Upsets are what make the NCAA tournament one of sports’ most cherished events. Over the years, college basketball has been littered with shocking performances during the month of March. So in preparation for this year’s next big upset, we look at the 10 best of all time. — Josh Herwitt
No. 13 Princeton upsets No. 4 UCLA in first round
Coming off its 11th national championship the season before, UCLA was ready to make another run through the 1996 NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed. But in his final year as coach, Pete Carril and his Princeton offense got the best of the Bruins, stunning Jim Harrick’s squad in the first round with a last-second basket on a backdoor cut.
No. 13 Valparaiso upsets No. 4 Mississippi in first round
Facing a two-point deficit and just 2.5 seconds left on the clock, the odds were against Valparaiso to advance past the first round in the 1998 NCAA tournament. Instead, Bill Jenkins’ inbounds pass was redirected to Bryce Drew, whose 3-pointer swished through the net as time expired and sent the Crusaders into a frenetic celebration.
No. 14 Bucknell upsets No. 3 Kansas in first round
After being ranked No. 1 earlier in the season, Kansas came into the 2005 NCAA tournament hoping to build off its Elite Eight run the year before. However, a 1-for-11 shooting performance from beyond the arc left the door open for Bucknell’s shocking win in Oklahoma City.
No. 9 Northern Iowa upsets No. 1 Kansas in second round
As the 2010 NCAA tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, the Jayhawks were expected to make their way to Detroit for a chance to win a second national title in three years. Bill Self’s team, however, squandered multiple opportunities down the stretch before Ali Farokhmanesh’s late 3-pointer proved to be the dagger.
No. 11 George Mason upsets No. 1 UConn in Elite Eight
Coming into their 2006 Elite Eight showdown with No. 1 seed Connecticut, the Patriots had shocked Big Ten power Michigan State and second-seeded North Carolina to reach the East Regional final. But with the odds stacked against it, Jim Larranaga’s team delivered a thrilling two-point win in overtime that sent college basketball fans into a state of disbelief.
No. 6 N.C. State upsets No. 1 Houston in title game
No one thought Jim Valvano’s team had a chance in the 1982 national championship game against a high-powered Houston team that featured Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Yet it was Lorenzo Charles who came to the rescue, dunking Dereck Whittenburg’s air ball at the buzzer and leaving Valvano at a loss for words.
No. 15 Santa Clara upsets No. 2 Arizona in first round
Favored by 20 points, Pac-10 champ Arizona didn’t expect much of a fight out of No. 15 seed Santa Clara in the first round of the 1993 NCAA tournament. The second-seeded Wildcats, though, didn’t know about a scrappy point guard named Steve Nash, who helped the Broncos overcome a 25-0 run by Arizona in the second half to pull the upset.
No. 2 Duke upsets No. 1 UNLV in Final Four
Embarrassed by a 30-point loss to UNLV during the 1990 national championship game, Duke figured to suffer another beating by a Jerry Tarkanian team that looked invincible. Instead, the Blue Devils did the unthinkable, shocking Larry Johnson and the undefeated Runnin’ Rebels to reach the ’91 title game.
No. 15 Richmond upsets No. 2 Syracuse in first round
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams, only four No. 15 seeds have ever knocked off a No. 2 seed. That initial honor went to Richmond, which made history during the first round of the 1991 NCAA tournament by sending Jim Boeheim’s Orangemen packing for home.
No. 8 Villanova upsets No. 1 Georgetown in title game
Having lost badly in both regular-season games, No. 8 seed Villanova faced tremendous odds in the 1985 national championship game against Patrick Ewing and the defending national champs. Nevertheless, with an incredible shooting performance that saw the Wildcats only miss one shot during the second half, Rollie Massimino’s team shocked the Hoyas to record one of sports’ greatest upsets.