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The Biggest March Madness Upsets in NCAA Basketball History

In the win-or-go-home tournament, the higher-ranked team doesn’t always win. Here are the most stunning upsets the history of the Big Dance.

Breaking down the biggest March Madness upsets in NCAA Men's Basketball history

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament – more informally known as March Madness – produces some of the biggest upsets in sports each year.

Because of the volatility of college basketball, especially in the postseason when it’s win-or-go-home each game, the better team doesn’t always win. In fact, the better team tends to lose a lot. This creates heartwarming stories that go beyond the boxscore.

Much like Soccer’s FA Cup, March Madness often pitches the best of the best against teams most casual fans have never heard of before. Not only does this offer a great opportunity to shine a light on underdog teams and players, but it leads to major upsets as well.

Here are the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

Table of Contents

#16 Over #1 Upsets

#16 University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Defeats #1 University of Virginia – 2018

The #16 seed UMBC Retrievers bench watches their team pull off the biggest March Madness upset ever as they defeat #1 seed Virginia in 2018
Credit-NCAA/Joker Mag Illustration

UMBC defeating number one overall seed Virginia is the biggest March Madness upset of all time.

The UMBC Retrievers were the first 16th seed in March Madness history to defeat a #1 seed. In doing so, the Retrievers took down the Cavaliers by an unfathomable 20 points, in a game in which they entered as over 20-point underdogs.

Although the game was tied 21-21 at halftime, UMBC completely controlled the rest of the game to complete the shocking upset by a score of 74-54.

In a twist of fate, Virginia would go on to win the following year’s national championship, a remarkable comeback story of their own.

RELATED: The Biggest Upsets in Sports History (By The Odds)

#15 Over #2 Upsets

The Saint Peter’s Peacocks celebrate defeating #2 seed Kentucky
Credit-NCAA/Joker Mag Illustration

#15 Saint Peter’s University Defeats #2 University of Kentucky – 2022

The Saint Peter’s Peacocks’ run in the 2022 NCAA Tournament is one of the best sports stories of all time.

While the small school from Jersey City, NJ surprised the entire country by advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, their biggest win of the tournament was in the First Round.

Facing the blueblood Wildcats of the University of Kentucky, the Peacocks won a wire-to-wire game, 85-79, needing overtime to secure the victory. After eliminating Kentucky, who many considered a favorite to win the national title. Saint Peter’s went on to defeat Murray State and Purdue before finally losing a blowout to North Carolina.

Nonetheless, Saint Peter’s made its name known in the college basketball world and created a month that will always be remembered in tournament lore. 

#15 Oral Roberts University Defeats #2 Ohio State University – 2021

Led by sophomore guard Max Abmas, Oral Roberts became just the second-ever #15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 round.

Starting their impressive run was an overtime win against Ohio State, in which Abmas scored 29 points. The Golden Eagles would go on to defeat the Florida Gators by just three points, before losing a nail-biter by just two points against Arkansas.

#15 Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) Defeats #2 Georgetown University – 2013

When Andy Enfield and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles won the Atlantic Sun Tournament in 2013, few anticipated them advancing onto the Sweet 16.

The 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast Eagles drew a matchup that should have been the toughest challenge of their brief D1 history, with a game against #2 seed Georgetown to be played in Philadelphia.

By the game’s end, “Dunk City” – the nickname of this memorable FGCU squad – put up 78 points in defeating the Hoyas. This Cinderella run did not end quickly, as the Eagles went on the defeat #7 seed San Diego State in the Round of 32 before finally falling to the Florida Gators in the Sweet 16.

RELATED: The Most Inspiring Basketball Quotes of All Time

#15 Lehigh University Defeats #2 Duke University – 2012

Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Mountain Hawks of tiny Lehigh University took down one of the most storied programs in college basketball history – Duke University – less than an hour from Duke’s Durham, NC campus.

Patriot League Player of the Year and current NBA star CJ McCollum scored 30 points in the Lehigh 75-70 win, which remains the last win for a Patriot League team in the NCAA Tournament. 

#14 Over #3 Upsets

#14 seed Georgia State celebrates their victory over #3 Baylor after R.J. Hunter's clutch three-pointer in the 2015 Division 1 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament
Credit-NCAA/Joker Mag Illustration

#14 Georgia State University Defeats #3 Baylor University – 2015

One of the most memorable shots in tournament history came by way of Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter. He drained a three-point bucket with less than three seconds remaining to give his Panthers the lead over Baylor, cementing just the second-ever tournament win in Georgia State basketball history.

The win was even more memorable because of the father-son duo before R.J. Hunter, and his dad, Ron Hunter, who was the head coach of the team. 

#14 Mercer University Defeats #3 Duke University – 2015

Just two years after being upset by Lehigh, Duke fell yet again to a small mid-major school in the first round of the tournament.

Mercer University, the darlings of the Atlantic Sun Tournament, defeated the Blue Devils by seven points, despite playing mere miles from Duke’s campus; the game was played in Raleigh, NC. To date, this was the only Division 1 Tournament win in Mercer program history.

RELATED: The Most Shocking Upsets in NBA History

#8 Over #1 Upsets

#8 Villanova University Defeats #1 Georgetown University – 1985

Villanova getting to the National Championship in 1985 was an upset in its own right.

They took out both Memphis and Michigan on their way to the championship round. Meanwhile, Georgetown was far and away the best team all season before facing off with Villanova. That team was playing so well, the idea of them losing seemed impossible.

But lose they did – to a #8 seed, nonetheless – showing that Cinderella truly does show up in March.

Tired of the same old sports news? Go beyond the headlines with the Underdog Newsletter.

Written By

Muhlenberg College alum based in New York City. Bylines at Joker Mag, Elite Sports NY, and The Apple.



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