When the NCAA
expanded its Division I basketball tournament to 64 teams in 1985, it
certainly couldn’t have had any idea what fun it was creating.
Since the first
64-team field began play that March, the tourney has taken off in ways
few could have imagined. Its emergence led to the NCAA signing a
mind-boggling $11 billion contract just for its top division
basketball tournament. It also practically made a struggling cable
network. Before its college basketball coverage exploded in the
mid-80s, ESPN was still a struggling network searching for its niche
The tourney has
also quickly turned the term ‘office pool’ into a part of the national
lexicon. Ten years ago, the only time you may hear that term was if
there was a leak in a roof somewhere. Now, everyone hears office pool
and immediately remembers the cardinal rule about always pick a 12
seed to upset a 5 seed.
Tournament has grown from a mostly regional, hard-core fan event into
a national mania. History would have been greatly altered, though, if
the tourney had never proven to be so unpredictable when it
Arkansas-Little Rock or Austin Peay had never marked those first few
years of the larger field with stunning performances, ESPN might be
showing Australian Rules Football reruns at all hours of the day. How
many of the Quinnipiacs, Sacramento States and Hamptons of Division I
would have moved up to that level if not for the financial incentive
the D-I tourney now carries? And what would the purpose be of an
office pool if everyone knew who would win?
The Final Four was
starting to become a national event in the 1980s, but the entire NCAA
Tournament as a whole was still strictly regional, much like the
college baseball postseason now. When smaller schools began doing the
unthinkable and started bouncing top 10 teams from the tourney, the
NCAA Tournament acquired its reputation for being the event with
Cinderellas and true underdogs, and it became a three-week national
Because they have
had such an impact on history (and because it’s just fun to relive the
past) this is a list of 16 of the biggest upsets that have occurred in
the first round in NCAA Tournament history. For our purposes, games
considered were from 1979 and after, the first year seeds were used to
rank teams. It was also the first year the tourney ever included a
sixth round. Before that, what is now the first round didn’t exist;
the tourney started with what is now the second round.
Besides the fact
that most of the results of these games were shocking, what’s also
interesting is so many of the teams that pulled upsets almost never
had the chance to. Many didn’t necessarily have monster seasons
preceding their big wins. Some dominated their leagues, but many were
just good teams in lightly regarded conferences. Fun facts and
assorted tidbits like this are called ‘Oddballs.’
The order of the
games on this list is purely subjective, the opinion of one person who
has followed the NCAA Tournament for 17 years, enjoys researching it
and has seen or watched tapes of almost all of the games. Or, in a few
cases maybe just remembers where he was when he heard the score of the
game. In general, games are placed in an order of historical
significance, with the quality of the game or memorable moments also
playing a factor. Surely there are games some people might remember as
more or less important to them than others, but hopefully it’s a fun
history lesson, if nothing else.
And now, the
revealing of the 32-team field…
#14 Cleveland State 83, #3 Indiana 79
#14 Arkansas-Little Rock 90, #3 Notre Dame 83
It was really
these upsets that launched the NCAA Tournament’s reputation for having
unknown teams surprise well-known powers, and both happened on the
same day. Cleveland State's win over Indiana was seen by everybody, or
at least everyone with cable and ESPN. It’s stunning nature would be
part of the climax in the best-selling book “A Season On The Brink.”
UALR's win over Digger Phelps' boys wasn’t in a book, but was just as
unexpected and added to the wackiness on a memorable day.
Both teams were
virtually anonymous coming into the 1986 tourney, but Cleveland State
had a terrific regular season. The Vikings were 27-3 in and won the
Association of Mid-Continent Universities title, but the league didn't
have an NCAA automatic bid. They got the last at-large bid in the
field, though, as a 14 seed. Eric Mudd, Clinton Ransey, Clinton Smith
and Ken (Mouse) McFadden were all double-figure scorers for an
exciting team that ran and pressed all the time, something unheard of
then. In the next few years, noted fullcourt coaches Rick Pitino and
Jerry Tarkanian actually took some of their cues from Viking coach
Kevin Mackey. CSU harassed the Hoosiers with their quickness and
ability to get up and down the floor and led the whole game. The
Hoosiers had no answer for Ransey, who had 27 points in the game.
Rock wasn’t quite as strong in the regular season (22-11) but it had
talent, too. Future NBA'er Pete Myers led them with 29 against ND,
while Michael Clarke rung up 27 more. TAAC player of the year Myron
Jackson also had 16 in the first half, and he would be a draft choice
of the Dallas Mavericks later that year. UALR beat the Fighting Irish
with scorching shooting-over 50% for the game-but it was still a
back-and-forth affair until they forced David Rivers into some late
turnovers and converted free throws while they spent much of the final
two minutes at the line.
Cleveland State very nearly made it to the Elite Eight as a 14 seed.
The Vikings defeated #6 St. Joseph's in the second round, then lost by
a point to #7 Navy in the East Regional Semifinals when David Robinson
scored a winning basket with five seconds left. Think about just how
shocking that would be if it happened today. UALR didn't leave the
tournament quietly, either. It took N.C. State two overtimes to
finally get rid of the Trojans in the second round.
The tourney almost was UALR's only basketball hurrah and so far has
been about the only one for Cleveland State. Though many thought
Arkansas-Little Rock was on the same path that Alabama-Birmingham took
from unknown upstart to national power in the early 80s, the program
would be slowed by financial problems. They enjoyed success over the
next few years, making the NIT Final Four in 1987 and NCAA Tournaments
in 1989 and 1990. In 1988, though, the school's athletic department
was running in debt and sports at Little Rock were almost dropped.
Coach Mike Newell left for Lamar in the early 90s, and UALR hasn't
been to the NCAA Tournament since he left. Cleveland State hasn’t been
to the NCAAs since its Sweet 16 trip, and NCAA violations uncovered a
few years after their magic run landed the Vikings on a stiff
probation in the late 80s. Mackey lost his job in 1990 due to drug use
and, though sober for over 10 years now, hasn’t coached in college
since. Coaches like Mike Boyd, Shawn Hood (a reserve guard on that
1986 team) and Rollie Massimino have tried to revive the CSU program,
but for now it is still regarded as a Horizon League doormat, albeit a
potential sleeping giant.
One final note:
While UALR hasn’t made much noise in the NCAAs since 1986, several
players from that team would do so a few years later. Paris McCurdy
and Curtis Kidd were freshmen on the 1986 Trojan team, but a year
later they would both transfer to Ball State. They helped lead the
talented Rick Majerus-coached Cardinals to a national ranking and a
win in the 1989 NCAAs, and the next year Ball State upset higher seeds
Oregon State and Louisville to get to the Sweet 16, where they lost to
eventual national champion UNLV by just two points.
3) 1987 #14 Austin
Peay 68, #3 Illinois 67
It's very tempting
to make it a three-way tie at the top, but the edge goes to the other
two games only because they were the trendsetters. This was another of
those defining TV moments for the NCAA Tournament. Years ago, before
the tiring overuse of the term "mid-major" had developed, Dick Vitale
worked in the ESPN NCAA Tournament studio and told the audience that
the tourney was for the "best" 64 teams. Hard as it may be to believe
now, at that time he frankly had no use for the Idaho States, Austin
Peays, or any of the other "little guys." Vitale was so certain Austin
Peay couldn't beat Illinois that he announced he would stand on his
head if the Governors somehow beat the Fighting Illini. Well, they
did, and Vitale did. It was statements like Vitale's followed by
upsets like this (as well as ESPN's superb coverage of the tourney at
this time) that displayed the charm of this event to an entire nation.
Austin Peay needed
a 30-foot shot by Richie Armstrong at the buzzer of the OVC final
against Eastern Kentucky just to get to the NCAAs. Their flair for the
dramatic continued in the tourney. The first half ended with five
points scored in the final second. Illinois made a pair of free throws
with one second left, and after the second make the Governors’ Tony
Raye took the ball out from the basket, stepped across the end line
with one foot and in one motion threw a one-handed 70-foot pass to
Lawrence Mitchell, who caught it, squared up and banked in a three to
tie the game at the half. AP continued to hang around in the second
half, refusing to go away, and Raye hit the go-ahead free throws with
two seconds left in the game. Austin Peay’s Darryl Bedford had an
outstanding overall game, as the 6-foot-8 post player hit for 24
points, including five three-pointers while shooting a set shot that
bewildered the Illini for its form and for the fact it was coming from
a player so big. In the first year of the three-point line, post
players didn’t usually shoot from the half-moon line unless their name
was Brad Lohaus.
Austin Peay wasn't even an example of a team being great all year and
just being ripped by the NCAA Selection Committee with a bad seed. The
Govs were an average team for most of 1986-87, finishing tied for
fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference with an 8-6 record. They went
into the OVC Tournament at 16-11, and likely wouldn't have made any
kind of postseason Armstrong hadn't hit his buzzer-beater in the OVC
4) 1991 #15 Richmond 73, #2 Syracuse 69
breakthrough moment, because this was the first time a #15 seed ever
toppled a #2 seed. It was important, too, because this was a year when
three play-in games were played before the tourney, since the number
of Division I conferences had swelled to 33 and the automatic bid
total was frozen at 30. Some thought maybe this was a time to just cut
some perceived fat out of the field, anyways, since 15 & 16 seeds so
far hadn’t won in the tournament. It was wonderful to see the Spiders
prove otherwise, and with this being the first year CBS had rights to
all games the first two days of the tourney, the nation got to see the
finish of this stunner on national TV in primetime. If his previous
successes hadn't done it already, this game also finally earned Dick
Tarrant the national recognition as a top of the line coach that he
had richly deserved for years anyways.
Richmond led this
entire game and hit free throws down the stretch against a Syracuse
team that included names like Billy Owens, LeRon Ellis, David Johnson
and Adrian Autry. Curtis Blair was the star for the Spiders,
introducing himself to the nation with 18 points and six assists. The
result wasn’t as surprising when put in context; besides UR’s history
of giant-killing and the fact that it 15 of 17 coming into the
tourney, the Orange were struggling coming into the NCAAs. They were
knocked out of the Big East tourney early by Villanova, and swirling
rumors about an impending probation put the team on edge. A 26-6 year
has seldom ended in such sour fashion.
Richmond was thisclose to not making the tourney. The Spiders barely
won the CAA Tournament over George Mason, beating the Patriots 81-78.
Also, even though the team returned all but one player in 1991-92, the
Spiders lost out in the CAA tourney and didn’t even make the NCAA
field. Oh, and maybe one reason why Tarrant was one of the best at
motivating his team to win games many thought it shouldn’t was because
he had a pretty good freshman basketball coach when he was attending
college at Fordham. Guy by the name of Vince Lombardi.
5) 1993 #15
Santa Clara 64, #2 Arizona 61.
Surprising for its
shock value, emotional for the Santa Clara campus as it came shortly
after the school announced it was dropping its history-rich football
program, this game will still always be remembered first and foremost
as the coming out party of a certain Canadian point guard. Steve Nash
was just a skinny freshman with a short haircut typical of many his
age at the time, but he impressed many with his poise in leading a
team that got red-hot in the West Coast Conference Tournament and
carried it over against the fifth-ranked team in the country. With his
height (6-5) and all-around guard skills, as well as his boondocks
background, he became an instant national hit, and over his four years
at SCU would lead the Broncos to three NCAA Tournaments, including two
as an at-large team.
This wasn’t your
typical lower seed upset because the game featured some incredible
ebbs and flows. The Broncos jumped out to a big lead early, but then
put themselves in trouble by going scoreless while the Wildcats scored
25 unanswered points! Usually, that guarantees doom for any underdog
trying to take down a titan, but as quickly as the odds stacked an
Eiffel Tower against them, Santa Clara turned it back around. The
Broncos grabbed a late lead in the back-and-forth game, Arizona missed
a wild 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer, and the Broncos had an
improbable win. By the way, quick trivia: what did both the 1991
Richmond team and the 1993 Santa Clara team have in common, besides
their seeding? Answer: both were taken out in the second round by John
Chaney’s Temple Owls, who more than capitalized in both seasons and
scored two of Chaney’s four Elite Eight appearances at Temple.
Santa Clara was 15-11 in the 1992-93 regular season and finished only
third in the West Coast
Conference. Pepperdine was the league’s
regular season champion, but the Broncos beat them in the WCC final in
6) 1984 #12
Richmond 72, #5 Auburn 71
Quite possibly the
father of the modern era upset. This one came the year before the NCAA
expanded the tourney field from 48 to 64 teams. Even as one of the
lowest seeds in the tourney, the Spiders still were a 12 seed.
5-vs.-12 games are famous for surprises nowadays, but back then they
didn’t happen. The Spiders upended some serious star power for the
Tigers. Charles Barkley and Chuck Person both went on to long,
prosperous NBA careers. Many forget that Richmond, though, had a
decent match for those two with Johnny Newman, who played a number of
years in the NBA himself and was no slouch at Richmond.
In what would
develop into a Richmond NCAA Tournament trend, the Spiders jumped out.
They led by 17 at the half and even stretched the lead out further
before Auburn started coming back. In fact, the Tigers might have won
the game if it had gone an extra minute, but Richmond hung on at the
end. Newman led the Spiders with 26 points, and one of the better
names in NCAA history, Bill Flye, had 19 points for Richmond. The game
started a legacy of upsets at Richmond that continued through 1988
(Indiana), 1991 (Syracuse) and even 1998 (South Carolina). The 1988
win was a payback win, because after the Spiders beat Auburn the
Hoosiers knocked the Spiders out the 1984 tourney in the second round,
Many don't remember or mention it, but the NCAA had play-in games in
the early 80s, too. The Spiders had to play in one of those just to
get to this game against Auburn. They defeated Rider, 89-65, in a game
7) 1990 #14
Northern Iowa 74, #3 Missouri 71.
One of the most
underrated upsets of all-time. It would be hard to find a game with a
better finish, yet this isn’t one of those finishes that you see every
year like the shots of, say, Bryce Drew of Valparaiso (1998) or Tarvis
Williams of Hampton (2001). The Panthers controlled most of this game
against a Missouri team that was ranked No. 1 for part of 1989-90 but
slumped in its final few games. Northern Iowa led by 12 with five
minutes to play, but the Tigers came back. Nathan Buntin’s three-point
play in the final minute had Mizzou poised for at least overtime, a
situation that would have favored the Tigers since UNI’s Jason Reese
and his 18 points and 15 rebounds had fouled out. However, with
Northern Iowa holding for the final shot of regulation, an unlikely
hero emerged. Maurice Newby had played well in the first half but had
been on the bench much of the second half, but he was in the game on
the final possession and, with the clock running under five seconds,
he launched a cold-blooded 25-footer from the left wing that banged
in. The clock expired, and the University of Nothing Impossible (as
one spectator sign called it) had beat a team that spent much of the
season ranked in the top 5 in the nation. The TV call of Newby’s shot
by Mike Patrick and Dan Bonner is also one of the best ever. You could
hear both gasp when Newby put up the seemingly poor shot. Bonner,
after the final horn noted that “he hasn’t played in 10 minutes!”
Northern Iowa scored a huge win in December of that season over Iowa
in front of more than 20,000 fans at its UNI-Dome. However, the
Panthers finished just fourth in the Mid-Continent Conference, but
benefited from hosting the league tourney. They beat league champion
SW Missouri State in the semifinals and knocked off #2 seed
Wisconsin-Green Bay, 53-45, to get the NCAA bid.
8) 1999 #14
Weber State 76 #3 North Carolina 74.
This one had the
feel of so many Carolina games before: underdog opponent runs out to
big lead, outplays UNC for much of game, Tar Heels roar back late to
win and reinforce a Notre Dame football-like mystique about them-call
it the Luck of the Heels. And yet, there at the end was a team finally
squashing the mystique, and it was none other than unheralded Weber
State, led by Harold Arceneaux. “The Show” became an overnight
sensation with his 36 points. He and his Weber teammates blew out to a
big lead in the second half and then showed remarkable poise down the
stretch, staying one step ahead of Carolina even as the Tar Heels made
their expected late run. There have been many teams before who didn’t
fare so well against a late Tar Heel comeback.
Arceneaux had another 32 points in Weber State’s second round game, an
overtime loss to Florida. If the Wildcats had won, it would’ve
resulted in a Weber State-Gonzaga regional semifinal matchup. Our
guess is this game would’ve resulted in the smallest viewing audience
for a regional semifinal game in NCAA history, with CBS probably
showing this game to about .3 percent of the nation.
9) 1993 #13
Southern 93, #4 Georgia Tech 78.
Hardly anyone saw
this game because it was one of those West Regional odd games out in
the CBS lineup. Due to the time differences, games at western sites
often start during CBS’s second round of games in its afternoon
doubleheader, and that leaves one game going while most networks break
away from their coverage in the early evening for Oprah and the local
news. Usually, the game placed in this spot is one deemed
“expendable,” rarely featuring a big TV draw but also a game judged to
be light on its upset possibility. This one seemed to qualify.
predictably, too, with Georgia Tech running out to an early lead as
expected. The ACC Tournament champion Yellow Jackets (who were only
16-10 before a surprising run through that tourney) led by 15 in the
first half, and it seemed Travis Best and friends were on their way to
an expected rout. Then, something crazy happened. The Jaguars just
flat-out took over. The team that led the country in scoring that year
averaging just under 98 points a game, fought back and took the lead
for good midway through the second half and actually pulled away from
Tech. Jervaughn Scales was a monster for Southern with 27 points and
Often unmentioned about this upset is how Southern was very, very
fortunate to receive its seed. It’s very probable that #13 seed they
got wasn’t for the Jaguars but for Jackson State. The Tigers were the
“in” small school in 1992-93, led by Lindsey Hunter and playing a
tortuous non-conference schedule. JSU lost road games to the likes of
Western Kentucky, Illinois, Memphis State, Arkansas and Kansas but
still rolled through the Southwestern Athletic Conference in the
regular season and won 21 of 22 before the conference tourney final.
Whether they would deserve an at-large spot if they lost in the SWAC
tourney final was the hot debate on Selection Sunday, but the SWAC may
have decided that for the committee when it held its title game while
the pairings were being announced on TV. The committee gave the winner
of the Jackson State/Southern game a #13 seed, obviously an estimation
that the Tigers would win as no SWAC team had ever had a seed better
than a 15 since the first 64-team field in 1985.If JSU lost, it was
headed to the NIT, and that’s exactly what happened. The Jags would’ve
more than likely been a 15 or even 16 seed on their own merits-they
were only 20-9 in the regular season with four non-Division I wins,
even after blowing out Jackson State in the SWAC final.
Jackson State went on the road in the first round of the NIT and upset
none other than Connecticut, before bowing out of that tourney against
SW Missouri State.
10) 1989 #14
Siena 80, #3 Stanford 78.
An upset, but also
simply an incredible story. Siena spent part of its season playing in
front of literally no one after a measles outbreak on campus forced a
quarantine. One of the great TV games of all time was the 1989 ECAC
North Atlantic Conference title game on ESPN, when Siena and Boston
University played at the Hartford Civic Center in front of no one but
team members, officials and a few media. Siena won that game, but only
on a last-second basket. Siena also played part of the 1988-89 season
with no nickname after ditching the ‘Indians’ nickname for something
more politically correct. That just added to the sense of mystery
around this team.
The game itself
featured two teams who were flat-out strangers to the NCAA Tournament
(it was Siena’s first appearance ever, while Stanford’s last visit had
been when it won the title in 1942). It wasn’t a shock to see 24-4
Siena topple a Cardinal team that was considered somewhat vulnerable
all season, despite the greatness of Todd Lichti. Skinny sophomore
Mark Brown busted out on the national scene with a career-high 32
points, the last two the winning free throws with three seconds left.
Oh, and the Siena fans were indeed allowed to travel to the game in
Siena might have made its NCAA debut a season before if not for one of
the all-time head-scratching losses in conference tournament history.
The Indians went 23-4 in the 1987-88 regular season, 16-2 in the ECAC
North Atlantic. Somehow, though, the then-Indians were upset in the
tourney quarterfinals by #9 seed New Hampshire, a team that was 3-24
in the regular season, 2-16 in the league, and was featured in Sports
Illustrated’s college basketball preview the next year for how often
11) 1997 #15
Coppin State 78, #2 South Carolina 65.
win for the SWAC, this one had particular meaning to its conference.
Before this shocker by the Eagles, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
was 0-15 in the NCAA Tournament, and it was reminded of its winless
NCAA record every year in March. Coached by Ron “Fang” Mitchell,
Coppin came up with a beautiful performance against a South Carolina
team that was considered a Final Four candidate but showed its
postseason inexperience (the Gamecocks would do the same next year,
losing to #14 seed Richmond in the first round). Danny Singletary
scored 22 points and Antoine Brockington had 20 as these two
thoroughly outplayed the Gamecocks’ outstanding backcourt of Melvin
Watson, Larry Davis and B.J. McKie. Coppin also outrebounded the
Gamecocks, 41-30. They came back from a seven-point deficit in the
second half and pulled away down the stretch to not only win but also
make it look bad at the end. The Eagles weren’t a fluke, either,
losing by just one against Texas in the second round. CBS was so
impressed it lined up a national TV game for Coppin State against
Arizona the next season, the only time a MEAC school has ever made a
regular season appearance on the network.
The Eagles barely even made it to the NCAAs and were almost knocked
out of the MEAC tourney. Twice. Number nine seed Maryland-Eastern
Shore had Coppin down by 19 in the second half of the teams’
quarterfinal, and the Eagles needed overtime just to get by 15-13
North Carolina A&T in the tourney final. Mitchell had told many in the
past that the MEAC was actually a tough conference that never got very
good seeds to actually do much damage in the postseason. His team
proved it this year, just like a future conference member would four
12) 2001 #15
Hampton 58, #2 Iowa State 57.
The NCAA tourney
celebration that closest resembles Jim Valvano’s running around after
N.C. State won the 1983 title was when Steve Merfeld was being held up
by a player, kicking and screaming in jubilation after the Pirates
pulled this one off. The final result was a shock, but so was the way
it came about. The Pirates were all but dead with seven minutes left
in the game. After a close first half, the Cyclones had finally pulled
out to a nine point lead and looked ready to put away a tiring Hampton
team. But then, Iowa State couldn’t score. ISU had zero points in
those final seven minutes. Hampton labored on offense, too, but closed
in slowly. Star center Tarvis Williams scored in the lane to finally
give them the lead with 6.9 seconds left, and Jamaal Tinsley’s frantic
coast-to-coast driving layup came up short, giving the MEAC its
second-ever NCAA win and second as a 15 seed.
Marseilles Brown is the brother of current Mount St. Mary’s coach
Milan Brown and the tiny 5-foot-6 point guard who fed Williams for his
game-winning basket. He played in two of the better postseason upsets
in recent years, and for two different schools. He also played for
Richmond when the #14 seed Spiders upset South Carolina in the first
round of the 1998 tourney.
13) 1998 #13
Valparaiso 70, #4 Mississippi 69.
there will be few shots in NCAA tourney history more memorable than
the one in this game. You all know the shot made by Bryce Drew, you
remember the reaction of Drew diving Pete Rose-style across the
floor-heck, you probably even remember the name Valpo gave the play
(“Pacer”, for the uninformed). What you might not remember is Ole Miss
could’ve at least been on its way to overtime if star Ansu Sesay had
made even one of two free throw attempts with four seconds left in the
game. Also often forgotten is the entire second half of this game was
classic status-worthy, with three ties and nine lead changes.
Was this a huge
upset? Compared to some that aren’t on this list (East Tennessee
State’s 1992 win over Arizona, for example), not necessarily. Ole Miss
had never won an NCAA Tournament game in its history, and this was one
of those trendy upset picks by the so-called experts. The Rebels were
good, though, having won at eventual national champion Kentucky in the
regular season. Furthermore, this game was so good-and the final shot
so sure to be remembered forever-that it will always be one of those
signature upsets as long as there is an NCAA Tournament.
Valparaiso didn’t exactly start the 1997-98 season on a high note. The
Crusaders lost by 10 points to Division III Bethel College in their
season opener. In fact, VU was only 10-9 in January after a loss to
St. Louis, but the Crusaders ripped off 11 straight wins coming into
the NCAAs and wouldn’t lose until a Sweet 16 game against Rhode
14) 1988 #13 Richmond 72, #4 Indiana 69
"arachnid" theme in a number of these games? As Bobby Knight said at
the postgame press conference and Vitale said in the ESPN studio after
the game, this really wasn't that big of an upset because Richmond was
a very good team. Still, it was. Even though the Hoosiers were minus
Steve Alford and Daryl Thomas from their NCAA champion team of the
year before and even though IU came into the tourney with just a 19-10
record, defending champions just don't go down to Richmonds, no matter
how good the Richmond might be. Just ask the 2003 UNC-Wilmington team,
which had defending champion Maryland beaten but for a miracle shot at
the buzzer. Richmond did it, though, hanging in early, surging ahead
by 10 early in the second half and then retaking the lead after the
Hoosiers rallied. Rodney Rice had a basket to give the Spiders the
lead with less than a minute left, and the Hoosiers missed a final
chance to tie at the buzzer. The Spiders would go to beat #5 seed
Georgia Tech in the second round. Like their game with Syracuse in
1991, the Spiders led the entire way against the Yellow Jackets to get
to the school's first Sweet 16. Their run ended in the East Regional
Semifinals against Temple, the top-ranked team in the country.
Indiana was the first defending champion in seven years to get
eliminated in its first tourney game the next year. 1980 winner
Louisville got dumped in 1981 by Arkansas in the second round, thanks
to U.S. Reid's memorable halfcourt shot at the buzzer. This game also
marked the second time in three years that the Colonial Athletic
Association (formerly known as the ECAC South) had a representative
make it to at least the Sweet 16. Navy made it to the Elite Eight in
15) 1996 #13 Princeton 43, #4 UCLA 41
Was there ever a
more appropriate final moment of a head coaching career than the one
for Pete Carril? You’ve almost certainly seen the play: time running
down, game tied, and from the top of the key Steve Goodrich finds Gabe
Lewullis for a reverse layup to give the Tigers the lead and, four
seconds later, the win. It gave Carril a deserved upset win in the
tourney after near-misses from 1989-92, and it came against the
A story from the
Princeton Athletic News best sums up how this one played out: “
did not play the perfect game against UCLA, far from it. The Tigers
shot 37% from the field for the game and were just 8 for 27 from
three-point range and 1 for 5 from the foul line. They were
outrebounded by 10. They were just inches away from being finished off
with six minutes to go before Charles O’Bannon missed a breakaway
layup.” Princeton also fell behind 7-0 before even the first TV
timeout, clearly in awe of UCLA’s athletes. However, the Tigers stayed
in it and took a few brief leads in the second half. They were down
seven with six minutes to go, though, but the Bruins did not score in
those final six minutes of the game. UCLA also had a chance to take
the lead with less than a minute left when a controversial intentional
foul was called on the Tigers’ Sydney Johnson, but Cameron Dollar
missed both free throws.
UCLA sandwiched its 1995 title with first round losses in 1994 to
Tulsa and in 1996 to the Tigers. Princeton never would’ve been in this
game if it hadn’t picked up an overtime win in a playoff with Penn for
the Ivy League title the Saturday before. Also, some have been led to
believe this was Carril’s only upset in the tourney, but that’s not
true. In 1983, his #12 seeded team surprised #5 Oklahoma State in the
16) 2001 #13 Indiana State 70, #4 Oklahoma 68 (OT)
Like some others
on this list, this game wasn’t a monster upset, although it was widely
assumed the Sooners were too big and strong to lose and the Sycamores
too slow and small to win. It was a classic game, though, albeit a
grinder with neither team topping 40% shooting from the field. One of
the grittiest tourney efforts of all-time was turned in by Sycamore
guard Kelyn Block as the Missouri Valley Conference yet again upstaged
the Big 12, this after a regular season in which the MVC won the
majority of the games between the two leagues. In a monster collision
with Hollis Price late in the game, Block had three teeth knocked out
or chipped, yet after sitting out a few minutes, came back in overtime
to score five of his 17 points and lead the Sycamores to the win. He
would get a root canal soon after the game. (Price, incidentally, tore
a tricep tendon on the play) This was also a game that Indy State
trailed in by 13 in the second half. The Sycamores got to the line 17
more times than the Sooners to make up for OU hitting an
uncharacteristic eight three-pointers. The win was Indiana State’s
first in the NCAA Tournament since the Larry Bird team made the
championship game in 1979.
ISU has to be wondering if it isn’t going to be another 22 years
before it wins an NCAA game. To say these teams went in separate
directions after this game would get you slapped for being too
obvious. The following season, Indiana State went 6-22, suffering
greatly from the loss of its talented duo of Michael Menser and
Michael Renn. Meanwhile, Oklahoma would make the Final Four in 2002.
1989 Georgetown 50, Princeton 49
1989 Oklahoma 72, East Tennessee State 71
1990 Michigan State 75, Murray State 71 (OT)
1996 Purdue 73, Western Carolina 71
This one is for
all who say 16 seeds have no place in the tourney. Those who think
they shouldn’t (and point to selected lopsided scores of 16-vs.-1
matchups to prove it) need to watch videotapes or just read the box
scores of these games. Sometimes, the 16 seeds aren’t very good, but
then again, sometimes the fourth-best team in the Big 10 isn’t very
good either. If you want a national tournament, though, every
conference needs to be represented because even the worst conference
champions have proven in the past that they can hang with the best. In
fact, East Tennessee State and Princeton led almost the entire way in
their games, while Murray State was part of a 1990 tourney that may
have faced the deepest field in history. While the Racers took the
Spartans to overtime, Towson State was within four of top-ranked
Oklahoma late, and fellow #16 Boston University led Connecticut early
in the second half on the Huskies’ home away from home in Hartford.
Since this is such
a subjective list, it wouldn’t be fair to not acknowledge some of the
other upsets in the past that have placed their own stamp on the
tourney. It’s not that these games weren’t fun, it’s just that a list
can only be so big.
1982 #11 Middle
Tennessee State 50 #6 Kentucky 44.
Before the 64-team tourney era, and one of first that earned the OVC a
reputation as a league to look out for in March.
1985 #13 Navy
78, #4 LSU 55.
Which team was the higher seed? Tigers shouldn’t have felt quite as
bad about this in later years when they saw just how dominant a player
David Robinson became.
1987 #13 Xavier
70, #4 Missouri 69.
The start of the Musketeers’ rise from unknown school to the national
player they are now. Xavier was led by Byron Larkin, one of the XU
all-time greats and brother of baseball’s Barry Larkin.
1987 #13 SW
Missouri State 65, #4 Clemson 61.
Bears make a good impression in their first NCAA Division I tourney
1988 # 14 Murray
State 61, #3 N.C. State 58.
Jimmy V’s postseason reputation takes a hit courtesy of Jeff Martin
and the Racers, who almost knocked out eventual champion Kansas in the
1989 #11 South
Alabama 86, #6 Alabama 84.
The game Jaguar fans wanted for years ends happily. USA rallies from a
19-point deficit and Jeff Hodge hits a three-pointer with five seconds
left to give the Jaguars the win.
1990 #12 Ball
State 54, #5 Oregon State 53.
Gary Payton’s career ends when the Cardinals hit a free throw with no
time on the clock to win it.
1992 #14 East
Tennessee State 87, #3 Arizona 80.
After three straight years of losing in the first round, the
Buccaneers break through and force the first of several early exits by
the Wildcats over the next few years.
1995 #14 Weber
State 79, #3 Michigan State 72.
Jud Heathcote’s coaching career ends in unexpectedly quick fashion
with a first round loss to the Wildcats.
1995 #14 Old
Dominion 89, #3 Villanova 84 (3 OT).
The game that almost never ended finally does when Petey Sessoms and
the Monarchs wear out Kerry Kittles, the Wildcats and their incredibly
Tennessee-Chattanooga 73, #3 Georgia 70.
Mocs take a 20-2 lead early, then have to hold on in their first game
of a Sweet 16 run.
2002 #13 UNC-Wilmington
93, #4 USC 89 (OT).
All the more impressive considering this happened in the pod system
era (or error, more precisely). Trojans were thought to be way too
athletic for the Seahawks, but it was UNCW’s Stuart Hare who had the
dunk of the tourney, going over three USC players for a mean slam in