It’s hard to imagine the majority of the more than 10 million viewers who tune into the average NCAA Tournament game have any real emotional connection to either of the teams taking part in the contest.
However, there are a few reasons millions of people across the United States will put their day jobs on the backburner so they can tune into March Madness.
The brackets college basketball fans live and inevitably die with each year are probably the biggest factor to explain the widespread interest in the sport’s premier competition.
With that said, I’d argue that aspect rivals one of the more intriguing facets of the tourney: the wildly unpredictable nature of an event that has spawned some truly incredible upsets and underdog stories over the years.
In 2018, the University of Virginia went down in history for all of the wrong reasons when it became the first top-seeded team to lose in the first round after UMBC absolutely demolished the Cavaliers to pull off the most unlikely win in the history of March Madness.
However, there are a few other schools that have been able to shock the world in a similar manner.
Examining the biggest upsets in March Madness history
The NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and while no school has managed to choke as hard as UVA did in the aforementioned game, there have been a grand total of 10 teams who overcame the burden that comes with being saddled with the 15th seed and sent the two-seed home as early as possible.
Richmond was the first program to pull off that feat when it stunned Syracuse with the 73-69 victory it secured in 1991. That’s one of six upsets in this particular category that were decided by five points or less—which makes the other four particularly impressive.
1997: Coppin State upsets South Carolina
UMBC isn’t the only school in Baltimore to pull off an unreal upset, as Coppin State was able to boast a similarly surprising feat when it faced off against South Carolina in 1997.
Coppin State was facing an uphill battle in its quest to win the first NCAA Tournament game in program history when it headed down to Pittsburgh to face off against the Gamecocks for a showdown where the Eagles were listed as 30-point underdogs.
When everything was said and done, they were not only able to walk away with the W but did so in resounding fashion with the 78-65 win, a 13-point margin of victory that is the largest of any on this list.
2013: Florida Gulf Coast upsets Georgetown
It’s fair to assume the vast majority of college basketball fans who watched the tourney in 2013 had never even heard of Florida Gulf Coast, which earned an invite to The Big Dance just a couple of years after the team officially made the leap to Division I.
However, they’d get to know them very, very well thanks to what transpired.
These Eagles were “only” 13-point underdogs heading into their contest against the Hoyas, although you have to imagine Georgetown was a bit weary when you consider two 15-seeds (Lehigh and Norfolk State) had eliminated the two-seed the previous year.
They were ultimately unable to escape befalling the same fate, as the underdogs who eventually became synonymous with the “Dunk City” moniker walked away with the 78-68 win to start an improbable run that brought them all the way to the Sweet 16.
2016: Middle Tennessee upsets Michigan State
This game had some fairly wide-reaching implications when you consider there was more money on the second-seeded Spartans to win the entire tournament than any other team (22.3% of the brackets submitted to ESPN had Michigan State listed as national champions, second only to the 25% of people who picked Kansas).
Tom Izzo’s squad was riding a March Madness streak stretching all the way back to 1998, and it hadn’t been eliminated in the first round since a one-and-done showing in 2006 (where they were the first of the four schools to fall victim to George Mason during its magical Final Four run).
Middle Tennessee headed into the locker room at halftime with a six-point lead, and while Michigan State was able to cut the deficit to one with around eight minutes remaining in the second half, the Blue Raiders (who were 16.5-point underdogs) were able to fend them off and take home the 90-81 bracket-busting win.
2022: St. Peter’s upsets Kentucky
Saint Peter’s may not have the most resounding upset on this list.
With that said, it’s still pretty damn impressive when you consider what a school virtually no college basketball fan could’ve placed on a map prior to the start of the 2022 NCAA Tournament was able to do against the perennial juggernaut that is John Calipari’s Kentucky team.
The Peacocks were 17.5-point ‘dogs against the Wildcats, but they managed to put up one hell of a fight to force overtime.
What had been a back-and-forth game turned into a fairly one-sided one—although it’s hard to imagine many viewers imagined St. Peter’s was going to be the school that took control before it kicked off its Cinderella run with the 85-79 stunner.