Top Five Upsets in College Basketball Tournament History - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

The history of college sports is filled with dramatic endings, compelling storylines and underdog victories. Since the late 19th century, David has occasionally appeared and defeated Goliath, shocking the collegiate sporting world.

Men’s college basketball is no stranger to upsets, and this season is no different.

In February, the Boston College Men’s Basketball team had a meager 7-18 record coming into the matchup against the number one team in the nation, Syracuse. After defying all odds, Boston College came out on top, 62-59. This upset rocked the sport, taking Syracuse out of the number one spot and injecting a sense of pride and excitement into the Boston College team.

In honor of all underdog victories past, present and future, here are our top five tournament upsets in college basketball history.

1. No. 8 Villanova Beats No. 1 Georgetown (1985)

Documentaries and television specials have spent countless hours examining this matchup, and rightfully so. This championship game defined David vs. Goliath, with Georgetown playing the part of Goliath. Led by 7-footer all-star Patrick Ewing, Georgetown came into the national championship game with the confidence that comes along with being a 1 seed. All statistics pointed to Georgetown easily defeating Villanova. However, the statistics did not predict the determination and tenacity of Villanova, who shot a staggering 78.6% from the floor that night, beating Georgetown 66-64.

2. No. 6 North Carolina State Beats No. 1 Houston (1983)

1 seed Houston came into the national championship game touting a future NBA hall-of-famer, Akeem Olajuwon. That fact alone places all other opponents as underdogs. Add in the “Phi Slamma Jamma” group, and those underdogs become big underdogs. Having lost 10 regular season games, North Carolina State was no different.

Led by Coach Jim Valvano, North Carolina State embraced their uphill battle and took the lead going into halftime. Houston didn’t go quietly, however, going on a 17-2 run to tie the game. The game finally ended when Lorenzo Charles of North Carolina State grabbed a shot that fell short and dunked it with one second left, giving North Carolina State the national championship.

3. No. 11 George Mason Beats No. 1 UConn (2006)

In March of 2006, George Mason played the role of the Cinderella Story (a team that advances much further than originally anticipated). Playing extremely close to campus (about 20 miles), George Mason and their supporters didn’t take the task of playing 1 seed UConn lightly.

George Mason was outmatched in skill and physicality, but they managed to defeat UConn in overtime, 86-84, in front of what could be considered a home crowd.

4. No. 15 Santa Clara Beats No. 2 Arizona (1993)

Led by future NBA all-star Steve Nash, Santa Clara accomplished what very few have done: beat the 2 seed as a 15 seed. It wasn’t smooth sailing, however, as Arizona went on a 25-0 scoring run halfway through the game. Despite the scare, Santa Clara was able to hold off Arizona due to six free throws made by Steve Nash. This upset marked the second time a 15 seed had beaten a 2 seed, and also set the stage for Nash to have an excellent career at the next level.

5. No. 15 Richmond Beats No. 2 Syracuse (1991)

In 1991, Richmond beat all odds to defeat powerhouse Syracuse to become the first 15 seed to beat a 2 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in the 1980s. Like Santa Clara, Richmond almost saw their victory slip through their hands by almost giving up a 10-point lead. Luckily for Richmond, Syracuse missed a couple of crucial 3-pointers at the end of the game and gave up a foul that led to a pair of Richmond free throws, and ultimately, a Richmond upset victory.

What are your favorite upsets? What do you think of our rankings? Let us know in the comments below!



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This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. I would have to agree that the UTEP (Texas Western) win over Kentucky ranks as one of the greatest upsets of all time, and without a doubt in the top 5. I believe Mercer over Duke in this year’s tournament ranks pretty high! –P

  2. #8 Villanova beats #1 Georgetown 1985 this showed how powerful the big east was in their hay day then and always.

  3. I agree with Villanova over Georgetown as the biggest upset of all time. Going way, way back was Cincinnati upsetting Ohio State in 1962.

  4. Easy…Florida Gulf Coast become the first number 15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16 by defeating number 2 seed Georgetown and then 3 seed San Diego State.

  5. Dayton defeating Syracuse and Stanford were both huge surprises for me. I thought about my selections carefully and using your rankings as a guide, I was surprised by those defeats.

    I feel that your rankings were correct.

  6. I’m surprised that the Texas Western (now UTEP) defeat of Kentucky in 1966 isn’t on the list. It’s a little difficult to compare since the number of teams in the tournament were 22 instead of 64+.

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