March Madness 2024: The 11 biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history

What makes March Madness the greatest spectacle in sports? More than anything else — and in a word — upsets! 

People love to pull for underdogs unless their bracket picks dictate otherwise. If you had Purdue winning it all last year, the top-seeded Boilermakers ripped your heart out by losing to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson University in the opening round.

The juxtaposition of joy for FDU and pain for Purdue is what helps make the NCAA Tournament the greatest form of reality television. Here’s a look at the 11 biggest upsets in March Madness history.

All the NCAA Tournament games: March Madness predictions, odds, TV schedule 

11 biggest March Madness upsets of all-time

Check out our countdown of the 11 biggest upsets in March Madness history, then visit our favorite top-rated sports betting sites to pick the next one!

11. No. 14 Abilene Christian 53, No. 3 Texas 52 (2021) 

Shaka Smart has produced his share of highlights as a head coach in March Madness. This upset ranks as the lowest point of Smart’s NCAA Tournament career when his Texas team spit the bit against Abilene Christian.

Joe Pleasant calmly sank two free throws with a little over a second remaining. He then picked off an errant pass to give the Wildcats their first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament. The nine-point underdog hailed from Abilene, Texas, making its win over the state’s flagship school even bigger.

Tourney timeMarch Madness longshots | How Vegas oddsmakers create NCAA Tournament betting lines   

10. No. 13 Princeton 43, No. 4 UCLA 41 (1996) 

The Daily Princetonian’s headline succinctly captured the essence of this upset: David 43 Goliath 41.

Princeton head coach Pete Carril and the Tigers literally back-doored their way to victory. The winning margin came on a back-door layup by freshman Gabe Lewullis with 3.9 second left.

Most observers thought this would be Carril’s final game after nearly three decades at the Ivy League school. As it turned out, he had one game remaining when Mississippi State knocked off Princeton 63-41 in the second round.

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9. No. 15 Lehigh 75, No. 2 Duke 70 (2012) 

Lightning-quick guard C.J. McCollum bedeviled Duke with 30 points to give Lehigh its One Shining Moment in this opening round game in Greensboro. This was a home game for Duke with its campus located just 55 miles away.  

The Mountain Hawks haven’t been back to the NCAA Tournament since producing one of the biggest March Madness upsets.

8. No. 15 Richmond 73, No. 2 Syracuse 69 (1991) 

This one stung if you were a kid from Upstate New York. Syracuse forever owns the distinction of being the first No. 2 seed to lose a No. 15.

Curtis Blair scored a team-high 18 points for Richmond, which knocked off a Syracuse team that ran roughshod in the Big East that season. Billy Owens scored 22 points in a losing cause for the Orangemen. 

7. No. 15 Princeton 59, No. 2 Arizona 55 (2023) 

Princeton makes another appearance on this list after last year’s shocking upset over Arizona. The Tigers took down their second Pac-12 powerhouse program by scoring the final nine points of the game.

Tosan Evbuomwan scored 15 points to lead Princeton, whose head coach Mitch Henderson played on Pete Carill’s 1996 team that beat UCLA. 

6. No.15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, No. 2 Georgetown 68 (2013)

Florida Gulf Coast stunned Georgetown in its second year of NCAA Tournament eligibility. 

Sherwood Brown had a game-high 24 points and Bernard Thompson added 23 as the Eagles made a remarkable debut in the NCAA Tournament. Florida Gulf Coast earned the moniker “Dunk City” for its high-flying ways.

The Eagles knocked off San Diego State 81-71 to advance to the Sweet 16, where they lost to Florida. 

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Make your picks: Who will win 2024 March Madness? | 2024 March Madness odds | Printable bracket | ATS picks

5. No. 15 Santa Clara 64, No. 2 Arizona 61 (1993) 

Before he became an NBA star, Steve Nash led Santa Clara to an improbable win over Arizona. Santa Clara head coach Dick Davey didn’t like his chances and stated that things could get ugly heading into the game.

Nash, a freshman guard from Canada, came up clutch with 10 points in the win. Santa Clara somehow managed to overcome a 25-0 run by Arizona midway through the game to pull the upset. 

4. No. 15 Coppin State 78, No. 2 South Carolina 65 (1997) 

How big of an upset was this? South Carolina was a 30-point favorite to beat Coppin State! 

Coppin State used a 38-13 run over the final 13 minutes to secure its first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament.

Danny Singletary led the Eagles with 22 points, and he put them ahead to stay with six minutes left in the game.

3. No. 15 St. Peter’s 85, No. 2 Kentucky 79 (2022) 

St. Peter’s put on an incredible shooting display in this monumental upset over Kentucky and head coach John Calipari.

  • 50.9% shooting percentage overall
  • 52.9% 3-point shooting percentage
  • 85.7% free-throw shooting percentage

Daryl Banks III scored a team-high 30 points for St. Peter’s, which won its first game ever in the NCAA Tournament. The Peacocks overcame an incredible performance from Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (30 points and 16 rebounds) to win in overtime.  

St. Peter’s wasn’t done. The Peacocks advanced to the Elite Eight with wins over Murray State and Purdue. The dream run ended with a 69-49 loss to North Carolina.  

2. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 63, No. 1 Purdue 58 (2023) 

The shortest team in the country pulled off the biggest upset over Purdue and 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey last year. FDU entered the game as a 25.5-point underdog.

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The Knights became the second No. 16 seed to topple a No. 1 seed. FDU had to beat Texas Southern in the First Four prior to knocking off Purdue. The Knights did it with a swarming defense and 19 points from guard Sean Moore.   

1. No. 16 UMBC 74, No. 1 Virginia 54 (2018)

This is the biggest upset in March Madness history because it marked the first time a No. 16 seed beat a top seed. Virginia entered this game at 31-2 as the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed.

The Cavaliers collapsed by allowing UMBC to score 53 points in the second half. It was stunning as opponents barely managed to average 53 points in a full game versus Virginia that season. 

No. 16 seeds had an 0-135 record against No. 1 seeds entering this game. The Retrievers (pictured above) made history and in dominant fashion. Virginia went on to win its first national champion the following year with an 85-77 OT victory over Texas Tech.

Best March Madness sports betting apps in North Carolina   

For the first time ever, North Carolina is offering legal sports betting on March Madness. Check out the best NC sportsbook promos and bonuses from our favorite North Carolina sports betting apps to join in on the fun!

Related: How to bet on UNC March Madness odds at NC Sportsbooks | How to bet on Duke March Madness odds at NC sportsbooks

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