These Are The Biggest March Madness Upsets of All Time

These Are The Biggest March Madness Upsets of All Time

Is there anything more simultaneously exhilarating and disappointing in March Madness than watching a top-ranked team that you picked to make a deep run fall victim to a stunning upset, taking down an entire quarter of your tournament bracket?

Welcome to one of the most common occurrences in the NCAA College Basketball Division I tournament. Upsets that spoil a high-flying team’s chances of cutting down the nets are famous in this annual battle of basketball hopefuls. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest upsets in March Madness history.

Catch all the upset victories, lay-ups and slam dunks in this year’s March Madness tournament on DIRECTV.

2024 March Madness Upsets

First, let’s look at a few of the more surprising upsets of this year’s tournament so far:

  • Grand Canyon earned their first-ever March Madness win after taking down 5-seed Saint Mary’s in the first round.
  • 14-seed Oakland beat 3-seed Kentucky 80-76 in yet another shocking upset for the Wildcats.
  • Yale, seeded 13, overcame Auburn 78-76 in a close matchup.
  • James Madison sent No. 5 Wisconsin home in the first round, 72-61.
  • Clemson beat Baylor in the second round, 72-64.

Most Famous March Madness Upsets

Whether it’s a 1 seed falling to a 16 seed, a 2 to a 15, or a 3 to 14, upsets are commonplace and expected in March Madness. That’s just the nature of a single elimination event: a record-setting regular season can come crashing down in just 40 minutes, leaving powerhouse teams and their coaches shaking their heads in disbelief as the triumphant underdogs with their double-digit seeds celebrate.

Here are some of the biggest upsets we’ve seen in March Madness over the years:

March Madness First Round Upsets

First up, let’s take a look at some of the biggest first-round upsets in recent years.

No. 16 Farleigh Dickinson beats No. 1 Purdue – 2023 First Round

By any measure, Farleigh Dickinson should not have made it past the first round in the 2023 NCAA Division I tournament, but that’s exactly what happened when No. 1 Purdue, heavily favored by 23.5 points, fell as Farleigh Dickinson took the lead with just over a minute remaining. To make matters worse for Purdue, Farleigh Dickinson was only even in contention due to a selection technicality. Farleigh Dickinson’s triumph was short-lived, however: they lost to Florida Atlantic in their very next game.

No. 16 UMBC beats No. 1 Virginia – 2018 First Round

Farleigh Dickinson will go down in history for beating a top-seeded team in the first round with the bottom seed, but they weren’t the first college basketball team to do it. That honor goes to UMBC, who took down No. 1 Virginia 74-54 in the first round of the 2018 tournament. Virginia was near the very top of the odds to go all the way before being eliminated that year.

No. 15 Lehigh beats No. 2 Duke – 2012 First Round

Duke is a perennial contender in the NCAA Division I tournament, but their defeat at the hands of Lehigh and future NBA star C.J. McCollum in the first round in 2012 stands out in their storied history of March Madness participation. It marked the first time in five years that Duke failed to move past the first round, despite their 27-7 overall record that season.

No. 14 Mercer beats No. 3 Duke – 2014 First Round

Not long after Lehigh put Duke’s 2012 run to a premature end, Mercer pulled off the same feat. Mercer ousted Duke from the 2014 tournament’s first round, 78-71. To make it harder on the Blue Devils, they lost despite having a roster absolutely stacked with future NBA star power.

No. 15 Middle Tennessee beats No. 2 Michigan State – 2016 First Round

Michigan State had a solid chance of winning the whole tournament in 2016 … until they faced off against the seemingly lowly No. 15 seeded Middle Tennessee. Even with four future NBA players on their roster, the Spartans went down in the first round after losing 90-81 to the Blue Raiders.

No. 15 Hampton beats No. 2 Iowa State – 2001 First Round

With a razor thin final score of 58-57, No. 15 Hampton took down the second seeded Iowa State in one of the early 2000’s most surprising upsets. To make it sting even more, it was Hampton’s first time competing in March Madness.

No. 15 Santa Clara beats No. 2 Arizona – 1993 First Round

Santa Clara’s roster heading into March Madness in 1993 didn’t exactly look like winning material, even if they did count future NBA standout Steve Nash among them, and certainly not against a number two-seeded team like the Arizona Wildcats. But that didn’t matter. Santa Clara ended up edging Arizona out in a close game. Turns out Nash was a game changer after all: he sank two free throws in the last 30 seconds of the game to take the lead that would seal the deal.

No. 15 Norfolk State beats No. 2 Missouri – 2012 First Round

This was another close one, ending with Norfolk State on top at 86-84. Missouri was sent packing earlier than anyone expected. Norfolk followed in the very next round.

No. 15 Coppin State beats No. 2 South Carolina – 1997 First Round

Upsets are common in March Madness, but it’s not often that a 15-seed wallops a 2-seed, which is exactly what happened to South Carolina when they went up against Coppin State in the first round of the 1997 tournament. South Carolina, the SEC champions, lost to the underdog by a full 13 points. There’s even an ESPN documentary about the game.

No. 15 St. Peter’s beats No. 2 Kentucky – 2022 First Round

St. Peter’s took home their first ever win in March Madness by taking down one of the very best teams in college basketball, Kentucky. St. Peter’s leveraged that momentum into a deep run all the way to the Elite Eight that year.

No. 14 Oakland beats No. 3 Kentucky – 2024 First Round

Poor Kentucky has had a string of bad luck in the tournament in recent years. After a shocking upset at the hands of St. Peter’s knocked them out in 2022 and Kansas State sent them home in the second round last year, the Wildcats were sent packing in another upset this year when they lost 80-76 to Oakland.

Late Round & Championship Upsets

And now, upsets that happened further down the line.

No. 11 George Mason beats No. 1 Connecticut – 2006 Regional Final

George Mason University took down no less than three higher-seeded teams on their way to a showdown in the regional final against the powerhouse UConn Huskies. Then they took the No. 1 seed down, too, to make the Final Four.

No. 2 Duke beats No. 1 UNLV – 1991 Final Four

UNLV was on a tear, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Blue Devils in the Final Four of the 1991 tournament. There’s a good chance Duke was motivated by a desire to set things right from the previous year’s tournament, when UNLV slaughtered them by a full 30 points. Duke prevailed, despite the razor thin 79-77 final score.

No. 6 NC State beats No. 1 Houston – 1983 Championship

One of NC State’s two NCAA Division I tournament championships came at the misfortune of the Houston Cougars in 1983. No. 1-seeded Houston was heavily favored to win the matchup, but the legendary Jim Valvano and crew were able to pull off a dramatic last-second score to win by just two points, 54 – 52.

No. 8 Villanova beats No. 1 Georgetown – 1985 Championship

Not only was Georgetown the 1-seed, but they were also the defending national champs going into the 1985 title game. With credentials like that, it’s no wonder their shocking 66-64 loss to Villanova is widely considered one of the all-time biggest upsets in sporting history.

Watch March Madness on DIRECTV

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the tournament called March Madness?

The term comes from announcer Brent Musburger, who used it live on TV during the 1982 tournament.

Who won the men's March Madness tournament last year?

The 2023 March Madness men's tournament winner was Connecticut.

What is the theme song for March Madness?

The theme song for March Madness is One Shining Moment.

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