Ten Memorable NCAA Tournament Upsets
The NCAA Tournament is unpredictable every year, and these upsets proved that anything could happen in March Madness!
A History of NCAA March Madness Upsets!
Every March, there is excitement and buzz about NCAA March Madness. Millions of people all over the world fill out brackets in the hopes of picking the winner of the tournament. However, significant upsets tend to send the brackets into the shredder every year. While the busted brackets may lead to anger and disappointment, the cinderella stories that March Madness has provided give basketball fans enjoyment and memorable moments. Here are some more memorable upsets that some fans may try to bury in the back of their mind.
16 FDU defeats #1 Purdue, 63-58 — March 2023
The shortest team, Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (FDU), pulled off a major upset over a number one-seeded Purdue, the tallest team in the tournament. It’s a remarkable upset considering FDU had won only four games in 2022. That’s quite the turnaround to defeat a top-seeded team a year later. Despite the disadvantage in height, FDU used their small stature and quickness to gravitate to the ball and out-hustle Purdue. Purdue struggled from behind the arch, only hitting on 19% of their attempts. FDU’s Sean Moore had the best game of his season, leading the team with 19 points, with nine of those points coming in the final seven and a half minutes. FDU scored eleven points combined in those last seven minutes. Moore’s performance catapulted FDU into making history and sending Purdue home much earlier than they thought.
16 UMBC defeats #1 Virginia, 74-54 – March 2018
A sixteen-seeded team upsets a number-one seed for the first time in NCAA history. While the game was tied at 21 at the half, the game quickly got away from Virginia in the second half. UMBC didn’t let the big lights on the biggest stage of NCAA basketball get to them whatsoever. Led by Jairus Lyles, scoring 28 points, UMBC dismantled Virginia to win the game by twenty points.
15 Lehigh defeats #2 Duke, 75-20, March 2012
CJ McCollum led Lehigh to a massive upset over Duke by scoring 30 points and nearly playing the entire game. Duke was led by the Plumlee brothers, Mason and Miles, Austin Rivers, and Seth Curry. They would all go on to have lengthy NBA careers. Duke’s talent was deep and well-rounded. However, they didn’t have the best player on the court. Like Purdue’s issues in 2023, Duke failed to consistently hit their shots from three-point range by hitting only six on twenty-six attempts.
15 Saint Peter’s defeats #2 Kentucky, 85-79 OT, March 2022
Daryl Banks III and Doug Edert led the Saint Peters Peacocks to an incredible run to the Elite Eight in 2022, but they first had to pull off a spectacular upset over Kentucky to do so. Banks and Edert combined for 47 points, proving too much for Kentucky to handle. Late in the game, Saint Peters was down by six points, 68-62, but scored seven unanswered before eventually forcing overtime. The Peacocks hit several big-time shots, and as a team, they shot 52% from three, while Kentucky struggled by making only four from three on sixteen shot attempts. Saint Peter’s also defeated Murray State and Purdue before losing to North Carolina in the Elite Eight.
15 Santa Clara defeats #2 Arizona, 64-61, March 1993
Chris Mills and Damon Stoudamire led the Arizona Wildcats, but Mills was controlled well by Santa Clara, and Stoudamire failed to hit a field goal finishing with only six points, all from the free throw line. Clara pulled off the upset with help from Pete Eisenrich, scoring 19 points, and a young Steve Nash came off the bench to score ten points, with eight coming from the free throw line.
15 Princeton defeats #2 Arizona, 59-55, March 2023
Arizona entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to reach the title game but failed to make it out of the first round. However, the unlikely Ivy League team, the Princeton Tigers, kept the scoring low and held the Wildcats to only 24 points in the second half to secure a significant upset. Princeton had one player in double figures as Tosan Evbuomwan scored 15 points to lead the Tigers to victory.
13 Vermont defeats #4 Syracuse, 60-57 OT, March 2005
Syracuse won the 2003 NCAA Championship and still had a few players from that team. Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Craig Forth, Josh Pace, and Terrence Roberts led a veteran Syracuse team, but Vermont had a couple of sharpshooters that proved too much. Taylor Coppenrath, TJ Sorrentine, and Germain Mopa Njila provided all but seven points for Vermont to pull off the upset. Sorrentine shot from the three-point line sixteen times and connected on five. Despite the poor shooting from three, Vermont’s 33% was better than the 25% that Syracuse could produce from three. Njila had the best game of his season, scoring 20 points. Coppenrath had 16, while Sorrentine finished with 17 points.
15 Richmond defeats #2 Syracuse, 73-69, March 1991
Syracuse was led by Billy Owens, Adrian Autry, and Dave Johnson, entering the 1991 NCAA Tournament. Owens finished the game scoring 22 points, but Richmond had a better-supporting cast to pull off the first-ever 15-seed over 2-seed upset. Curtis Blair led Richmond with 18 points, and Terry Connolly chipped in with 14 points off the bench. Richmond’s bench outscored Syracuse’s bench 32-3.
14 Old Dominion defeats #3 Villanova, 89-81 3OT, March 1995
Kerry Kittles, Jason Lawson, and Alvin Williams led Villanova into March Madness, and combined, they scored 53 points in this three-overtime thriller. However, Old Dominion would not be denied, as Petey Sessoms led the team with 35 points. Mike Jones provided 19 points, and Mario Mullen finished with 16 points and ten rebounds. At one point, Old Dominion was down by two possessions in the second overtime but managed to regain the lead and the victory in a classic game.
These are only a few of the many upsets that have occurred in NCAA history. Due to the transfer portal, there will likely be many more to come over in the years to come. The transfer portal has made for a much more competitive and entertaining NCAA Tournament in 2023.