Five biggest opening weekend shockers in recent years

Northern Iowa upending Kansas in the round of 32 in 2010 is one of the biggest shockers of an opening weekend in NCAA tourney history.
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By Matt Zemek

North Carolina State’s upset of Villanova marked the most significant upset from the Round of 32 in this year’s NCAA tournament. Seeing a tournament upset authored by Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried and his N.C. State team reminds us that the man and the school have both participated in other significant first-weekend upsets in recent NCAA tournament history.

Indeed, the fact that Gottfried and N.C. State have both busted brackets before is why this look at the 21st-century history of the Big Dance is more than a little timely.


This result underscores North Carolina State’s rather persistent history as a program which — for the most part — has done most of its NCAA tournament damage as a lower seed. Naturally, the 1983 team wore road reds in each of its last five games en route to the national title, but that’s been the Wolfpack’s enduring identity in the Dance. This is not a program which crashes the party as a top-tier seed. It’s not just a Mark Gottfried tendency.

Here, the 2005 team under Herb Sendek managed to beat a Northeastern power (much like Villanova, only better). The win over Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut team was particularly surprising because the Huskies were playing in Worcester, Mass., so close to their home base. If this game had been played in, say, Washington, D.C., it wouldn’t have felt a lot more neutral. Beating UConn in New England, however, carried more weight as an opening-weekend upset.

4 – 2007 ROUND OF 32: [7] UNLV 74, [2] WISCONSIN 68 

The first really great Bo Ryan team at Wisconsin was this club, which finished second in the 2007 Big Ten race to the juggernaut Ohio State squad with Greg Oden and Mike Conley. Wisconsin went 13-3 in a loaded Big Ten, entering this game in Chicago with a 30-5 record. However, Lon Kruger — who made the Sweet 16 with Oklahoma on Sunday by beating Dayton — punched his Sweet 16 ticket at UNLV with this massive upset.

What Kruger did with UNLV eight years ago is precisely what has allowed him to make the Sweet 16 with four separate schools. That’s a truly remarkable accomplishment for one of college basketball’s ultimate “fixer-uppers.” Kruger, just to make sure you know this (and if you’re a college hoops diehard, you probably do), is the only man to take five separate schools to the NCAA tournament. A total of 11 other men have led four schools to the Big Dance.

3 – 2004 ROUND OF 32: [8] ALABAMA 70, [1] STANFORD 67

When North Carolina State beat Villanova this past Saturday, Mark Gottfried — yes, he figures prominently in an account of major first-weekend upsets — became the first coach to have beaten a No. 1 seed twice in the Round of 32. The other occasion was this one, 11 years ago in Seattle.

Stanford’s last great team under then-coach Mike Montgomery had earned a No. 1 seed for the third time in five seasons. (Stanford was a top seed in 2000 and 2001 as well.) The Cardinal had reached the Final Four in 1998, but that was as a No. 3 seed. Stanford wanted to take one of its heavyweight teams to the big stage, but Gottfried’s Alabama squad said no. In what has become a defining characteristic of a Gottfried team, it plays unevenly over the course of the season but finds a finishing kick and often plays its best ball of the season in March, that time of year when situational desperation finally brings forth the kind of effort which regular-season games just didn’t inspire … at least not in equal measure.

2 – 2004 ROUND OF 32: [9] UAB 76, [1] KENTUCKY 75

Tubby Smith’s most successful Kentucky team was the 1998 national championship group, but his best Kentucky team was the 2003 squad, the one which fell a game short of the Final Four because of an injury to star guard Keith Bogans in a Sweet 16 win over Wisconsin. Bogans was ineffective in the Elite Eight against Marquette. A year later, Kentucky rallied to gain a No. 1 seed, and the Wildcats were hopeful they’d be able to put together a complete March run. Instead, UAB used one of the most memorable passes in NCAA tournament history to leave Kentucky in a state of shock.

You’ll see that pass midway through this video:

An important added note: This result created a 2004 Midwest Regional without a top-two seed. Third-seeded Georgia Tech was the highest-seeded team in St. Louis. Kansas was the fourth seed, UAB the ninth seed, and Nevada — a winner over No. 2 seed Gonzaga in the Round of 32 — was a 10-seed. This year’s East Regional in Syracuse is the first regional without a top-two seed since that 2004 Midwest Regional.

– 2010 ROUND OF 32: [9] NORTHERN IOWA 69, [1] KANSAS 67

Kansas lost in Omaha as a highly-seeded team this past weekend, but the Jayhawks’ failure to beat a talented and supremely motivated Wichita State team was not that surprising.

This Round-of-32 loss in Omaha, on the other hand, felt like a thunderbolt, and it remains the most shocking Round-of-32 NCAA tournament result from the past decade.

Ali Farokhmanesh, take it away.

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