was shocking to see them cap off their Final Four run over top seeded UConn. George Mason wasn't even a conference champion and was a #11 seed at-large team. There was an outcry from pundits claiming the Patriots from the Colonial Athletic Association didn't deserve an at-large berth, even though they did reach the Top 25 polls in February of that season. However, they proved all their critics wrong by winning their way into the Final Four over the Huskies. The Patriots nailed 50% of their three-pointers to rally from a nine point halftime deficit to pull the upset.
12 Hampton 58, Iowa State 57 - First Round - 2001
Iowa State was a hot pick to make a Final Four run and possibly snatch the National Championship when the brackets were announced. However, that didn't matter to the #15 Hampton Pirates, who were in the midst of their greatest season in school history. But, no one thought the champions of the MEAC could handle the loaded Cyclones who had two future NBA first round draft picks, Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Fizer, on their roster. The Pirates used a pressure defense to force 17 Cyclone turnovers and finished the game on a 14-2 run over the last eight minutes to pull the shocker. Afterwards, Hampton coach Steve Merfeld was lifted into the air by forward David Johnson in joyous celebration in one of the most memorable moments in tourney history.
11 Princeton 43, UCLA 41 - First Round - 1996
Considering that there have been greater discrepancies in seeds, there could be debate at having the Princeton 4 vs 13 upset on this elite list. However, the UCLA Bruins were the defending National Champions and loaded with players that would be All-Americans and NBA players. The Tigers ran coach Pete Carril's 'Princeton Offense' to perfection by running the clock and never settling for an average shot. But, it wasn't just ball control that helped spring the upset, the Tigers limited the Bruins to only 38.5% shooting. But, it was Carril's offense that was the difference in his last collegiate win,as Steve Goodrich hit Gabe Lewullis with a bounce pass on a backdoor cut for the deciding basket with 3.9 seconds left.
10 LSU 59, Kentucky 57 - Elite 8 - 1986
Being a powerhouse year in and year out means that Kentucky is more likely to be on the wrong side of an upset as opposed to the team pulling off the miracle. It seemed like the Tigers would need a miracle to beat #1 Kentucky when they met in the 1986 Elite Eight. Kentucky won the previous three meetings between the schools that year and it appeared that LSU was out of gas after the #11 seed pulled of a huge win over Georgia Tech two days earlier. But, LSU coach Dale Brown came up with a new defensive scheme, 'The Freak,' that shifted around Kentucky All-American Kenny 'Sky' Walker and confounded him. The Tigers used all :45 seconds of possession multiple times to eke out a win in the first year of the shot clock.
9 Santa Clara 64, Arizona 61 - First Round - 1993
Looking back and factoring that Steve Nash was the leader of Santa Clara may lessen the impact of how shocking this game this 2 vs 15 upset was, but it was huge at the time. Arizona dominated the Pac 10 conference and were a solid #5 team in the country. Plus, it wasn't Steve Nash who was the best player on the floor that day for the Broncos, Pete Eisenrich was. The forward scored 19 points and gave his team enough cushion to make up for Nash missing two free throws in the final minute of the game. Nash could've been the goat if future NBA star Damon Stoudamire didn't miss a 23 foot jumper as time expired.
8 Florida Gulf Coast 78, Georgetown 68 - First Round - 2013
It may not surprise anyone that Georgetown is on this list, considering they lost to a double digit seed in four consecutive tournaments from 2010-2013, but no one saw this coming. The Hoyas were a great defensive team and tri-champions of the then dominant Big East conference. The Eagles of FGC had only been playing Division I basketball for two seasons and the school was created in 1997. This was FGC's first trip to the tournament and the Hoyas' 29th. The Eagles didn't care about being newbies and used an athletic flashy style to dunk all over the befuddled Hoyas to pull off the 2 vs 15 upset. Georgetown had trouble scoring and their best player, Otto Porter Jr, was limited to 13 points on five of 17 shooting.
7 Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 - First Round - 1991
This game was not as close as the final score may indicate, because the Spiders never trailed the powerful Syracuse squad for a second in this ballgame. But, it was the first ever 2 vs 15 upset and shocked the basketball world. The first six years of the 64 team tournament had the 15 seeds at 0-24 in their appearances, but coach Dick Tarrant's Spiders changed all of that. They shot over the Syracuse zone and found open creases with crisp passes to pull off the upset. Future NBA player Billy Owens scored 19 for Syracuse, but it wasn't enough to best Curtis Blair and the rest of the Spiders.
6 Penn 72, North Carolina 71 - Elite 8 - 1979
This game shocked the East Coast and had basketball fans questioning whether Dean Smith could, 'win the big one.' Obviously, Coach Smith would cement his legend as the coach of North Carolina, but that was the most shocking loss for the Tar Heels in their tournament history. They were ACC champs and were awarded one of the top Four seeds as the tourney was seeded for the first time. The Quakers were Ivy League champions and very deep, but they didn't match up to the superior size and athleticism of UNC. However, the executed superbly with 17 assists on 29 baskets and took advantage of their deeper bench to out hustle the Tar Heels.
5 Duke 79, UNLV 77 - Final Four - 1991
It may seem crazy to some younger basketball fans, but the storied Duke program was regarded as having a slim to none chance of knocking off the undefeated defending National Champion UNLV Running Rebels in 1991. The 34-0 Rebs were coached by Jim Tarkanian and loaded with future NBA stars like Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Elmore Spencer. The Rebs defeated Duke by 30 points in the previous National Championship game and most experts felt a repeat performance was expected for the possible greatest team ever. That didn't happen as Christian Laettner used physical play to keep Duke in the game and then they got lucky. Point guard Greg Anthony fouled out with 3:51 left in the game and their 45 game winning streak was soon to end. UNLV couldn't get their offense going without Anthony and allowed Duke to grab the victory.
4 Canisius 79, NC State 78 3OT - First Round - 1956
Before there were seeds to give tangible credence to the discrepancy between two tournament teams, this upset occurred in the 1956 tourney. Even though the tournament was not seeded, no one foresaw Canisius beating the #2 team in the country and ACC champions in the NC State Wolfpack. Legendary Wolfpack coach Everett Case adds credence to the fact that this is one of the biggest upsets in tournament history because he claimed to not even know that Canisius existed before their first round matchup. But, instead of a easy win on a cakewalk to the Final Four the Wolfpack were shocked by efficient play and great defense by Canisius. Frank Corcoran was the hero for Canisius, not because he had a big game, but because the only basket he scored put the Golden Griffins ahead for good in the final minute of the third overtime.
3 Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 - Title Game - 1966
This game may get a boost up the list due to historical circumstances, but regardless of that, Texas Western beating the perennial power of Kentucky shocked the world. The story of that game of the all black starting five of the Miners beating the all white Adolph Rupp Wildcats would eventually become a Hollywood movie and is the essence of what was important that day. With the example of the Miners beating the Wildcats, schools rushed to sign African-American players. The next year every conference in the south had integrated. But, it took Kentucky until 1970 to follow suit as a school.
2 NC State 54, Houston 52 -Title Game - 1983
The fact that the Wolfpack even made the tournament with their incredible run in the ACC tourney was a shock. The fact they pulled off the upset over the ferocious Phi Slamma Jamma of Houston and Guy Lewis, is still unfathomable. Coach Jim Valvano had to deal with injuries all season but was lucky to get his major players back for the ACC tournament. Because if he didn't, the miraculous NCAA tournament run would've never been possible. The Wolfpack ran the clock on offense and trapped the Cougars on defense. The crawl like pace and tenacious defense helped NC State, but not as much as Clyde Drexler getting into foul trouble did. The Cougars couldn't get their fast break going without Clyde and committed 13 turnovers. But, even with all this, the Wolfpack still needed luck when a Derek Whittenberg desperation heave from 30+ feet came up short as time was expiring, but it landed into the arms of Lorenzo Charles who dunked it for the game winning basket. It was the only dunk of the game for NC State and it sent the late coach Jim Valvano on to the court on a mission to hug someone.
1 Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 - Title Game - 1985
Nobody gave Rollie Massamino and his boys from Philadelphia a chance versus the mighty Georgetown Hoyas. The John Thompson coached Hoyas were the defending National Champions, 30-2 on the season and appearing in their third national title game in four seasons. Throw in that Georgetown hammered Villanova in both of their regular season Big East confrontations and it seemed as if the Wildcats would have to play a perfect game to beat the top seeded Hoyas. Well, they nearly did play a perfect game. Villanova shot 78% from the floor, which included Gary McLain and Harold Jensen not missing a shot. The Wildcats slowed the game to a crawl, but were aggressive enough to get the Hoyas into foul trouble. Patrick Ewing. David Wingate, Michael Jackson and Horace Broadnax all had four fouls in the game, which curbed their aggressiveness dramatically. Villanova made 22 of their 27 free throws to make Georgetown pay and that was the difference in a nail biter of a ballgame.
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