I live for a good upset. It’s half of the reason I watch March Madness. I can watch a number one seed smack around a 16 seed anytime I want during the regular season. But during the postseason? No way. Give me a 15 seed nailing a game-winning buzzer beater and the entire one seed’s bench crying their all day. That being said, most of the time, the upsets get out of the way early, leading to the later rounds to be kind of boring. Thankfully, the tournament gods sometimes are able to sneak an upset or two into the Sweet 16 for our viewing pleasure. Below, check out some of the best Sweet 16 upsets in tourney history.
Indiana Hoosiers vs. Duke Blue Devils – 2002
Yeah yeah, we all the movie Hoosiers. Gene Hackman as the basketball coach for a bunch of farm boys? Award-winning. However, I would argue that the greatest Hoosier game ever played wasn’t in 1954, but instead in 2002, when the number five seeded Indiana overcame a 17-point deficit against the number one seeded Duke to win the game and advance to the Elite Eight. Also, to keep things exciting, the Dukeys sunk a three-pointer with 4.2 seconds left, but ended up missing the free throw, allowing Indiana to cement their victory. You can watch the whole game here, which is kind of bold but definitely worth it.
Missouri vs. UCLA – 2002
When making a top five list, it’ll probably be odd to most people that a game that was won by a substantial 10-point margin without ever really being too close would be exciting enough to make the cut. However, this game is special, mostly because Missouri was and still is the only 12th seeded team to ever win a Sweet 16 game. When you think about all the years that college basketball has existed for, that’s pretty big potatoes. Especially because in 2002, UCLA’s roster was rocking a number of future NBA players, including Jason Kapono, who led the league in three-pointers for two consecutive seasons.
George Mason vs. Wichita St. – 2006
I’m going to be honest, the first time I had ever heard about George Mason University was in 2006 when they made the Cinderella run to end all Cinderella runs in the tournament. Really, any list about upsets in the NCAA tournament would have these guys on it, but their win in the Sweet 16 against Wichita St. was the one that both elevated them as the team of the tournament as well as set them up for another underdog victory in the Elite Eight before a definitive but heart-breaking loss in the Final Four to the eventual National Champs, the Florida Gators. Yes, while we haven’t seen much of George Mason since, this one should make up for a good 20 years of under accomplishment.
Loyola Marymount vs. Alabama – 1990
Under normal circumstances, an 11 seed upsetting seven seed wouldn’t really huge news. The big news would more than likely be the fact that both an 11 seed and a seven seed made it to the Sweet 16 to begin with. However, this was notable for a number of reasons. The first was that Alabama was led by Wimp Sanderson, a distinguished head coach who had racked up three SEC Coach of the Year awards in four years and an NCAA Coach of the Year award three years prior. The other was that the Loyola Marymount program was still reeling from the on-court death of player Hank Gathers, a story many know from the ESPN 30 for 30 segment Guru of Go.
With that in mind, seeing LMU not only reach the Sweet 16 but advance to the Elite Eight is pretty spectacular, especially since the game came down to the wire with a 62-60 victory.
Virginia Commonwealth vs. Florida State – 2011
Yep, I’m running away from the past on this one and jumping into this decade. Why? One compound word. Overtime. Heading into the 2011 tournament, VCU was given an 11 seed while Florida State was wildly under-ranked as a 10 seed, leading them to handily reach the Sweet 16. While the game was tight, it ultimately went to OT due to FSu sinking a few buzzer-beating points. You can watch the final seconds of OT and the live reaction of VCU fans via some dude’s iPhone here.