Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History

Upsets. They are the single most influential factor in why the NCAA tournament is one of the most-watched sporting events in the world each and every year. David beats Goliath. Underdog gets the victory. There have plenty of upsets in the NCAA tourney through the years, too many to recount, but these five remain among some of the most memorable.

nc state wolfpack 1983

1983 National Championship Game

The N.C. State Wolfpack had a pretty mediocre regular season and had to win the ACC Tournament title to ensure that they got a bid to the NCAAs. Led by fiery head coach Jim Valvano, the Wolfpack did just that. After winning the ACC, N.C. State beat Pepperdine, Virginia, and Georgia for the right to face arguably the best team in the nation that year – Houston. The Cougars, with future NBA All-Stars Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, were known as Phi Slamma Jamma, a bevy of athletic talent that could run the floor and jump out of the gym night after night. The Wolfpack were clearly outclassed, but they kept the game close. N.C. State kept it close enough that when guard Dereck Whittenburg’s desperation 30-foot jumper fell far from the rim, Lorenzo Charles was able to grab it and slam it home for the game-winning points. N.C. State 54, Houston 52, one of the biggest upsets in a national title game.

Villanova Stuns Georgetown in 1985

Just two years after N.C. State’s improbable run, eighth-seeded Villanova marched its way to the national championship game against Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas. The Wildcats would shoot an amazing 78 percent from the floor, and they needed every single point in a 66-64 upset of the best defensive team in the country.

The Masterful Dale Brown

In 1986, LSU entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed. The Tigers had started the season 14-0, but lost 7-footer Tito Horford, who left school, 7-footer Zoran Jovanovich to an injury, and Nikita Wilson to grades. Then, the team got hit with chicken pox. In the tournament, the Tigers beat Purdue, Memphis State, and Georgia Tech, all upsets, to advance and play Kentucky, a team that had beaten LSU three times already during the season. Tigers head coach Dale Brown devised a unique defense that allowed LSU to gain a 59-57 win over the Wildcats and earn a trip to the Final Four.

Beat the Spread

In terms of point spreads, the biggest upset of the past 20 years in the NCAA tournament occurred in 2012 when No. 15 seed Norfolk State took on second-seeded Missouri. Kyle O’Quinn of the Spartan scored 26 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and with 3.8 seconds left in the game stood at the free-throw line poised to put the game away. O’Quinn missed two free throws but was saved when Missouri’s Phil Pressey missed a game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer. Norfolk State, a 21.5-point underdog, pulled the upset, 86-84.