Top 10 NCAA Tournament Upsets of All-Time

The annual men’s college basketball NCAA Tournament has grown to become one of the biggest sports betting events of the year. Starting with an overall field of 68 Division I teams, each round of this tournament whittles that field down through a single-elimination format.

The best teams in the nation tend to make their through way through each round leading up to the Final Four and the national title game. However, over the years there have been some monumental upsets along the way. The following is a brief look at 10 of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament


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No. 10 - 1991 NCAA Tournament Final Four

Duke Blue Devils vs. UNLV Running Rebels

  • Game Spread: UNLV by -10
  • Game Result: Duke 79, UNLV 77

During the hey days of UNLV basketball under the guidance of head coach Jerry Tarkanian, the Running Rebels were perennial contenders to win a national championship. UNLV came into the 1991 NCAA Tournament as the defending champion after crushing Duke 103-73 the year before in the title game. The same two teams were pitted against one another in this year’s Final Four with Duke set as a rare underdog.

In what would eventually be Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s first national title in his storied career, the Blue Devils evened the score by beating UNLV to face Kansas in the title game.

No. 9 - 1997 NCAA Tournament Opening Round

Coppin State Eales vs. South Carolina Gamecocks

  • Game Spread: South Carolina by -18.5
  • Game Result: Coppin State 78, South Carolina 65

As a No. 15 seed in the 1997 Big Dance, nearly everyone filling out a March Madness penciled-in No. 2 South Carolina as the winner against the Eagles. The actual betting spread confirmed this decision with the SEC’s Gamecocks favored by more than 30 points by a few sportsbooks taking action on this game.

That is why they play the game. Coppin State not only pulled off one if the biggest upsets ever, it came just two points away from advancing to the Sweet 16 with a two-point loss to Texas in the second round.

No. 8 - 1993 NCAA Tournament Opening Round

Santa Clara Broncos vs. Arizona Wildcats

  • Game Spread: Arizona by -18.5
  • Game Result: Santa Clara 64, Arizona 61

In another opening round matchup between a No. 15 and No. 2 seed, Arizona was set as a 20- point favorite in this game. The one big reason why the Broncos actually had a chance to pull off a major upset was a player named Steve Nash as their best player.

Nash had a chance to ice the win but he missed two crucial free throws with Santa Clara holding a tenuous three-point lead. At the other end of the court, Damon Stoudamire missed a game-tying three-point shot for Arizona as time expired.

No. 7 - 2009 NCAA Tournament Second Round

Northern Iowa Panthers vs. Kansas Jayhawks

  • Game Spread: Kansas by -11.5
  • Game Result: UNI 69, Kansas 67

Playing out of the Mountain Valley Conference, the Panthers were a No. 9 seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. They knocked off Kansas in the second round which happened to be the No. 1 overall seed in that year’s Big Dance.

Nursing a one-point lead late in the game, Northern Iowa delivered the death blow with a crucial three-point shot to advance to the Sweet 16. The Panthers went on to reach the Elite 8 in that tournament.

No. 6 - 2001 NCAA Tournament First Round

Hampton Pirates vs. Iowa State Cyclones

  • Game Spread: Iowa State by -17.5
  • Game Result: Hampton 58, Iowa State 57

Hampton plays out of the MEAC and, over the course of this program’s history, the Pirates have qualified for the NCAA Tournament a total of four times. In 2001, they secured the No. 15 seed and were pitted against No. 2 Iowa State.

The Cyclones opened as 17-point favorites and held a 55-44 lead with just a few minutes remaining on the clock. What happened next was a stunning 14-2 run that resulted in the one-point victory.

No. 5- 2006 NCAA Tournament Elite 8

George Mason Patriots vs. Connecticut Huskies

  • Game Spread: UConn by -8
  • Game Result: George Mason 86, UConn 84

The Patriots received some favorable consideration from the NCAA Tournament selection committee that year after bowing out early in their conference tournament. That turned out to be the right decision with the program’s longest run in tournament history.

Along the way they beat Michigan State and North Carolina in earlier rounds. Advancing to the Elite 8 against favored Connecticut, George Mason took the Huskies to overtime and became a rare double-digit seed (No. 11) to advance all the way to the Final Four.

No. 4 - 2011 NCAA Tournament Elite 8

VCU Rams vs. Kansas Jayhawks

  • Game Spread: Kansas by -11
  • Game Result: VCU 71, Kansas 61

Most of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history were by teams that got on a hot run going back to its conference tournament. The Rams had to win a play-in game just to qualify for the opening round. Making the most of the opportunity, VCU stayed hot all the way to the Elite 8.

With Shaka Smart in his second season as head coach, his Rams outscored Kansas by 17 points in the first half of that Elite 8 matchup. They went on to easily beat a Jayhawks’ team that went 35-2 that season.

No. 3 - 2017 NCAA Tournament Opening Round

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders vs. Michigan State Spartans

  • Game Spread: Michigan State by -17
  • Game Result: Middle Tennessee 90, Michigan State 81

Middle Tennessee State came into the 2017 NCAA Tournament as a No. 15 seed to draw a first round matchup against Big Ten power Michigan State. More than a few Big Dance brackets had the Spartans going all the way to a national title that year.

Once again, that is why they play the game. The Blue Raiders were never intimidated by their opponent in a matchup they really had no business winning. Never the less, this was one of the biggest bracket busters in NCAA Tournament history.

No. 2 - 1985 NCAA Tournament Championship

Villanova Wildcats vs. Georgetown Hoyas

  • Game Spread: Georgetown by -8
  • Game Result: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64

In the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup in a NCAA Tournament title game, few bettors gave Villanova a realistic chance of covering the spread ley alone win the game straight-up.

Georgetown was the defending national champion led by future NBA superstar Patrick Ewing. The Hoyas posted a record of 35-2 that season in pursuit of back-to-back national titles. The scrappy Wildcats led by Rollie Massimino as their head coach grinded out the 66-64 victory in what has been called the biggest upset ever in a national championship game.

No. 1 - 2018 NCAA Tournament Opening Round

UMBC Retrievers vs. Virginia Cavaliers

  • Game Spread: Virginia by -20.5
  • Game Result: UMBC 74, Virginia 54

The first rule in filling out a NCAA Tournament bracket is to never pick a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 seed in the opening round. It what might be the biggest bracket busting upset of all time, UMBC defied more than the odds as a 20.5-point underdog to do the unthinkable.

In a game that was not even close, the Retrievers beat the Cavaliers by 20 points. This was the first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament that a No. 1 seed was eliminated in in its opening round game.