Upsets are why we love the NCAA Tournament. We watch games we probably wouldn’t watch if they happened in December hoping the little guy can pull off a big one. Of course, not too many of them happen in the mismatches in November and December because the Goliaths of college basketball play the Davids on their home courts. They aren’t going to play those games on the road. But in March, at least the little guys get them on a neutral floor.
What makes a great NCAA Tournament upset? Is it the seedings? Or maybe the magnitude of the game? It can be one or the other. Sometimes it’s also the way the games play out as well. Sometimes its the crowd reaction. Many times an underdog gets the “neutral” fans on their side while bidding for the shocker. That is what makes the NCAA Tournament fun to watch. Here are our 10 best upsets in the history of the tournament.
10. 2013 Florida Gulf Coast 78 Georgetown 68. Only #10? This was a 15 over a two! Well, we have to give the Eagles some credit for also beating San Diego State in the next round. What a fun game this was. The Eagles flew up and down the court throwing down dunks on the normally defensive minded beasts from the Big East. Before this night, dew people had even heard of Florida Gulf Coast. Everyone knows them now.
9. 1966 Championship Game- Texas Western72 Kentucky 65. This game was remembered for being the first game to feature an all black starting five but let’s not forget, this was also UTEP beating Kentucky for the national championship. Imagine UTEP beating Kentucky today in a regular season game.
8. 1974 National semifinals- NC State 80 UCLA77. Wait, this was a Final Four Game right? Yes it was. But Final Fours sometimes produce the greatest upsets. Back in those days, anybody beating John Wooden and UCLA was a lot like the US Olympic Hockey team beating the Soviets.
7. Cleveland State 83 Indiana 79. This was the first major upset of the 64 team era. Cleveland State was a 14 knocking off #3 Indiana. This was also a game where nobody had ever heard of the winner before the game. FGCU should take note that they have rarely been heard from since.
6. 2012 Lehigh 75 Duke 70. A rare #15 over a #2 may have gotten a bit more hype had it not been the second one that day. This one happened in Duke’s back yard in Greensboro North Carolina, making it even more stunning.
5. 2012 Norfolk State 86 Missouri 84. This game seems to be more memorable than the Lehigh game even though both were 15 over two games. Perhaps this is because the NSU game was earlier in the day and therefore they took some of the shock value away from the later game? But these two happening on the sane day made this one of the best days in tournament history.
4. 2011 Elite Eight-VCU 71 Kansas 61.What made VCU’s upset of Kansas so impressive wasn’t just that they were one of the four teams that played in the opening round of the new 68 team format, but also that they dominated the game. VCU was an 11 seed beating a number one seed by ten points with a Final Four berth at stake. Where have we heard this before? Oh yeah…
3. 2006 Elite Eight- George Mason 86 Connecticut 84. An overtime thriller saw little known George Mason advance to the Final Four in 2006. This win perhaps paved the way for Butler, VCU and Wichita State in the following seasons to get to the Final Four. In 2006, George Mason getting there was a huge deal. Nobody had them getting that far, not that anybody had VCU or Wichita either.
2. 1983 Championship Game- North Carolina State 54 Houston 52. #2 and #1 are virtually a tossup. The 1983 tournament run by North Carolina State has got to be one of the greatest in tournament history if not THE greatest. It began in the ACC Tournament that the Wolfpack had to win just to get into the Big Dance. Several times they pulled out close games against some of the nation’s best teams such as the Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins led North Carolina Tar Heels and the Ralph Sampson led Virginia Cavaliers. Then as luck would have it, after pulling off a miracle comeback against Pepperdine and upsetting UNLV, the Wolfpack had to beat Virginia again to get to the Final Four.
Then after beating Georgia in the national semifinals, the Wolfpack watched what looked like an NBA game in the other semi as the Houston Cougars led by Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon beat the Louisville Cardinals in a dunk fest. Few gave the Wolfpack any hope against the Cougars in the title game. But in this pre-shot clock era, the Pack was able to slow the tempo and hold for the last shot down by one. An air-ball from Derrick Wittenburg was grabbed out of the air by Lorenzo Charles and dunked before the buzzer sounded to give NC State the win.
1. 1985 Championship Game- Villanova 66 Georgetown 64. Villanova was the eight seed facing the top seeded Hoyas. Georgetown was the champions of the Big East and had beaten Villanova three times already. The Wildcats were never supposed to even get that far and had already pulled off several upsets in the tournament. They would have to play a near perfect game to beat the more talented Hoyas of Patrick Ewing.
After narrowly escaping number nine Dayton in the first round, the Wildcats then upset the number one seed Michigan in the second round. Then they took down two ACC giants, Maryland and North Carolina, the #5 and #2 seeds. After beating Memphis in the national semifinal, that least them with the mighty Hoyas, the defending national champions who were playing in their third championship game in four years.
Nova shot an astonishing 22 of 28 from the floor and still only won by two points. They had no margin for error and they made none. Neither team committed a turnover in the game.