Skip to main content

Biggest upsets in men’s college basketball history

college basketball

Who doesn’t love an upset when it comes to college sports? For how rare it is to see some of the top college basketball teams suffer a loss to unranked opponents, each time an underdog takes down a heavy favorite, the sports community goes bonkers.

In honor of Eastern Illinois overcoming long odds, despite being 31.5-point underdogs heading into a matchup against Iowa, we thought it would be fun to look back at some of the biggest college basketball upsets in recent memory.

Counting back in reverse from the mild upsets to the largest, here are the biggest upsets in men’s college basketball history.

Related: College basketball games today: 2024 CBB schedule

3. Stephen F. Austin defeats Duke in 2019

As one of the most prestigious men’s college basketball programs in the nation, coach Mike Krzyzewski worked wonders with the Duke Blue Devils. He routinely successfully recruited the best basketball players in the nation and helped them become top picks in the NBA.

The 2019 Duke basketball squad was no different, featuring six players who would end up in the NBA. While it’s true Coach K’s team didn’t feature any headlining stars, with Tre Jones and Wendell Moore being the biggest names, they still greatly outrank Stephen F. Austin’s core of talent, who surprisingly did see a player reach the NBA, in Kevon Harris.

What makes this upset hard to believe is that Duke hadn’t lost on their home court in 20 seasons. Duke even got out to a 15-point lead at one point. But eventually, the game was forced to overtime, where a late Nathan Bain layup gave Stephen F. Austin the edge. Just like that, a 150-game home winning streak was over.

Related: NBA MVP race 2024

2. Virginia loses to Chaminade back in 1982

Although Michael Wilbon was in attendance, good luck finding many others who can say they either witnessed this game in person. Back in 1982, Virginia, led by future Hall of Fame basketball player Ralph Sampson, took on the Chaminade Silverswords, a team based out of Honolulu, Hawaii.

There were just 3,383 spectators in attendance, and the game was not televised. Considering no one had really heard of Chaminade, then and since, for the top-ranked Virginia basketball team led by a true superstar to have any kind of difficulty leading a convincing win, it was a big deal.

Sampson was a three-time national player of the year winner, taking on an NAIA team that had no business even being on the schedule. But that’s why they play the games.

1. Eastern Illinois over Iowa represents biggest upset in college basketball history (regular season)

Syndication: USA TODAY

While it may not be the most memorable, how can Eastern Illinois taking down Iowa on the road not be considered one of, if not the biggest, college basketball upset of all time? The 92-83 victory represents the largest point-spread upset in over 30 years.

In fact, there hasn’t been another college basketball team to lose after coming into a matchup as 30-point favorites in the past three decades.

It’s not like Eastern Illinois is some sleeper team on the rise, either. Chances are, they won’t make it to the NCAA tournament this season, whereas Iowa will have no trouble getting into bracket play.

While the above represents the biggest upsets during regular season play, the stakes become higher once March Madness gets underway, leading to even more impactful wins and losses. During the regular season, an upset can be quickly wiped away by winning the next game, but not during the NCAA tournament, when a loss eliminates a college basketball team from the competition.

Related: Top 25 Men’s College Basketball Rankings 2024: Houston holds on to top spot ahead of conference tournaments

Biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history

Here are the biggest college basketball upsets in NCAA tournament history, in reverse order.

3. George Mason over Connecticut (2006)

In what has to be considered one of the more successful Cinderella stories in college basketball history, George Mason University went on a winning spree back in 2006. As the 11th seed, George Mason defeated the six, three, seven, and finally, the top-seeded Connecticut team to reach the Final Four.

It was an incredible run that began with George Mason coming into March Madness having never won a tournament game before. UConn had a strong roster, championed by Rudy Gay, and was actually viewed as one of the favorites to win March Madness.

But George Mason put forth one of the most memorable performances in college basketball history, where all five of their starters scored in double figures. Their bench scored a combined three points in the 86-84 win. Even nearly 20 years later, the George Mason over UConn game has stuck in the minds of many college basketball fans.

Related: NBA Rookie of the Year 2024

2. Norfolk State over Missouri (15 beats a 2 seed)

Another case of a small school beating a team they had no business competing against, (15) Norfolk State came into a matchup against (2) Missouri as 21.5 point underdogs in the second round of March Madness back in 2012. You already know, but Norfolk State managed to squeak out a two-point victory to send the Tigers home early.

Still, it marked the largest point-spread upset in men’s basketball tournament history. Norfolk State would go on to lose in the third round by 34 points to the seventh-seeded Florida Gators.

Related: NBA games today

1. UMBC defeats Virginia by 20 (16 beats a 1 seed)

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia vs UMBC
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

In 2018, we witnessed history. The Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers (UMBC), ranked as the 16th seed, took down the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. It marked the first and only time a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in tourney history.

To say the outcome was stunning would be selling short. Virginia had lost just two games all season, and UMBC came into the day as 20.5-point underdogs. Credit to anyone who may have made the correct pick on their March Madness brackets, but let’s be honest, nobody was that bold.

The Cinderella story ended the following game for UMBC, losing 50-43 to (9) Kansas State in the second round of the South bracket. But it didn’t matter. The Retrievers still hold the top spot among the biggest March Madness upsets in college basketball history.

Related: 2024 NBA mock draft

Mentioned in this article:

More About: