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Top 10 March Madness upsets of all time

The UMBC Retrievers made March Madness history in 2018
The UMBC Retrievers made March Madness history in 2018
Trent Bixby
ANALYST
Modified 23 Mar 2021
Feature

March Madness has delivered countless upsets throughout the years, some bigger than others. When the best talent in college basketball heads to one city, the fireworks inevitably follow closely behind. While the top seeds are the presumed strongest in the group, momentum can carry a lot of weight in a single-elimination tournament.

The dynamic of an upset can vary, with 16 seeds facing off against top seeds in the first round. When teams achieve an upset, they are seemingly lifted by a surge of momentum, and some ride the wave all the way to the title.

Top ten upsets in March Madness history

March Madness was created in 1939 and featured eight teams
March Madness was created in 1939 and featured eight teams

Over the years, we have seen "unbeatable" teams fall and Cinderella stories take form. With so many shocking upsets in the rich history of March Madness, selecting just ten will undoubtedly leave some great games off the list. Only games under a 64-team format will be considered for this list (1985-present).

10. George Mason Patriots 86-84 UConn Huskies (2006)

The George Mason Patriots entered 2006's March Madness tournament as the 11th seed of the Washington D.C. regional. The UConn Huskies were top seeds in the region, bringing an incredible 30-3 record into the tournament.

The Patriots upset three teams on their way to an Elite Eight appearance against the mighty Huskies, but this was supposed to be the end of the road.

The George Mason Patriots came out slow against a star-studded UConn group that featured Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams, trailing by nine points at the half. However, the Patriots were able to close the gap by tying the game at 74 and forcing overtime.

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After a back-and-forth overtime period, the George Mason Patriots took a five-point lead and held off the UConn Huskies for their first March Madness Final Four appearance in school history.

9. Virginia Commonwealth Rams 71-61 Kansas Jayhawks (2011)

Virginia Commonwealth upset the Kansas Jayhawks on March 27, 2011
Virginia Commonwealth upset the Kansas Jayhawks on March 27, 2011

The Virginia Commonwealth Rams were underdogs from the beginning of the 2011 tournament, representing the 11th seed with a 28-11 overall record. The Kansas Jayhawks finished the season with a 35-3 record, claiming top seeds and looking like a sure bet for the March Madness Final Four.

With stars Marcus and Markieff Morris, the Kansas Jayhawks held a huge advantage in the paint against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams. The Rams started hot, outscoring the Jayhawks 41-27 in the first half and never taking their foot off the pedal.

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The Kansas Jayhawks fought until the final horn but could never overcome the deficit. The Virginia Commonwealth Rams advanced to their first Final Four appearance in program history with the win.

8. LSU Tigers 59-57 Kentucky Wildcats (1986)

The 11th-seeded LSU Tigers were not expected to advance past the first round of March Madness in 1996. However, they took down the 6th, 3rd and 2nd seeds to reach their fourth Elite Eight in school history.

The Tigers matched up with the top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, who finished the regular season with a 32-4 overall record.

The LSU Tigers trailed for most of the game but pulled to within four points with less than five minutes remaining. Center Ricky Blanton tallied 12 points and eight rebounds to lift them to a come-from-behind upset victory.

The Kentucky Wildcats had a last-second half-court shot for the win, but it flew wide and brought their season to a heartbreaking end.

7. Santa Clara Broncos 64-61 Arizona Wildcats (1993)

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The 1993 Santa Clara Broncos were nothing special, finishing the season with a 19-12 overall record and claiming the 15th seed in the West region. They matched up with second-seeded powerhouse Arizona Wildcats in the first round, making them huge underdogs.

However, freshman sensation Steve Nash proved to be the spark the Broncos needed, tallying ten points off the bench.

Strong performances from Pete Eisenrich and DeWayne Lewis also played a huge role as the Santa Clara Broncos became the second 15th seed to ever take down a 2nd seed in March Madness.

6. Princeton Tigers 43-41 UCLA Bruins (1996)

The 4th-seeded UCLA Bruins had just won their NCAA-leading 11th National Championship in 1995 and were looking to repeat history. They drew what seemed to be a guaranteed win against the 13th-seeded Princeton Tigers, as Ivy League schools are rarely competitive in March Madness.

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However, the Tigers put on a defensive clinic, holding the defending champions to just 41 points to pull off a massive first-round upset.

The Princeton Tigers only allowed 15 field goals in the game, restricting any chance for UCLA to produce offense. The Tigers hold a 13-29 all-time record in the March Madness tournament, but this upset will always live in the history books.

5. Lehigh Mountain Hawks 75-70 Duke Blue Devils (2012)

The 2012 March Madness first-round matchup between the 15th-seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks and the 2nd-seeded Duke Blue Devils was supposed to be a walk in the park for the latter.

With the Plumlee brothers and Seth Curry leading their offense, the Blue Devils were projected to win by 12 points.

However, a young guard by the name of C.J. McCollum had other plans, dropping 30 points on Duke to lead Lehigh to a stunning March Madness first-round upset. McCollum went on to be selected in the first round with the 10th pick of the NBA Draft.

4. Villanova Wildcats 66-64 Georgetown Hoyas (1985)

Perhaps one of the greatest Cinderella stories in March Madness history, the 8th-seeded Villanova Wildcats did the impossible against the Georgetown Hoyas in 1985.

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The Wildcats had already exceeded expectations, reaching their first national championship game since 1971.

The Georgetown Hoyas were heavy favorites, featuring superstar center Patrick Ewing and guard David Wingate.

However, Villanova Wildcats star Dwayne McClain stole the show, tallying 17 points on 71% shooting to give his side their first March Madness title.

3. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 90-81 Michigan State Spartans (2016)

Entering March Madness as the 2nd-seed, the Michigan State Spartans looked like true contenders for the Final Four in 2016. Finishing with an impressive 29-6 overall record, the Spartans were ready to do damage in the tournament. Their first-round draw seemed favorable, pulling the 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.

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Despite going into the match as 16-point underdogs, the Blue Raiders exploded with offense and shocked the Spartans with a six-point lead at the half.

The Michigan State Spartans kept pace but could not edge past the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, falling to a huge nine-point upset. The victory marked the Blue Raiders' first March Madness win since 1989, after a drought of over 25 years.

2. Duke Blue Devils 79-77 UNLV Runnin' Rebels (1991)

After suffering an embarrassing 30-point loss to UNLV in the 1990 National Championship game, the Duke Blue Devils were given a shot at revenge the following year.

While a 2nd seed taking out a top seed is hardly an upset, UNLV's perfect 34-0 record, combined with the previous year's blowout, warranted the Blue Devils' underdog status.

The Duke Blue Devils were led by Christian Laettner and Grant Hill, who combined for 39 points and nine boards to lift their side to the National Championship for the second straight year.

The Blue Devils went on to win the title, giving even more importance to this big upset victory.

1. UMBC Retrievers 74-54 Virginia Cavaliers (2018)

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As the only 16th seed to upset a one seed in March Madness history, the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers earn the top spot on our list.

The Retrievers were given a 3% chance to win against the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, but that 3% was all they needed.

The Cavaliers brought an impressive 31-3 overall record into the dance, reaching the Final Four in many experts' pre-tournament brackets.

The University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers battled with the Virginia Cavaliers in the first half, going to the locker room deadlocked at 21.

However, the Retrievers came out with a new energy in the second half. They outscored the Cavaliers 51-31 in the period to secure a 20-point upset victory and perhaps the biggest upset in March Madness history.

Published 23 Mar 2021, 07:34 IST
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