Top 10 Biggest March Madness Upsets of All Time

Morgan Wolf

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Top 10 Biggest March Madness Upsets of All Time

March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, is known for its thrilling upsets, where underdog teams defy the odds and topple higher-seeded opponents. 

These upsets capture the essence of the tournament, providing moments of shock, excitement, and inspiration. In this blog post, we will delve into the top 10 biggest March Madness upsets of all time, celebrating the remarkable achievements of these underdog teams. 

From historic victories to stunning defeats, these upsets showcase the unpredictable nature of March Madness and the potential for triumph against all odds. So, stay focused. 

Top 10 Biggest March Madness Upsets of All Time

March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, is renowned for its thrilling upsets, where underdog teams defy the odds and topple higher-seeded opponents. 

Here, we will discuss the top 10 biggest March Madness upsets of all time, celebrating the remarkable achievements of these underdog teams. 

1. UMBC over Virginia (2018)

UMBC over Virginia (2018)


One of the most historic upsets in March Madness history occurred in 2018 when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers became the first 16th seed to defeat a 1st seed, the Virginia Cavaliers. 

In a stunning turn of events, UMBC played with tenacity and precision, executing their game plan flawlessly. Led by coach Ryan Odom, the Retrievers dominated the game, securing a resounding 74-54 victory and etching their names in tournament history. 

UMBC’s triumph over Virginia symbolized the unpredictability of March Madness and shattered the notion that 16th seeds were destined for defeat.

2. Villanova over Georgetown (1985)

Villanova over Georgetown (1985)


In the 1985 NCAA Championship game, the Villanova Wildcats pulled off one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. Facing the defending champion and top-seeded Georgetown Hoyas, Villanova entered the game as significant underdogs. 

However, they executed a nearly flawless offensive game plan, shooting an astounding 78.6% from the field. Villanova’s disciplined and precise play resulted in a 66-64 victory, capturing the national title and showcasing the power of teamwork and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds.

3. NC State over Houston (1983)

NC State over Houston (1983)


The 1983 NCAA Championship game between the NC State Wolfpack and the Houston Cougars produced one of the most memorable upsets in March Madness history. 

Facing an imposing Houston team featuring future NBA stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, NC State, coached by Jim Valvano, entered the game as significant underdogs. However, they played with tremendous heart and executed a memorable game plan. 

With the score tied in the final seconds, Lorenzo Charles caught an airball and dunked it just as the buzzer sounded, delivering a stunning 54-52 upset victory for NC State. The Wolfpack’s triumph over Houston remains one of the greatest Cinderella stories in college basketball history.

4. George Mason over Connecticut (2006)

George Mason over Connecticut (2006)


In 2006, the George Mason Patriots embarked on a remarkable Cinderella run that captured the imagination of basketball fans around the nation. In the Elite Eight, George Mason faced the heavily favored Connecticut Huskies, led by coach Jim Calhoun. 

Against all odds, George Mason showcased a relentless and determined performance, outplaying their higher-seeded opponents. The Patriots secured a memorable 86-84 overtime victory, advancing to the Final Four for the first time in school history. 

George Mason’s remarkable upset over Connecticut demonstrated the power of belief, teamwork, and the indomitable spirit of underdog teams in March Madness.

5. VCU over Kansas (2011)

VCU over Kansas (2011)


In the 2011 Elite Eight matchup between the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams and the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks, VCU produced a stunning upset that reverberated throughout the tournament. 

VCU, a team from the Colonial Athletic Association, faced the mighty Jayhawks, a perennial powerhouse program. However, VCU’s “Havoc” defense, led by coach Shaka Smart, caused havoc for Kansas and propelled the Rams to a remarkable 71-61 victory. 

VCU’s upset over Kansas showcased the potential for mid-major programs to compete at the highest level and proved that March Madness is a stage where underdogs can shine.

6. Santa Clara over Arizona (1993)

Santa Clara over Arizona (1993)


The 1993 NCAA Tournament saw a historic upset as the Santa Clara Broncos, a 15th seed, defeated the 2nd-seeded Arizona Wildcats in the first round. 

Led by guard Steve Nash, Santa Clara showcased outstanding shooting and relentless defense throughout the game. Their stunning 64-61 victory marked the first time a 15th seed had defeated a 2nd seed in tournament history. 

Santa Clara’s triumph over Arizona remains a significant milestone for underdog teams and a testament to the unpredictability and excitement of March Madness.

7. Richmond over Syracuse (1991)

Richmond over Syracuse (1991)


The 1991 NCAA Tournament witnessed the Richmond Spiders deliver a shocking upset over the 2nd-seeded Syracuse Orange in the first round. 

Richmond, coached by Dick Tarrant, played with remarkable efficiency, executing their game plan flawlessly and outperforming their higher-seeded opponents. 

Their 73-69 victory over Syracuse exemplified the potential for mid-major programs to disrupt and challenge established powerhouses, adding another layer of excitement to the tournament.

8. Norfolk State over Missouri (2012)

Norfolk State over Missouri (2012)


In the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the Norfolk State Spartans provided a monumental upset as they defeated the 2nd-seeded Missouri Tigers in the first round. Norfolk State, from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, entered the game as a significant underdog. 

However, they played fearlessly and executed their game plan with precision. Led by Kyle O’Quinn, who scored 26 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, the Spartans secured a historic 86-84 victory, showcasing the potential for smaller programs to make a mark on the national stage.

9. Princeton over UCLA (1996)

Princeton over UCLA (1996)


The 1996 NCAA Tournament witnessed a historic upset as the 13th-seeded Princeton Tigers defeated the 4th-seeded UCLA Bruins in the first round. Princeton, renowned for its disciplined and deliberate style of play, challenged the Bruins with their precise execution and staunch defense. 

The Tigers’ victory came down to a last-second backdoor layup by Gabe Lewullis, securing a memorable 43-41 upset victory over UCLA. 

Princeton’s triumph over UCLA symbolized the potential for strategic brilliance and meticulous preparation to overcome talent disparities in March Madness.

10. Lehigh over Duke (2012)

Lehigh over Duke (2012)


The 2012 NCAA Tournament produced a monumental upset as the 15th-seeded Lehigh Mountain Hawks stunned the 2nd-seeded Duke Blue Devils in the first round. 

Lehigh showcased exceptional shooting and remarkable poise throughout the game, executing their game plan with precision. Led by C.J. McCollum, who scored 30 points, the Mountain Hawks secured a historic 75-70 victory, capturing the attention of the basketball world. 

Lehigh’s upset over Duke served as a reminder that no team is invincible in March Madness, adding to the tournament’s legacy of unpredictable and thrilling moments.

Fan Reactions on Top 10 Biggest March Madness Upsets

Fan reactions to the top 10 biggest March Madness upsets were a mix of astonishment, exhilaration, and disbelief. Social media platforms buzzed with activity as fans expressed their shock and excitement at witnessing underdog teams defy the odds. 

According to Twitter data, during the UMBC vs. Virginia game in 2018, there were over 3.3 million tweets with hashtags related to the upset, and the engagement reached its peak with fans sharing their disbelief and celebrating UMBC’s historic victory. 

Similarly, the upset victories of George Mason over Connecticut in 2006 and VCU over Kansas in 2011 generated significant online conversations, with fans expressing their joy and admiration for the underdog teams. 

These upsets captured the imagination of fans worldwide, illustrating the enduring appeal of March Madness and its ability to produce unforgettable moments that resonate with basketball enthusiasts.


What defines an upset in March Madness?

An upset in March Madness refers to a lower-seeded team defeating a higher-seeded opponent. 

The seedings are determined by the selection committee, and upsets occur when underdog teams defy expectations and overcome the odds to secure victory.

How are the top 10 upsets selected for this list?

The top 10 upsets on this list are selected based on a combination of factors, including the disparity in seedings, the significance of the victory, the impact on the tournament, and the lasting legacy of the upset. 

These upsets represent the most surprising and memorable moments in March Madness history.

Can upsets include early-round games or are they limited to later rounds?

Upsets can occur in any round of the tournament, from the early rounds to the Final Four. 

While the later-round upsets often garner more attention due to their impact on the championship race, upsets in the earlier rounds can be just as significant and captivating.

How do upsets affect the tournament and the teams involved?

Upsets inject excitement and unpredictability into the tournament, creating memorable moments and adding drama to the competition. 

For the underdog team, an upset can provide a tremendous boost of confidence and propel them to further success in the tournament. On the other hand, the favored team may experience disappointment and reflect on missed opportunities.

What makes upsets in March Madness so compelling for fans?

Upsets in March Madness captivate fans because they showcase the triumph of the underdog, the unpredictability of the tournament, and the spirit of competition. 

These upsets often involve teams from smaller conferences or less renowned programs, giving them a chance to shine on the national stage and create lasting memories for fans.


The top 10 biggest March Madness upsets represent the epitome of the tournament’s spirit and excitement. These moments, where underdog teams conquer higher-seeded opponents, have become legendary in the world of college basketball. 

From monumental victories by small-conference teams to stunning defeats of perennial powerhouses, these upsets embody the unpredictable nature of March Madness and the belief that anything can happen on the court. 

The upsets captivate fans, inspire players, and remind us of the magic and allure of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. 

March Madness is a stage where David can defeat Goliath, where underdogs can rise to the occasion, and where the underappreciated can become heroes. Thank you for your support. 

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Morgan Wolf

Journalist with experience covering the intersection of sports with business. Demonstrated expertise in digital, video and social media content covering major sports including soccer, NBA, NFL, MLB, tennis and Olympic sports. But basketball is his passion. Specialties: expert for sports related content management LinkedIn