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The Biggest March Madness Upsets Ever

Perhaps more than any other postseason in American sports, March Madness is linked to upsets. Here are some of the biggest ever.

March 6, 2023

Sports fans, fanatics, and those guilty by association — they don’t call it March Madness for nothing.

Yes, it’s that time of the year again when sweat and adrenaline fill the air, crowds roar with excitement, and dreams can be made and shattered instantly. History has proven that anything can happen in this wild month of March when a single shot or play can make all the difference in a team’s trajectory.

March Madness upsets remind us the tournament isn’t just about the surefire picks—it’s also about the underdogs who rise to the challenge when the stakes are at their highest. These upsets keep fans coming back each year to watch one of the most exciting and unpredictable tournaments in sports.

Before you calculate the odds of your March Madness betting, let’s recap some of the tournament’s greatest upsets to date.

WHICH FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO UPSETS?

You may be wondering about the various factors that can contribute to March Madness upsets. The truth is many events and reasons can impact the outcome of a game during March Madness. But, historically speaking, some of the most common factors include:

  • Seed differential – Teams throughout the NCAA are ranked according to seeds—1-16 in each region—based mainly on regular season performance. When two teams with a significant ranking difference play one another, it creates an opportunity for an upset.

  • Unpredictable events – Whether it’s injuries, foul trouble, or other events, these types of things can heavily impact the outcome of a game and create opportunities for the underdogs.

  • Underrated talent – Sometimes, the lower-seeded teams have talented players that aren’t well-known but can make huge differences throughout the tournament.

These are just a few factors that have often contributed to upsets over the years. In fact, keep an eye out below and see if you can spot some of these factors in the list we’ve prepared.

So, without further ado, let’s check out some of March Madness’ biggest upsets.

THE BIGGEST MEN’S UPSETS

From the NCAA men’s tournament, these are the most historic bracket-breakers:

No. 8 Villanova Wildcats over No. 1 Georgetown Hoyas, 66-64 — 1985

The only championship game on this list, this famous game made the 1984-85 Villanova Wildcats the lowest seed to ever win March Madness — a record held to this day.

This was the first year the tournament expanded to 64 teams, and the Wildcats made their way through the bracket, eventually besting the defending champion, top-ranked Hoyas in what some call “The Perfect Game.” Villanova shot 78.6% as a team, including going 9/10 in the second half.

The Wildcats needed every last one of those baskets, as the Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas pushed it to the limit, losing by a single shot in the end.

Also you may notice the low amount of shot attempts taken by Villanova in this game — this game was a main catalyst to the adoption of the shot clock throughout college basketball in the following season.

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles over No. 2 Georgetown Hoyas, 78-68 — 2013

Poor Georgetown. This game was significant for many reasons. Not only was it a Cinderella story of a 15 seed beating a 2 seed (and a favorite to win March Madness), but FGCU’s win over Georgetown marked the first time in the tournament’s history that a 15 seed made it to the Sweet 16, as they went on to defeat San Diego State in the next round.

FGCU, also known as “Dunk City” for its vigorous and exciting brand of basketball, lived up to its name, stealing the crowd’s hearts with five acrobatic dunks in the final 20 minutes. Senior Sherwood Brown, led the team in scoring 24 points and dominated the boards with eight rebounds.

It was also the first time FGCU made it to the NCAA tournament. This win helped put them on the map, giving the school national exposure while gaining the attention of college basketball fans across the country.

No. 15 Lehigh Mountain Hawks over No. 2 Duke Blue Devils, 75-70 — 2012

If one name is remembered from this evening, it’d be Lehigh’s standout guard, C.J. McCollum. He led the Hawks to a David vs. Goliath victory over one of the NCAA’s top-ranked teams, Duke’s Blue Devils.

McCollum’s stats were impressive, with a game-high 30 point, six rebounds and assists, and two steals.

This game is known as one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, and it exemplifies how a single player can have a massive impact on the outcome of the National Championship game. The win captivated college basketball fans and demonstrated the unpredictability and excitement of March Madness.

McCollum’s performance that season, specifically that game, was one for the books. Despite Xavier eliminating them in the next round, McCollum would be selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2013 NBA Draft the following year.

No. 15 Richmond Spiders over No. 2 Syracuse Orangemen, 73-69 — 1991

Richmond became the first 15 seed to win a March Madness game since the tournament’s expansion in 1985 to win a first-round match. Not only did they win, but they also managed to keep the lead for the entire game.

Richmond’s upset over Syracuse resulted from a collective effort by the team. However, their defense was a critical factor in the win, disrupting Syracuse’s offensive flow by forcing them into difficult shots and limiting their scoring opportunities.

Syracuse had several chances to tie the game in the final five minutes. But Richmond’s defense proved too much for the Orangemen, leading to one of the most memorable first-round upsets in the tournament’s history.

No. 16 UMBC Retrievers over No. 1 UVA Cavaliers, 74-54 — 2018

Let’s take a look at why UMBC-UVA is one of the biggest upsets in not just the tournament, but NCAA basketball history:

  • It was the first time a No. 1 seed lost to a No. 16 seed in the men’s division since its expansion in 1985.
  • The win broke a 33-year, 135-game losing streak between No. 16 and No. 1 seeded teams.
  • It was the first UMBC NCAA tournament win in school history.

UMBC got off to a fast start, and both teams went back and forth up until the half. Virginia struggled miserably on offense, going only 4/22 from three-point range. The Retrievers pressed hard defensively and were able to disrupt their offensive flow and ball movement, which was a point of pride for the Cavaliers throughout the regular season.

Jairus Lyles, a UMBC guard, had a standout performance with a game-high of 28 points, shooting 9 for 11 and leading the team to victory over the Cavaliers.

This game is often considered the biggest upset in NCAA men’s tournament history, and for good reason. But there’s some recent competition…

No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights over No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers, 63-58 — 2023

UMBC-Virginia got company in 2023 when New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson Knights became the second 16 seed to beat a 1 seed. Purdue, one of the favorites to take the title, was led by eventual Wooden Award winner Zach Edey. While the 7-4 Edey put up 21 points and 15 rebounds, the smaller Knights players bothered Purdue with their speed and a relentless press. Edey went 7/11 from the field, but the rest of the Boilermakers only went 12/42.

Purdue was a 23.5-point favorite — this was the largest upset in tournament history in terms of point spread.

THE BIGGEST WOMEN’S UPSETS

These memorable matchups from the women’s tournament were the most historic NCAA upsets:

No. 16 Harvard Crimson over No. 1 Stanford Cardinal, 71-67 — 1998

This game goes down in the history books, mainly due to the large seed discrepancy between these two teams. It was the first time in NCAA basketball tournament history, in men’s or women’s basketball, that a No. 16 team beat a No. 1 team.

The game was played on Stanford’s home court, which made the loss even more bitter. But something many people don’t know about this matchup is that Stanford lost two key starters a week earlier due to injuries, which didn’t help against Harvard’s Allison Feaster, who was the nation’s leading scorer.

Despite the Crimson’s 21 turnovers and 25 fouls, they were able to shoot a remarkable 65 percent from field goal range and keep the Cardinals outside of the paint, forcing them to shoot from the perimeter, where they were only able to muster a lousy 25.9% shooting percentage.

No. 5 Louisville Cardinals over No. 1 Baylor Bears, 82-81 — 2013

The Bears entered this tournament on a 32-game winning streak, led by superstar Brittney Griner. They hoped to win their second consecutive national championship, but the Cardinals’ tough defense swarmed Griner and prevented the star from scoring the entire first half.

Louisville, a whopping 24-point underdog, started the game strong by taking the lead early on. This helped set the tone and gave the Cardinals the confidence they needed to outperform the heavily favored Bears and become the National Champions.

Louisville’s Antonita Slaughter hit a remarkable seven 3-pointers, including a critical trey before the half to put Louisville up by 5. Shoni Schimmel also had a phenomenal game, hitting five 3-pointers and dishing out seven assists, making her tough to handle for Baylor and a big factor in the Cardinals’ win.

No. 5 Southwest Missouri State Lady Bears over No. 1 Duke Blue Devils, 81-71 — 2001

Another 5 seed ousting a top-seeded team. The Lady Bears, at one point, were down by 12 points in the first half but came back strong at the beginning of the second with a 12-4 run.

There were nine lead changes throughout the game until the Southwest Missouri State star, Jackie Stiles, helped the Lady Bears take the lead for good. Duke struggled to put a lid on Stiles, who scored 41 points, 25 of which were in the second half.

Duke’s Alana Beard helped keep the Blue Devils alive by scoring 27 points. However, late in the game, she entered foul trouble, and Duke gave up three turnovers. Stiles’ impressive scoring ability and clutch performances made her a fan favorite, proving anything’s possible during March Madness.

TIPICO: THE FUTURE OF SPORTS BETTING

As we can see from above, the NCAA March Madness tournament is no stranger to upsets. It’s where the underdog frequently rises, the impossible becomes possible, and the analyst’s predictions for the highest seed to win March Madness get shattered by unforeseen circumstances. These moments in sports history aren’t just victories for the teams and fans but also for those who put their money where their heart is.

If you’re a sports bettor or fan looking to get a little closer to the game, check out Tipico Sportsbook.

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