Revisit the biggest upsets in men's NCAA tournament history

ByAlex Kennedy ESPN logo
Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Every year, millions of fans fill out an NCAA tournament bracket in hopes of predicting which teams will pull off a miraculous upset and go on a Cinderella run. With March Madness firing up, let's revisit the biggest upsets in men's NCAA tournament history.


No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson beats No. 1 Purdue, 2023

Prior to this game, Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson was captured on camera telling his team, "The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them." It turns out he was right. Fairleigh Dickinson defeated Purdue 63-58 in just the second instance of a No. 16 seed defeating a No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament history.

The Knights were led by Sean Moore (19 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds), Demetre Roberts (12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists), Grant Singleton (8 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals) and Cameron Tweedy (10 points and 6 rebounds). Zach Edey, the National College Player of the Year, recorded 21 points and 15 rebounds for Purdue in the losing effort. Fairleigh Dickinson ultimately lost to Florida Atlantic in the second round.

No. 16 UMBC beats No. 1 Virginia, 2018

Virginia entered the 2018 NCAA tournament with the second-best odds to win the national championship, and their loaded roster would go on to win the title the following year. However, they were on the wrong side of history against UMBC, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. And UMBC didn't just sneak past Virginia; they dominated this contest 74-54.

UMBC did whatever they wanted and Virginia couldn't buy a bucket. The Retrievers shot 54.2% from the field and 50% from three-point range, while the Cavaliers shot 41.1% from the field and just 18.2% from beyond the arc. UMBC was led by Jairus Lyles (28 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists), Arkel Lamar (12 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists) and Joe Sherburne (14 points, 6 rebounds). It took 33 years for an upset of this magnitude, but UMBC proved that a 16-seed could take down a top-seeded juggernaut.


No. 15 Princeton beats No. 2 Arizona, 2023

The 2023 NCAA tournament featured a pair of shocking upsets in the first round, as Princeton also managed to upset Arizona, 59-55. Only one Princeton player scored in double figures: Tosan Evbuomwan, who finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a block. However, seven of their eight rotation players scored at least six points. This was a defensive struggle, as Princeton shot just 40.6% from the field and 16% from three, while Arizona shot 42.1% from the field and 18.8% from three. The Tigers held the Wildcats scoreless for the final 4:43 of the contest, going on a 9-0 run that sealed the win. Princeton advanced to the Sweet 16, where they lost to No. 6 Creighton.

No. 15 Saint Peter's beats No. 2 Kentucky, 2022

The Saint Peter's Peacocks shocked the world when they defeated the powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats, 85-79, in the 2022 NCAA tournament. Saint Peter's caught fire from three-point range, shooting 52.9% to Kentucky's 26.7% from deep. The Peacocks were led by Daryl Banks III (27 points, 5 threes and 4 rebounds) and Doug Edert (20 points and 4 rebounds). Oscar Tshiebwe had an impressive 30-point, 16-rebound, 2-block, 2-steal performance, but it wasn't enough to lift the Wildcats to victory. Saint Peter's Cinderella run continued to the Elite 8, where they lost to No. 8 North Carolina.

No. 15 Oral Roberts beats No. 2 Ohio State, 2021

Oral Roberts entered the 2021 NCAA tournament with a 17-10 record, but everyone is 0-0 entering March Madness and Oral Roberts made the most of their opportunity in the Big Dance. The Golden Eagles defeated the Buckeyes, 75-72, in an overtime thriller. Kevin Obanor (30 points, 11 rebounds and 5 threes) and Max Abmas (29 points, 5 rebounds, 5 threes, 3 assists and 2 steals) led the way for Oral Roberts, who advanced to the Sweet 16 before getting eliminated by No. 3 Arkansas.

No. 15 Middle Tennessee beats No. 2 Michigan State, 2016

In the 2016 NCAA tournament, Middle Tennessee pulled off the upset against Michigan State, 90-81. All five of the Blue Raiders' starters scored in double figures, with Reggie Upshaw (21 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks) and Giddy Potts (19 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals) leading the charge. Middle Tennessee lost in the second round to No. 10 Syracuse.

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast beats No. 2 Georgetown, 2013

In their March Madness debut, Florida Gulf Coast became the talk of the tournament. FGCU defeated Georgetown, 78-68, in the 2013 NCAA tournament, and "Dunk City" quickly became fan favorites thanks to their high-flying style of play. Sherwood Brown (24 points, 9 rebounds and 3 threes), Bernard Thompson (23 points, 7 rebounds and 3 threes) and Brett Comer (12 points and 10 rebounds) carried FGCU past Otto Porter's Hoyas. Florida Gulf Coast advanced to the Sweet 16, where they lost to No. 3 Florida.

No. 15 Norfolk State beats No. 2 Missouri, 2012

Norfolk State defeated Missouri, 86-84, in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA tournament. The Spartans were led by Kyle O'Quinn (26 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks), Pendarvis Williams (20 points, 4 rebounds and 4 threes) and Chris McEachin (20 points and 4 threes). Norfolk State lost in the second round to No. 7 Florida, but O'Quinn's terrific tournament helped him get drafted No. 49 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft and he'd play eight seasons in the league.

No. 15 Lehigh beats No. 2 Duke, 2012

This was the coming-out party for C.J. McCollum, who put Lehigh on his back to take down a loaded Duke team that featured eight future NBA players. McCollum posted 30 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals, lifting the mid-major Lehigh past Duke 75-70. Gabe Knutson chipped in 17 points and 8 rebounds on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting from the field. After the following season, McCollum was selected No. 10 overall in the NBA Draft.

No. 15 Hampton beats No. 2 Iowa State, 2001

In recent years, there have been quite a few big upsets in the NCAA tournament, but it wasn't nearly as common back in in the 1990s and 2000s. When Hampton defeated Iowa State 58-57 in the 2001 NCAA tournament, it was a shocker. Tarvis Williams dominated the Cyclones, finishing with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks. Marseilles Brown chipped in 14 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds in the win. Hampton lost in the second round to No. 10 Georgetown.

No. 15 Coppin State beats No. 2 South Carolina, 1997

In the 1997 NCAA tournament, Coppin State upset South Carolina in convincing fashion, 78-65. The HBCU program had never won a game in the NCAA tournament, but they became just the third No. 15 seed in history to upset a No. 2 seed. The Eagles were led by Terquin Mott (11 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks), Danny Singletary (20 points and 5 steals) and Antoine Brockington (20 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals). While Coppin State lost in the second round to No. 10 Texas, the win was huge for the school. ESPN released a documentary about Coppin State's huge upset called "On & Coppin" that's available on ESPN+.

No. 15 Santa Clara beats No. 2 Arizona, 1993

Arizona's roster featured seven future NBA players, but Santa Clara managed to pull off the 64-61 upset thanks to Pete Eisenrich (19 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks), John Woolery (10 points, 6 steals, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) and DeWayne Lewis (13 points and 7 rebounds). They also got solid contributions from a certain freshman guard named Steve Nash, who chipped in 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists off the bench (and later became a two-time NBA MVP).

No. 15 Richmond beats No. 2 Syracuse, 1991

This marked the first time that a 15-seed pulled off a first-round upset, as Richmond defeated Syracuse, 73-69. The Spiders shocked the world a few years earlier when they defeated No. 4 Indiana as a No. 13 seed in the 1988 NCAA tournament, so they were no stranger to big upsets. Richmond, who never trailed in this game, was led by Curtis Blair (18 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals), Terry Connolly (14 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists) and Kenny Wood (12 points and 7 rebounds). Syracuse had four players score in double figures, including Billy Owens (22 points and 7 rebounds), but it wasn't enough to advance.

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