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10 greatest March Madness upsets in NCAA Tournament history, including Oral Roberts beating Ohio State

With the 2024 men’s NCAA tournament right around the corner, it is a perfect time to relive some of the biggest March Madness upsets in history.

While the college basketball regular season may not rival the big four sports for interest, when March rolls around, there are few bigger events in American sports than the NCAA tournament. The 68-team tourney brings in the best amateur players from around the country in one of the most thrilling contests in the world.

Related: College basketball games today – Get watch times for all the upcoming tournament games

However, what makes it even more fun than the playoffs in professional sports, is the excitement from a shocking upset. With that in mind, let’s take a look at eight of the most shocking and memorable March Madness upsets in the storied history of the NCAA tournament.

10. Princeton returns to prominence by bouncing No. 2 seed Arizona (2023)

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Princeton has always had a lot of respect in college basketball due to the surprising success of legendary coach Pete Carril. However, current coach Mitch Henderson continued the university’s history of unexpected tournament upsets when he was able to lead his team to a stunning win over No. 2 seed Arizona in the 2023 tournament.

Only one Princeton player scored double-digit points, however, it was a complete team effort as eight players scored six or more in a defensive war in which the Ivy League school triumphed.

9. Virginia Commonwealth get to Final Four by upsetting Kansas (2011)

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Kansas was one of the most battle-tested programs in the sport in 2011. The team was 32-2 and navigated the perils of BIG 12 which had five other ranked teams. They made it all the way to the Elite 8 as expected, and then they met up with that year’s Cinderella squad Virginia Commonwealth University.

VCU didn’t win their conference title and had no NBA-level talent on the roster but it didn’t matter. As they put up a fantastic defensive showing where they limited Kansas to 35% shooting from the field and a stunning 10% from three. Punching a surprise ticket to the Final Four with one of the best March Madness upsets ever.

8. George Mason reaches Final Four with stunning win over UConn (2006)

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For the better part of two decades, UConn had a program that was seen on a similar level as college powerhouses like Duke, Kentucky, and Michigan State. Their 2006 season was a perfect example of that as the team went 30-3, was ranked third in the country at the start of March Madness, and had four future first-round picks in the NBA Draft.

George Mason was the opposite. They were only ranked for a week that season, had no players taller than 6-foot-8, and couldn’t even win its own conference tourney. Nevertheless, they were the Cinderella team of 2006 as they shocked their way to the Elite-8, and not even UConn could halt their magical ride to the Final Four. The defeat will go down as one of the biggest in UConn’s history and firmly establish George Mason as a household name in college hoops.

7. Middle Tennessee starters crush and upset Michigan State (2016)

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Michigan State is one of the major brands of college basketball, so whenever they lose in the NCAA tournament it is newsworthy. However, their defeat in 2016 was historic as they added their name to the unfortunate list of No. 2 seeds that fell in the opening round to a 15-seed.

What makes it hurt all the more is that Middle Tennessee didn’t have the greatest game of their life as MSU had more assists and just four more turnovers than their foes. But MTS’s starting five were dominant at times as all five men scored in double digits as the massive underdogs won going away.

Related: Men’s college basketball top 25 heading into March Madness

6. Oral Roberts bounces Ohio State in the first round (2021)

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Oral Roberts was part of the 2021 growing tradition of 15 seeds bumping off No. 2s. This time Ohio State was the victim and Buckeyes fans owed all their heartbreak that year to the dynamic duo of Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor. The pair played all 45 minutes of the game, including overtime, and dropped 59 of the team’s 75 points in the stunning win.

5. Steve Nash and Santa Clara shocks Arizona (1993)

Future NBA Hall-of-Famer Steve Nash officially put his name on the basketball map as a freshman for Santa Clara in 1993. While he wasn’t the top player on that team, he was still a notable element of a group that shocked an Arizona team that had six future NBA players, in the first round of that year’s NCAA tournament.

Arizona won 19 straight at one point and ran through the PAC-10 with a 17-1 conference record. While the Broncos barely got into the tourney. However, when it mattered most they played next-level defense and were able to shut down an elite crew of talent in the second half and score a three-point win in the opening round.

4. FDU stuns Purdue to be second 16-seed to win in NCAA Tournament (2023)

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The 2023 NCAA tournament featured a pair of stunning upsets on the first day of the event. However, all of that was surpassed on day two when New Jersey school FDU was able to shock the basketball world to be the second 16-seed to win a game in the tourney.

Fairleigh Dickinson entered March Madness as the shortest team in the tourney and faced off with a powerhouse squad led by 7-foot-4 future NBA star Zach Edey. The team used a mix of defense, hustle, and timely shooting to beat Purdue and make the type of history that few teams have in the 80-plus-year history of the men’s tournament.

3. Saint Peter’s shocks world and Kentucky with first March Madness win (2022)

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Saint Peter’s took the basketball world by storm last year with their shocking run through the tournament. And it all started for the small New Jersey school with one of the greatest March Madness upsets ever when they beat two-seed Kentucky in the opening round of the tourney.

Saint Peter’s first-ever NCAA tournament win would be followed by a couple more in 2022, however, those wouldn’t top their thrilling overtime win over Kentucky. The defeat also stretched the legendary program’s winless streak in the tourney to three years.

Related: 10 best women’s college basketball players of all time

2. UMBC makes NCAA history against Virginia (2018)

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UMBC’s 2018 win over Virginia makes the top two of our all-time March Madness upsets list because it was the first time in NCAA tournament history that a 16-seed beat one of the top four seeds in the brackets. Yet, this was no ordinary win, UMBC absolutely blew Virginia’s doors off in the second half. Scoring 53 of their 74 total points.

Not only did the Cavaliers end up on the wrong end of history, but they were also embarrassed to the tune of a 20-point loss in the opening round of the 2018 tournament.

1. North Carolina State and Jim Vallvano upend Akeem Olajuwon and Houston (1983)

While North Carolina State surprised many by winning the ACC tournament in 1983, they were viewed as an underwhelming sixth seed in that year’s tourney. However, they continued their hot streak through the tournament and had a date with the top squad in the nation, Houston, in the championship game.

Houston was a star-studded team that featured future Hall-of-Famers Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. After two losses to start the season, they won 26 straight and smashed their way through the tournament. And they were expected to continue that reign of terror against NC State in the title game.

Yet, head coach Jim Valvano and his team shocked the world with a buzzer-beater tip-in that set up one of the most legendary celebrations in college basketball history, which you can view above. That is why it is at the top of your March Madness upsets of all-time list.

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