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What was the biggest upset in tourney history?

Mar 16, 2012, 8:24 PM EST

spt-120316-statebench

UPDATE: It only makes sense that, after we do some research and put together a post on the biggest NCAA tournament upsets that less than two hours later, another No. 2 seed goes down in the opening round. If you missed it (and I’m sure you didn’t), Duke lost to Lehigh and their demigod point guard CJ McCollum. Before today, a No. 15 seed had four wins. They picked up two more in the span of two hours.

To be fair, this game is no where near the magnitude of the Norfolk State-Missouri upset. Duke is far from the Duke that we are accustomed to seeing, and they were playing without their most important piece. But this was still a team with McDonald’s all-americans and top 100 recruits up and down their roster while Lehigh is, frankly, Lehigh.

8:24 p.m. ET — For just the fifth time in the history of the NCAA tournament, a No. 15 seed has beaten a No. 2 seed. This year, the honor is bestowed upon tiny Norfolk State from Norfolk, Va, the champion of the MEAC, who knocked off Missouri in Omaha.

Never has a No. 1 seed fallen in their first round game, and given that Missouri was favored by 21 points, there is an argument to be made that this was the biggest upset of all-time. The Spartans were the largest underdog in the history of the NCAA tournament to win a game.

Think about it: the Big 12 tournament champions and the No. 3 team in the country lost to a program finished second in the regular season in one of the country’s worst conferences. The craziest part? This wasn’t a fluke. Norfolk State flat-out beat Missouri.

How about this stat: 1.2 percenty of the brackets on ESPN.com had Norfolk State winning a game. 7.1 percent had Missouri winning the national title. That’s wild.

See the Spartans’ victory in photos

What else could rank as the biggest upset of all-time?

No. 9 Northern Iowa 69, No. 1 Kansas 67, 2nd round, 2010: Another in a long string of disappointing tournament appearances for the Jayhawks, as the Missouri Valley champs avoided a late collapse to advance to the Sweet 16. Kansas was the favorite to win the title coming in. The most memorable moment came via Ali Farokhmanesh.

No. 15 Santa Clara 64, No. 2 Arizona 61, 1st round, 1993: Led by a scrappy Canadian point guard by the name of Steve Nash, Santa Clara pulled off arguably the most impressive upset in tournament history, as they beat the Wildcats despite giving up a 25-0 run and trailing by as much as 13 in the second half.

No. 15 Richmond 73, No. 2 Syracuse 69, 1991, 1st round: Richmond had a reputation for slaying giants coming into this game, and continued that legacy. There was more significance to this game, however. It was the first time CBS had the rights to broadcast the tournament. This upset was shown in primetime nationally. Now, CBS has a $10.8 billion contract with the NCAA.

No. 15 Hampton 58, No. 2 Iowa State 57, 1st round, 2001: The Cyclones had two first round picks and a one point lead in the final minute, but Tarvis Williams hit a jumper and Jamaal Tinsley missed a layup at the buzzer. This upset will forever be remembered for this image.

No. 11 George Mason 86, No. 1 UConn 84, Elite 8, 2006: The Patriots were one of the last at-larges candidates to be let into the tournament, but they ran through Michigan State, Wichita State, North Carolina and a UConn team loaded with lottery picks to reach the Final Four.

No. 11 VCU 71, No. 1 Kansas 61, Elite 8, 2011: VCU played in the First Four, but caught fire during the right month as they won five straight games to become just the third No. 11 seed to make the Final Four. Kansas made a second half run, but the Rams dominated this game.

No. 15 Coppin State 79, No. 2 South Carolina 65, 1st round, 1997: The Golden Eagles took the lead with six minutes left and pulled away down the stretch. This was the first of three wins for the MEAC over a No. 2 seed.

No. 13 Princeton 43, No. 4 UCLA 41, 1st round, 1996: An Ivy League team beating UCLA in the tournament is crazy enough, but it gets all the more unexpected when you consider that the Bruins were the reigning national champs.

No. 6 NC State 54, No. 1 Houston 54, Final, 1983: Jim Valvano, Lorenzo Charles and a game-winning dunk. What else do you need?

No. 8 Villanova 66, No. 1 Georgetown 64, Final, 1985: The perfect game. At the time, Villanova was the lowest seed in the tournament, and while they may have been a Big East member, no one expected them to beat the mighty Hoyas. It required a 79.7% shooting performance.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

  1. nuron1231 - Mar 16, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    hmmm… Norfolk State, Richmond Univ, Hampton Univ, George Mason, VCU, Coppin State, NC State… seems to be something about the Mid-Atlantic region and basketball, huh?

  2. kansas531 - Mar 16, 2012 at 9:25 PM

    Not even close. Mizzou has had trouble with big teams all season. Combine that with Norfolk St shooting their butts off from 3 and the Mizzou coach not putting bigger bodies in for the next to last rebound, which would have given them time (10 seconds or so) to go down and tie or win the game. Instead NSU “out talls” Mizzou, gets a held ball, misses more free throws, but only leaves a couple of seconds left.

    Even one of the pre-tourney analysts said Mizzou could have a tough time with Norfolk.

  3. AlohaMrHand - Mar 16, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    Dukes about to go down too.

  4. nuron1231 - Mar 16, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    but wait a minute…. what’s this just in? Lehigh? where the hell is Lehigh….?

  5. inbounds - Mar 16, 2012 at 9:52 PM

    “Was Norfolk State’s win the biggest upset in tourney history?”

    For about an hour and a half.

  6. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Mar 16, 2012 at 10:21 PM

    Your appraisal of Duke is BS. They were a 2 seed playing on what is damn near a home site. Who cares if they’re not worthy of past Duke teams? Youth belittle the achievement. Duke lost to a Patriot League team.

  7. jason1214 - Mar 16, 2012 at 10:25 PM

    The NCAA Tournament………..proving you don’t have to have the most talent to win.

  8. markjesson - Mar 16, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    Dukes about to go down.

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