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NCAA Basketball: Five Biggest Upsets in March Madness History

Published 02/20/2021, 5:00 PM EST

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March Madness in NCAA Basketball always delivers plenty of exciting games. The Division I tournament doesn’t always witness the favorites winning it and there are plenty of upsets that have come our way.

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It is hard to pick just five upsets that have shook the March Madness tournament. Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of underdogs prove their mettle at the highest stage, and here’s a compilation of the five best! 

Five unforeseen upsets in March Madness history


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5. #16 UMBC beats #1 Virginia in 2018

Never before had a March Madness tournament witnessed a #16 seed defeat the top-ranked school, let alone trash them by 20 points. But that’s exactly what happened on March 16, 2018, as the UMBC Retrievers stunned the #1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers.


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It was the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament and the Retrievers upset a top-ranked team that had a 31-2 record heading into the game at Spectrum Center in Charlotte. 

Jairus Lyles scored 28 points for UMBC as they went on to put 53 second-half points to record one of the biggest upsets in March Madness history!

4. George Mason stuns #1 UConn in 2006

The Elite Eight fixture between George Mason Patriots vs the UConn Huskies on March 26, 2006, is one of the most memorable March Madness games ever. It marked the game where the Patriots became just the second team after 1986 LSU to advance to the Final Four as the #11 seed. 

On top of that, George Mason was the first team from the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) to qualify for the NCAA tournament, and they didn’t disappoint. They beat a trio of Top 10 teams to book a clash with #1 UConn and won an OT thriller to etch their name in history!

3. No. 15 Richmond versus No. 2 Syracuse in 1991

Earlier, we saw that UMBC became the first #16 seed to win the first round of an NCAA Tournament. Likewise, the 1991 Richmond Spiders became the first #15 seed to win the first round when they achieved the feat against #2 ranked Syracuse Orange! 

Richmond won the game 73-69 and stunned the fans at Cole Fieldhouse in Maryland. The Spiders scored 44 first-half points and held tight in the second to record a monumental victory. 

This team also paved the way for other underdogs, as seven other #15 seeds have won NCAA tournament games since Richmond’s triumph in 1991.

2. Villanova downs Georgetown in 1985 Championship Game

The Villanova Wildcats came into the NCAA Tournament as the #8 seed and went all the way to win the National Championship. The 1985 Wildcats to this date remain the lowest-ranked team to win the National title, as they upset a Patrick Ewing led Georgetown Hoyas in the Championship Game. 

The Wildcats stunned the Hoyas 66–64 to win the NCAA Championship and denied Georgetown a second successive title. Their victory will forever be remembered as one of the iconic Cinderella runs in March Madness history!

1. NC State sinks Houston in 1983 Championship Game


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How could a Houston Cougars team that had two Hall-of-Famers in Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler possibly lose to a North Carolina State team who were the underdogs in the championship game? That was the miracle that took place in 1983 at ‘The Pit’ in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

The championship game was quite dull, and both teams were tied at 52 points in the final seconds. North Carolina State Wolfpack had possession with just six seconds remaining, and that’s when Lorenzo Charles converted an airball from Dereck Whittenburg and beat the buzzer! 


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Wolfpack’s head coach Jim Valvano couldn’t believe his sight and began running on the court in search of someone to hug. NC State’s win over Houston is considered one of the most defining upsets in the history of American sports, let alone March Madness! 

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Written by:

Arjun Athreya


One take at a time

Arjun Athreya is a senior writer at Essentially Sports and has been contributing since early 2020. Having developed an avid interest in sports at an early age, he pursued a Journalism degree and graduated from Madras Christian College. Arjun manages the Golf division and its content, and primarily covers news pertaining to the NBA as well.
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