Top 10 NCAA Tournament Upsets

10. Weber State (14) vs. UNC (3)

Final Score: 76-74

1999 First Round

The Tar Heels had advanced past the First Round every year since 1980 and were looking strong heading into the tournament. Weber State, conversely, hadn’t qualified since 1995. But the college from tiny Ogden, Utah, was ready to spoil North Carolinian dreams.

Weber caused trouble for UNC quickly. Going up 24-17 early, Weber dominated possession time. Carolina came back to swipe the lead, 26-24, just before halftime. It would be their final lead of the night. The Weber State Wildcats tore open the second half with a 9-2 run and didn’t turn around to spot UNC nipping at their feet. Weber State’s lead extended to 10 with just under four minutes to play, but North Carolina fought back. However, Harold “The Show” Arceneaux, who dropped 36 points in the game, punched the ticket to the next round with his pair of free throws that put Weber State ahead for good with a mere 13 seconds left.

9. George Mason (11) vs. UConn (1)

Final Score: 86-84 George Mason

2006 East Regional Final

The Geroge Mason Patriots, who enjoyed home court advantage as they played 20 miles from their campus, defeated a slew of higher ranked teams en route to the game. They had taken down Michigan State (76-65), North Carolina (65-60), and Wichita State (63-55) in their improbably run. UConn, the top-seed, had a star-studded lineup full of elite athletes. They became the third school in history to have four players drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft (Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams, and Josh Boone) as well as the first school to ever have five players drafted in round two.

The winning recipe for the Huskies to win was to throw in a dash of Rudy Gay and stabilize the hot-sauce with Point Guard Marcus Williams keying on Tony Skinn. George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga kept his team’s heart and tenacity high. He further incited them by telling his players UConn didn’t even know what conference they were from. Late in the first half, George Mason was down by 12. By early in the second half, the season seemed to sink away, as they were down by nine. Then, the roof came down. Six straight three-pointers, shooting 5-of-6 in OT and out-rebounding the Huskies 37-34 was the ganache topping for the upset.

8. Coppin State (15) vs. South Carolina (2)

Final Score: 78-65 Coppin State

1997 First Round

Coppin State was in the tournament representing the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which had never had a team win an NCAA tournament game. South Carolina, however, had championed the powerful Southeastern Conference (SEC) and was expected to breeze through the first two rounds.

South Carolina led 47-40 with 13 minutes to play before a total and utter collapse. At that time, they were only the third two-seed to lose a first round game. The Gamecocks also fell by the largest margin of any second seed to date. Coppin State Coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell and his team won, in part, by managing to the Gamecocks’ Big Three of Larry Davis, B.J. McKie and Melvin Watson to just 31 total points.

7. Santa Clara (15) vs. Arizona (2)

Final Score: 64-61 Santa Clara

1993 First Round

The West Coast Conference Broncos of Santa Clara were 20-point underdogs heading into the game against Arizona. They fit the cliché “rag-tag” bunch of misfits so well that they didn’t even have their own marching band – they used Vanderbilt’s instead. “Unlikely” is to put their chances at a severely overstated position. The Wildcats of Arizona were looking to avenge the previous season’s tourney upset when they fell to East Tennessee State, a 14-seed.

Arizona, led by Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire, looked dominant at times, especially during a whopping 25-0 run in the middle of the game. However, they didn’t account for a tenacious Point Guard for the Broncos by the name of Steve Nash, who led his team to victory. He did it by the intangible “clutchness” as he hit six straight free-throws in the final 1:30. Arizona had a chance to tie, but Stoudamire’s three-pointer fell short and left the Broncos to advance.

6. Valpariso (13) vs. Mississippi (4)

Final Score: 70-69 Valpariso

1998 First Round 

Valpariso, coached by Homer Drew and starring his son Bryce, had a play named “Pacer” (after the NBA team) ready in case a last-second shot was needed to win a game. Bryce Drew had always wondered why the play was practiced so much, as it was never used in a game. He stopped wondering that night. With Mississippi clinging to a 69-67 lead with four seconds to play, second team All-American Ansu Sesay could’ve closed the game out, but missed two clutch free throws. The ball out of bounds and the referee decreed it was Valpariso Crusader ball. Jamie Sykes lobbed a baseball pass with 2.5 seconds to go in the direction of Bill Jenkins, who was just past midcourt. Jenkins found Drew, a trailer on the play, and he hit a leaning, desperate trey ball at the buzzer to cap the Crusaders’ crusade.

5. Richmond (15) vs. Syracuse (2)

Final Score: 73-69 Richmond

1991 First Round 

Richmond entered the game a prepared David to the Orangemen Goliath. They had pulled off an upset two years earlier, but they knew they were in for a tough matchup as to that point, no 15 had ever vanquished a 2. The Orangemen, coached by Jim Boeheim then (and still today), were a national powerhouse with serious title contentions.

The most incredible thing about this game is that when the Spiders from Richmond jumped out to an early lead, they never trailed. The Orange hung around, even getting it to within a basket when Billy Owens hit a jumper with 32-seconds left. However, they couldn’t overtake Richmond, who hit free-throw after free-throw after free-throw down the stretch to cement the victory.

4. Princeton (13) vs. UCLA (4)

Final score: 43-41

1996 First Round

Meet UCLA, the defending national champion. Meet Princeton, the losers of four straight tournament appearances. However, Princeton (those devilish genuises) had the “Princeton offense” ready. They slowed the game and executed backdoor cuts until they became front door cuts and valued each possession. Still, that didn’t seem enough as, with six minutes remaining, they were down by seven. They needed perfection – and they got it. Princeton shut out UCLA the rest of the way and, as the game wound down, Princeton scored the go-ahead basket in the most beautifully artistic fashion ever: a backdoor cut from Gabe Lewullis to Steve Goodrich. 

3. Duke (2) vs. UNLV (1)

Final score: 79-77

1991 National semi-final

Duke was kind of like Like Mike in a way. Before the shoes, they couldn’t ball. They had no shot. In the previous year’s title game (sans Little Mike shoes) they got blown out by 30. The Blue Devils were once again expected to not give the Runnin’ Rebs a run for their money because UNLV had returned four of five starters from that championship bout. Oh, and UNLV had won 45 straight entering the contest.

Duke’s defense shutdown the UNLV’s vaunted offense. National Player of the Year Larry Johnson managed a meager 13 points while Blue Devils’ stars Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner played brilliant offensive ball. Laettner scored 20 in the first half, but UNLV still had the advantage. They maintained their lead (76-71) when their Point Guard Greg Anthony fouled out and the red herring was found in the murder mystery. Over the next three minutes, Duke chipped at the lead and Laettner made a pair of free-throws with 12 seconds to go to ice the win.

2. Villanova (8) vs. Georgetown (1)

Final score: 66-64 ‘Nova

1985 Championship Game

Led by Patrick Ewing, the Hoyas of G’town won the 1984 title and seemed a lock to repeat, especially because the Villanova team had already lost to the Hoyas twice earlier in the season. Georgetown entered the game holding opponents to a mere 39.9% shooting from the floor, the best in the nation.

Villanova was in it from the tip. They led 29-28 at half and played a slow-tempo, conservative offense. It helped that there was no shot clock in the NCAA at the time. With 2:36 to go in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats of ‘Nova took the lead 55-54 and then iced it by hitting 11 of 14 from the charity stripe down the stretch. The most impressive part of the victory? The Wildcats shot a record 78.6%, missing only one shot the entire second half while becoming the lowest seed to ever win a National Championship. 

1. North Carolina State (6) vs. Houston (1)

Final score: 54-52 NC State

1983 Championship Game

NC State entered the title bout with 10 losses during the regular season – they weren’t even supposed to be in the final game of the season. The Cougars of Houston were riding Akeem (later Hakeem) “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and the “Phi Slamma Jamma” crew. They were on a 25-game win streak and the nation’s top squad. 

The Cougars opened up slower than a glacier. NC State led at the half but were met by a wintry bluster with a Houston 17-2 run at the opening of the second half. That meant Houston led 43-35. Then, State’s Wolpack leader, Dereck Whittenburg, brough the pack back as he tied the contest at 52. That set-up the greatest finish to any game that history has ever seen. Houston’s Alvin Franklin missed a free throw, then NC State rebounded and held the ball (again, no shot clock) until there were precious few seconds remaining. Someone tried to pass to Whittenburg, but it was deflected by Drexler. Still, however, the NC State player managed to swipe the ball and chuck it at the net from 30 feet out. The lob seemed to be headed straight for the game-winner, but it fell short. Or, would’ve fallen short if not for NC State’s Lorenzo Charles, who caught the ball midair and thunderously slammed it home for the win as the buzzer sounded. Houston players collapsed, and NC State fans did too, except the latter was from delirium. The iconic image of Coach Jim Valvano remains today of his hands on his head, running around, “Just looking for someone to hug.”


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