March Madness Upsets: Top 10 Biggest First Round Upsets Ever

T.J. Sorrentine hits big shots in NCAA Tournament

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Two things come to mind when March Madness begins. First, the NCAA Tournament brings excitement and potential buzzer-beaters every season. However, the greatest aspect of the NCAA Tournament are the first-round upsets. They seem to happen every March and fans get treated to monumental games on the first two days of the tournament. No matter who is participating in these games, the tension rises when a heavy favorite feels their season is on the line. When schools with very little name brand recognition compete with the big boys, something special is created. Now let’s relive the memories of past NCAA Tournament first-round upsets.

Here are 10 of the most memorable first-round upsets in NCAA Tournament history.


10. No. 15 Santa Clara Broncos vs No. 2 Arizona Wildcats 64-61 (1993)

The basketball world had already seen a glimpse of Steve Nash. The freshman point guard showed flashes of brilliance during his first season with the Santa Clara Broncos. He helped lead the Broncos to the West Coast Conference title. Although they weren’t able to capture any major upsets during the regular season, the Broncos performed well in losses to UCLA and California. Well, the experience in those games gave the 16-11 Broncos an advantage. Still, the Arizona Wildcats were a heavy favorite due to a star-studded cast. They had Chris Mills, Khalid Reeves, and Damon Stoudamire all scoring double figures. After the Broncos missed four straight foul shots, the Wildcats had one final shot to tie the game. Instead, Stoudemire’s shot hit the back of the rim. It was the second time a 15-seeded team won in the first round.


9. No. 15 Richmond Spiders knock off No. 2 Syracuse Orange 73-69 (1991)

The Syracuse Orange were fresh off of winning the 1991 Big East title. Meanwhile, the Richmond Spiders represented the Colonial for the second year in a row. With Billy Owens leading the way, the Orange were a trendy pick to make the Final Four. Instead, the Spiders became the first 15-seeded team to earn a first round upset in the field of 64. The Spiders jumped out to a 44-38 halftime lead and held on for a 73-69 win.Three years prior, the Spiders defeated the Indiana Hoosiers as the No. 14 seed. Therefore, they came into the game with confidence. This was also the last game to tip-off on Thursday night.


8. No. 13 Princeton Tigers vs. No. 4 UCLA Bruins 43-41 (1996)

Watch out for the backdoor cut. The No. 4 UCLA Bruins were warned and prepared for the No. 13 Princeton Tigers. The Bruins were also the defending national champions with an eye on a second title. However, the Tigers had something else in mind. With the game tied at 41, the Tigers earned a necessary defensive stop and grabbed the rebound. Once again, the Bruins needed to answer the call defensively. They didn’t. The Tigers ran their motion offense and hit the Bruins with a double backdoor cut by the same player. It was beautiful to watch and the Tigers finally had their marquee win in the NCAA Tournament when Toby Bailey missed a last-second jump shot.


7. No. 13 Vermont Catamounts vs. No. 4 Syracuse Orange 60-57 (2005)

When T.J. Sorrentine hit a deep 3-pointer to put the No. 13 Vermont Catamounts up 59-55 in overtime, everyone knew the dream was real. The No. 4 Syracuse Orange had Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick leading the way. The Orange had a reputation for winning big games. None of that mattered in the first-round in 2005. The were never able to pull away and the seasoned veterans of the Catamounts were ready for the moment. It was their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, so the seniors knew they had one chance to make their mark. The Catamounts also came into the game with a (24-6) record.


6. No. 15 Coppin State Eagles vs. No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks 78-65 (1997)

When the No. 15 Coppin State Eagles headed to Pittsburgh to face the No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks, the MEAC had never won an NCAA Tournament game. Well, the Eagles took care of that in their first round matchup against the Gamecocks. It’s one thing for a No. 2 seed to lose. It’s a different story when a heavy favorite loses by 13 points in the first round. The 78-65 win is the biggest point spread for a 15-seed. This was also head coach Fang Mitchell’s only NCAA Tournament win.


5. No. 13 Valparaiso Crusaders vs. No. 4 Ole Miss Rebels 70-69 (1998)

“A miracle. An absolute miracle. Bryce Drew has done it for Valparaiso.” The No. 13 Valparaiso Crusaders and No. 4 Ole Miss Rebels played in an epic first-round matchup. However, neither team could make a shot down the stretch. The Rebels were leading 69-67 and holding on for dear life. In the final two minutes, the Crusaders missed three open 3-point attempts in a row. They also had a layup blocked at the rim by Ansu Sesay. Therefore, when the Sesay was fouled with 4.1 seconds left, he had a chance to salt the game away at the foul line. He missed the first. Then he missed the second. The Crusaders got the ball out of bounds with 2.5 seconds left. Moments later, Jamie Sykes threw the pass to Bill Jenkins and he tipped the ball to Bryce Drew on the curl. Release. Rotation. Splash. The Crusaders win 70-69.


4. No. 14 Weber State vs. No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels 76-74 (1999)

Harold ‘The Show’ Arceneaux put on a performance for the ages. Out of all of the big schools in college basketball, the North Carolina Tar Heels are the least likely team to lose in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. However, their most infamous moment came against the No. 14 Weber State Wildcats. Arceneaux scored 36 points in the shocking upset, leaving defenders in his wake. The Tar Heels had no answers as they made the trip home early.


3. No. 15 Hampton vs. No. 2 Iowa State Cyclones 58-57 (2001)

The No. 15 Hampton Pirates ended the game on a 14-2 run. With the No. 2 Iowa State Cyclones leading 55-44, the game seemed to be well in hand. In a matter of minutes, the game got tight and the Cyclones were unable to hit a shot. The Pirates shut them down defensively while making clutch shots to finish of the shocker. Jamaal Tinsley had one final attempt to save a victory but his easy layup missed long. During one of the most iconic moments, Hampton players were carrying coach Steve Merfeld in the air.


2. No. 15 FGCU Eagles vs. No. 2 Georgetown Hoyas 78-68 (2013)

The birth of “Dunk City” hit the nation on this night. When the No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles took center stage against the No. 2 Georgetown Hoyas not many people knew what they were about. The Eagles officially became a Division I member in 2011. By the 2012-13 season, they were allowed to participate in postseason tournament. During Andy Enfield’s second-year as coach, he led the Eagles to the Atlantic Sun title. They never had a winning season prior to 2013, so this seemed like an easy victory for the Hoyas. Well, the Eagles had other ideas. After a slow start in the first half, the Eagles bombarded the Hoyas with an assortment of dunks and uptempo madness. The Hoyas tried to make a late comeback but they fell short, 78-68. This game has been a crossroads for both programs. The Eagles have won over 20 games in the past five seasons. Meanwhile, the Hoyas have a single 20-win season since this loss.


1. No. 15 Lehigh Mountain Hawks vs. No. 2 Duke Blue Devils 75-70 (2012)

The No. 15 Lehigh Mountain Hawks came into their battle with the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils with the utmost confidence. They had the unstoppable C.J. McCollum slicing through the Blue Devils’ defense. The Mountain Hawks also had point guard Mackey McKnight. He controlled tempo for the Mountain Hawks, while Gabe Knutson shot perfect from the field in the 75-70 win. Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee led the Blue Devils with 19 points apiece. Meanwhile, McCollum led the way with 30 points.

William HarrisonCOED Writer
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