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Biggest March Madness Upsets of All Time 

The Big Dance isn’t called March Madness for no reason. The tournament gets its name because it truly is madness. There are so many opportunities for upsets that you never know what is going to happen. There are an average of 12.7 upsets total in the tournament, which is what makes this time of year so fun in basketball! The most unsuspecting teams can come out and shine in their true glory. NCAA March Madness brackets are busted and teams are checked into history. 


Speaking of history, some of the greatest moments in basketball have happened in the March Madness National Tournament. Some of the best basketball is played during this tournament, and it’s when some stars debut their talents. Many legends first made an impact in this tournament before going on to create a name for themselves in the NBA. However, the biggest March Madness Upsets of All Time were normally when these greats were beaten by underdog teams that everyone had already counted out. 

 

The 7 Biggest March Madness Upsets of All Time

Upset #7: [15] Richmond 73 vs. [2] Syracuse 69

Seeding for the NCAA tournament is based on a teams’ probability of beating another team. Imagine onlookers’ surprise when this #15 team beat the #2 team. In 1991, Richmond became the first #15 team to beat a #2 team in the opening game of the tournament. This has only been repeated eight more times since. In 1991, this was unfathomable, especially because Syracuse was led by the no. 3 pick in the NBA draft that year, Billy Owens. 


However, Richmond’s coach, Dick Tarrant, had a reputation for upsets. This reputation held true as Richmond led the entire game and held onto the win thanks to a last second 3-point shot missed at the end of the game by Syracuse. Coach Jim Boheim’s team tried to derail the Spiders with a 2-3 zone, however, they just couldn’t stop them. At the time, this was hands down the biggest upset in the history of the tournament.

Upset #6: [15] Florida Gulf Coast 78 vs. [2] Georgetown 68

Another #15 team over #2 team upset happened in 2013 with Florida Gulf Coast University and Georgetown. Florida Gulf Coast earned the name Dunk City because of the high flying performance they put on in this game. They were quite the new school, only founded in 1997. This was only their second year being March Madness eligible, and they made the most out of it. 


This was not Georgetown’s first time being upset by a lower seeded team, and Florida Gulf Coast was an easy team to root for. They were flashy, fun, and youthful. Everyone wanted to see what the new team could do, and they did not disappoint. During the game, they had a 20-2 run, which absolutely devastates a team. However, with this win and another over San Diego State, Florida Gulf Coast became the first #15 seed to make a Sweet Sixteen appearance before they were ultimately knocked out.  

Upset #5: [6] NC State 52 vs. [1] University of Houston 54

Phi Slama Jama, aka the University of Houston team equipped with future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, is at the center of this March Madness tale. Houston was absolutely the favorite to win because of how talented this particular team was. 


No one expected much from NC State, but the Wolfpack would not be counted out without a fight. This #6 team managed to upset the highly favored #1 team in 1983. NC State led the entire way, but Houston was eventually able to tie the game up at 52. NC State coach Jim Valvano was a fighter and instilled that same energy in his team. Lorenzo Charles, the team’s center, dunked the final basket and the buzzer went off. NC State pulled off one of the greatest upsets and etched themselves in the history books of the greatest March Madness upsets of all time.

Upset #4: [11] Virginia Commonwealth University 71 vs. [1]  University of Kansas 61

Kansas entered this game with an outstanding 35-2 record. On the other hand, VCU had to win a playoff game just to be eligible for the tournament. Shaka Smart’s VCU team proved to be no easy feat. They fought their way to the fourth round of the tournament, much to everyone’s surprise. 


This Elite Eight game went down in history because VCU was a huge underdog team. KU had five future draft picks on their team and were a big favorite to win the whole thing. VCU held Kansas to a 3-point shooting percentage of less than 10% during this 2011 game. VCU played excellent defense and limited their 3-point and field shooting abilities. In fact, Kansas only shot 35% from the field, which was dismal and completely shocking. Brackets were busted after this game as this VCU upset helped the program not only move onto the Final Four, but also make a name for itself in NCAA basketball.

Upset #3: [11] George Mason 86 vs. [1] University of Connecticut 84 (overtime) 

George Mason was another team that just happened to make the tournament. They entered as an at-large team and also had a key player suspended for the first game of the 2006 tournament. 

There was a lot of controversy surrounding this team as they entered, however, they did not let that stop them from blazing a trail behind them. George Mason knocked off Michigan State, North Carolina, and Wichita State to get to the Elite Eight against UConn. 


They were no strangers to being underdogs in big games. This is perhaps the reason they were the first team from Colonial Athletic Association to make the big tournament. The game itself was exhilarating. At one point, George Mason was down 12 points but did not get rattled. Jai Lewis of George Mason outplayed UConn’s Rudy Gay to win the game in overtime. They became the first double digit team to make it to the Final Four in over two decades. They also are just one of three 11-seeded teams to make it to the Final Four. 


This impressive George Mason team was eventually handed their tickets home by Florida, however, their impressive track record is still talked about today as one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the NCAA March Madness Tournament.

 

Upset #2: [16] UMBC 74 vs. [1] Virginia 54

If you’re wondering if a #16 seed team ever beat a #1 seed, the answer is yes. In 2018, the number one overall team, Virginia, was knocked off by University of Maryland - Baltimore County. This is one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history, taking place in the first round of the NCAA March Madness bracket. 


UMBC did not come into the tournament with a flying record. A buzzer beater shot won them the conference championship, which cemented their place into the tournament. No one had high expectations for them, especially against a 31-3 Virginia team, but UMBC came out and blew away everyone’s expectations. 


Virginia couldn’t handle how well the team was playing and essentially gave up in front of the nation. It was a shocking turn of events for Virginia, and one of the worst losses in college sports, but UMBC had some stars that came out and shined. In the second half alone, they set a record with 53 second half points that boosted them to a 20 point lead. Virginia was actually projected to win by 20, but UMBC created a 40 point spread with how well they played. Jairus Lyles scored 28 points that game and truly shined as UMBC etched their name into March Madness history forever.   

Upset #1: [8] Villanova 66 vs. [1] Georgetown 64 

No one talks about NCAA upsets without mentioning Georgetown vs. Villanova. In 1985, Villanova pulled off perhaps the greatest NCAA upset of all time. Georgetown was led by future Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing. Georgetown was highly favored to win and Villanova wasn’t even supposed to be in the tournament, however, Villanova beat #1 Michigan, #2 North Carolina, and #2 Memphis to reach the final game. Georgetown was the returning champion and on a 16-game win streak to enter its third final game in the past four years. 


All that being said, Villanova’s grit and perfect shooting game were no match for the Hoyas. Villanova shot an astounding 79% from the field and 90% in the second half alone. Villanova missed just one shot and played absolutely perfect basketball. Georgetown fell to Villanova by just two points, and Nova captured their first national title in the program’s history. They also became the lowest seed to ever win the NCAA tournament! It doesn’t get more exciting than that.