10 of the Biggest Upsets in March Madness

While an upset may ruin many fantasy brackets, it may also prove to be the greatest story of the tournament. It is a David vs Goliath moment when the underdog defeats a team that no one saw them getting past and it can be one of the most memorable moments in the game. There is no better story to start this than my number one pick, UMBC vs Virginia in the 2018 NCAA tournament.

UMBC (16) vs Virginia (1), First Round, 2018.

UMBC (that is the University of Maryland Baltimore County for anyone who has never heard of them either) beating Virginia marked the first time a #16 seed beat a #1 seed team to win a game.

Villanova (8) vs Georgetown (1), 1985 national championship

According to medium.com, Georgetown was the defending national champion with rode national player of the year and number one NBA pick Patrick Ewing leading the team to a 35–2 record, entering this game as favorites. They featured the nation’s top defense. Georgetown out-shot Villanova 53 to 28. In the second half  Nova scored 90 percent of its shots, missing only one shot. They went on to defeat number one ranked Georgetown 66-64 in an impressive comeback game.

Photo via Sports Illustrated.

Middle Tennessee State (15) vs Michigan State (2), round one, 2018 

Michigan State was a favorite to win it all and this upset ruined plenty of brackets across the nation. According to medium.com, “And this was not just any old team — this was Tom Izzo and a bunch of seniors and Final Four streaks and the surest thing on the bracket. Until they were out”.

Photo via YouTube.

Hampton (15) vs Iowa State (2), First Round, 2001

Hampton trailed 55–44 with a few minutes remaining against Iowa, who was one of the tournament favorites at the time. Hampton went on a 14–2 run capped by Tarvis Williams’ jumper in the final seconds to win by one point.

Photo via The Sports Fan Journal.

Florida Gulf Coast (15) vs Georgetown (2), First Round, 2013

According to medium.com, “FGCU had only been a university since 1997 and tournament-eligible only twice. The Eagles ran up and down the court and had a 21–2 run punctuated by multiple alley oops and showtime dunks, earning the nickname Dunk City en route to the only Sweet 16 appearance ever by a 15 seed”.

Richmond (15) vs Syracuse (2), First Round, 1991

Richmond had an early double-digit lead in the second half but had to hold onto it tightly to become the first ever 15/2 upset in tournament history.

Cleveland State (14) vs Indiana (3), First Round, 1986

Cleveland State was the lowest seed ever to win at the time and remains one of two 14 seeds to get to the Sweet 16 ever.

Duke (2) vs UNLV (1), Final Four, 1991
UNLV was the defending national champion and was 34–0. According to medium.com, “they’d defeated this very Duke team by 30 in the previous year’s title game”. This Blue Devils win lead to their very first national title in school history and it was probably the last time Duke was considered an underdog.

Wisconsin (1) vs Kentucky (1), Final Four, 2015

Kentucky was 38–0. Their team had four lottery picks, including NBA stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker. Wisconsin had just lost to a very different eight seed Kentucky team the year before in the Final Four. I vividly remember watching this game with my friends and it has left a lasting impression on me, but two one seeds going head to head probably wouldn’t be regarded as a huge upset, which is why this game ranks low on the list.


Bucknell (14)  vs Kansas (3), First Round, 2005

Kansas enter the preseason ranked as number one, but this win for Bucknell was even sweeter than beating a high ranked team because it was the program’s first ever postseason win in their 110-year basketball history. It was also the first ever tournament win for the Patriot League.