There’s a reason they call it March Madness – you don’t know what to expect. The top seeds can chalk their way to the later rounds, and lower seeds can surprise everyone watching. But then you have the Cinderella’s – teams that overcome the most daunting odds to make the month of March the most exciting month in sports. Here are the 10 best examples of spine-tingling, breathtaking upsets.
10. No. 13 Princeton over No. 4 UCLA (1996 First Round)
In a very low score of 43-41, Princeton knocked the defending champions out in the first round of the Tournament with a dominating second-half finish.
9. No. 15 Santa Clara over No. 2 Arizona (1993 First Round)
A year after Arizona fell to a dramatically lower seed, they could not escape the same fate when they took on a relatively unknown Santa Clara team led by a point guard named Steve Nash…maybe you’ve heard of him?
8. No. 13 Valparaiso over No. 4 Mississippi (1998 First Round)
This game earns the upset not for the seeding of the opponents, but from the fantastic finish that featured Valpo’s head coach’s son Bryce Drew knocking down the miraculous 3-pointer to advance.
7. No. 15 Richmond over No. 2 Syracuse (1991 First Round)
There had never been a No. 15 seed that knocked off a No. 2 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament until the Richmond Spiders came along in 1991 and changed that by dominating the Orange the entire game.
6. No. 11 George Mason over No. 1 Connecticut (2006 Elite Eight)
In a shocking run, George Mason punched their ticket to the Final Four from upset after upset – culminating in a win over Rudy Gay and UConn, all as a No. 11 seed.
5. No. 11 VCU over No. 1 Kansas (2011 Elite Eight)
VCU one-upped George Mason and made it even more shocking: in an expanded tournament that made it even harder for a Cinderella to appear, the Shaka Smart-led Rams made it from the “First Four” to the “Final Four,” defeating a Kansas team in the process favored to win it all.
4. Texas Western over Kentucky (1966 National Championship)
This one came long before seeding, and may not be the most unbelievable upset on this list. But this game had a much more lasting impact on the impact of race in sports, especially basketball. Starting an all-black starting lineup against an all-white starting lineup at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and winning the national championship has a way of shutting up the doubters.
3. No. 2 Duke over No. 1 UNLV (1991 Final Four)
UNLV was not an ordinary team in 1991. They were unbelievable. Somehow, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill of the Blue Devils beat the highly touted Runnin’ Rebels team, and also shut down their record 45-game winning streak that stretched into their championship season the year before.
2. No. 8 Villanova over No. 1 Georgetown (1985 National Championship)
The Villanova Wildcats shocked the world by not only besting the Hoyas, who were led by future NBA legend Patrick Ewing and had beaten the Wildcats twice in the same season, but by becoming the lowest seeded team ever to win it all.
1. No. 6 NC State over No. 1 Houston (1983 National Championship)
While NC State was not very noticeable on the college landscape at the time, Houston sported Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and many others on the team nicknamed “Phi Slamma Jamma.” But in a tight match and a miraculous ending dunk from midair that is guaranteed to make SportsCenter twice a day, the Wolfpack overcame and performed the greatest upset in March Madness history.