When the NCAA Tournament kicks off on Thursday morning–let’s face it the games on Tuesday and Wednesday are play-in games even if the NCAA Tournament Committee calls those four games the first round–sports fans are spoiled with 12 straight hours of basketball and 16 games. That process then repeats itself on Friday with the same schedule as a half-day worth of basketball and another 16 games are played, providing fans an unmatched experience in sports. Among all those 32 games there will be some blowouts, but also some buzzer-beaters, which is what makes those two days so intriguing even to the casual sports fan.
Furthermore, fans will often find themselves cheering for a school they’ve never heard of before to take down a top seed, or cheering for that perennial power to hold on and not ruin their bracket. While none of those upsets have ever involved a No. 16 seed taking down a No. 1 seed, as No. 1 seeds have a 116-0 record since 1985–when the field expanded to 64 teams–it seems inevitable to happen at some point in the future; after all ,it’s not called “March Madness” for no reason. Over the years there have been some shocking upsets by smaller schools that very few ever saw coming, so today here’s a look at the 10 biggest upsets in the round of 64.
10. 2005 – No. 14 Bucknell defeats No. 3 Kansas 64-63
Having never lost before in the round of 64, it was quite shocking to see the Kansas Jayhawks have such an early exit in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks had started the 2004-05 season with a preseason No. 1 ranking coming off an Elite Eight appearance the year before. For much of the season Kansas played like the No. 1 team in the country, getting off to a 20-1 start before fading down the stretch to finish at 23-7. On the other hand, the Bucknell Bisons were an unheralded basketball program making just their third tournament appearance and looking for their first NCAA Tournament win. The Bisons finished the season with a 23-9 record and a Patriot League championship, yet only had five scholarship players competing in their match-up against Kansas.
Playing pretty even most of the game, Bucknell looked to be in excellent position to win, taking a five-point advantage with less than 90 seconds left. However, Kansas came back to take a one-point lead with 25 seconds remaining before Bucknell retook the lead with 10 seconds left on five-foot hook shot by Chris McNaughton. Kansas had a couple good looks to win, but star Wayne Simien missed a pull-up jumper with four seconds left and a turn-around jumper at the buzzer to fall by one.
9. 1986 – No. 14 Cleveland State defeats No. 3 Indiana 83-79
A year after the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, major upset occurred when two No. 14 seeds beat No. 3 seeds in the 1986 tournament–Arkansas-Little Rock also beat Notre Dame. What made this one the more surprising of the two though, was that during Bob Knight’s time with the Hoosiers, they had yet to lose an opening round game in the NCAA Tournament and had already won two National Championships in his 15 seasons at the helm. Moreover, the following year in the 1987 NCAA Tournament, Indiana, a team that comprised many of the same players, went on to win a national title under Knight. However, Cleveland State was no slouch as the Vikings came into the tournament with a 27-3 record and a 12-game win streak. In fact, the Vikings went on to win their round of 32 match-up over St. Joseph and lost in the Sweet 16 by a single point against a Navy team that featured David Robinson. There’s no telling if this loss by Indiana, which featured guard Steve Alford, caused the now UCLA coach a permanent curse in No. 3 vs. No. 14 match-ups as he’s lost twice as a coach when a No. 3 seed: 2006 – Iowa losing to Northwestern State and 2013 – New Mexico losing to Harvard.
8. 1999 – No. 14 Weber State defeats No. 3 North Carolina 76-74
No team has made more Final Fours than North Carolina (18), so of course it’s a surprise to see the Tar Heels make an early exit in an event they thrive in. Furthermore, North Carolina, which was making its 25th consecutive tournament appearance in 1999, hadn’t lost an opening round game since before the tournament expanded to 64 teams – 1980 to be precise. In the 1999 NCAA Tournament, having just come off yet another Final Four appearance in 1998, North Carolina was matched up against Weber State University out of Ogden, Utah. The Wildcats in a similar situation only four years earlier stunned three-seeded Michigan State as a No. 14 seed in the 1995 NCAA Tournament, but this win seemed more significant to the Big Sky school, after all, this was North Carolina. What was maybe most shocking was the play of Weber State’s Harold “The Show” Arceneaux, who scored 36 points including going 5 of 7 from 3-point range. The 25-7 Wildcats dominated most of the game over the 24-10 Tar Heels, holding a lead since the 4:09 mark of the first half. However, after trailing by 10 with four minutes to play, North Carolina made a late push to cut the lead to a single point before ultimately falling.
7. 2012 – No. 15 Norfolk State defeats No. 2 Missouri 86-84
The Missouri Tigers came into the NCAA Tournament hot, having just won the Big 12 Tournament and with 30 wins on the year. Many had Missouri going deep into the tournament, but the Norfolk State Spartans had other plans. Winning the MEAC with 25 wins on the year and making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance, the Virginia-based school was carried that day by senior forward Kyle O’Quinn, who put up 26 points and 14 rebounds. O’Quinn’s efforts were highlighted by a caught airball that turned into a putback and eventual three-point play to give the Spartans an 84-81 lead with just over 30 seconds to play. Missouri still had its chances at game’s end when Norfolk State missed several free throws, but a failed three-pointer from 30 feet at the buzzer went off the back of the iron. The Spartans round of 32 game didn’t go nearly as well, as they lost to No. 7-seeded Florida by 34 points.
6. 1997 – No. 15 Coppin State defeats No. 2 South Carolina 78-65
If both of these teams had plain jerseys on, one very well could come to the conclusion by watching these two teams play that Friday in 1997 that Coppin State was the No. 2 seed and South Carolina was the No. 15 seed. Going into halftime tied 34-34, Coppin State took the lead for good with just over six minutes to go 55-54 and then pulled away from the SEC regular season champs to take a double digit lead with a couple minutes left. Despite coming into the game as 30-point underdogs, nothing seemed to faze the Eagles as they became the first team from the MEAC to win an NCAA Tournament game. Furthermore, Coppin State nearly made it to the Sweet 16 losing to 10th seeded Texas by a single point in the round of 32. Things didn’t get any better for South Carolina’s basketball program. In 1998 the Gamecocks returned to the tournament as a No. 3 seed only to get upset by No. 14 seed Richmond 62-61.
5. 2013 – No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast defeats No. 2 Georgetown 78-68
It was rather improbable that Florida Gulf Coast would do anything in its first ever NCAA Tournament, but after the opening weekend of the 2013 tournament was complete, the Eagles made history by becoming the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16. Only becoming eligible for the NCAA Tournament a year earlier, FGCU, a school less than 20 years old, shocked just about everyone as they bumped a 25-win Georgetown team out of the tournament that many had making a deep run. As regular season co-champs in the Big East with the eventual national champions in Louisville, the Hoyas trailed at halftime by two points after leading much of the first half. Then, FGCU went on a huge 21-2 run early in the second half to lead by as many as 19 points. By that time Georgetown had little chance to come back, even with Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter Jr. The Hoyas closed to within four points with 52 seconds to play, but the Eagles hit some big free throws down the stretch and defended even better to pull off an improbable upset.
4. 1991 – No. 15 Richmond defeats No. 2 Syracuse 73-69
The first No. 15 seed to pull off an upset came in 1991 when the Richmond Spiders defeated No. 2 seeded Syracuse 73-69. The Spiders of the Colonial Athletic Association were no strangers to the NCAA Tournament, having knocked off Indiana three years earlier in 1988 when the Hoosiers were defending their 1987 National Championship in a No. 4 vs. No. 13 match-up. But still, an upset of this magnitude was very unexpected, especially against a 26-win Syracuse team that took the Big East regular season title and had soon-to-be No. 1 pick Derrick Coleman. What made the upset that much more impressive was that Richmond controlled the game from the start to take an eight-point lead into halftime. Then, holding a 10-point lead late in the game, Syracuse was able to cut it to one point with 30 seconds left. After a couple of Richmond free throws, Syracuse had a good look at a three-pointer to tie the game with under 10 seconds left, but the ball hit off the back of the iron and sealed Syracuse’s fate.
3. 1993 – No. 15 Santa Clara defeats No. 2 Arizona 64-61
A year after getting upset by 14-seeded East Tennessee State in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, one would think that the Arizona Wildcats would come out better prepared in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. Instead, Arizona had a second straight early exit thanks to the Santa Clara Broncos and a freshman point guard by the name of Steve Nash. Before the two-time NBA MVP hit it big, Nash hit several big free throws down the stretch in a 10-point performance to help the Broncos become only the second ever No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed. The game had an interesting flow to it as the 17-win Broncos took a 12-point advantage in the first half before the Wildcats went on a 14-0 run to close the half and take a two-point lead. What’s more, Arizona scored the first 11 points of the second half (a 25-0 combined run) to take a 13-point lead with 15 minutes remaining in the game. However, that 13-point lead the 24-win Pac-10 champions had built wouldn’t last as Santa Clara retook the lead in the final few minutes to pull off a very unexpected upset.
2. 2001 – No. 15 Hampton defeats No. 2 Iowa State 58-57
Coming off a season where the Iowa State Cyclones had made it to the Elite Eight and lost to eventual National Champions Michigan State, Iowa State had an exceptional season in 2000-01, winning the regular season Big 12 title and earning a No. 2 seed in the 2001 NCAA Tournament. Big things were expected for the Cyclones as many saw this talented squad led by future NBA-er Jamaal Tinsley as a potential title contender. However, the Cyclones ran into a 24-win Hampton squad that was making its first ever tournament appearance. In what was maybe the most thrilling regional site ever, as the other three games in Boise that day were decided by six points total, the best game was saved for last as Hampton edged out Iowa State 58-57. The Cyclones looked to have the game won with a one-point lead, full shot clock and possession with 36 seconds left, but a missed layup on a 2-on-1 fast break instead of forcing the Pirates to foul allowed Hampton to get the ball back with 20 seconds remaining. The Pirates took advantage of the mistake and hit a five-foot shot in the paint with 6.9 seconds left to take a one-point lead before Tinsley tried to do his best Tyus Edney impression going the length of the floor, but missed the layup. The game not only provided one of the best finishes ever, but also by far the best celebration ever as one of the taller Hampton players lifted his diminutive coach into the air.
1. 2012 – No. 15 Lehigh defeats No. 2 Duke 75-70
The Duke Blue Devils, a program with four NCAA Championships and 15 Final Fours, had a major slip-up during the 2012 NCAA Tournament in the round of 64 that nobody saw coming. Having been ranked in the top-10 the entire 2011-12 season, the Blue Devils looked like they could be adding a fifth NCAA Championship, not exiting in the first round as they ended up doing. While the Lehigh Mountain Hawks had future NBA-er C.J. McCollum on its squad, Duke had four current NBA players on its roster: Miles Plumlee, Mason Plumlee, Austin Rivers and Ryan Kelly. But despite the talent disparity, it was Lehigh’s day as the school from Bethlehem, Penn. beat the storied program 75-70. What made this victory that much more impressive was that the game was essentially a home game fpr Duke as they were playing in Greensboro just 55 miles from Durham. However, all the advantages that Duke had going in its favor proved to be a moot point as C.J. McCollum scored 30 points and the final two minutes of the game became essentially a free-throw shooting contest as Duke played catch up.