March Madness First Round Upsets
Yes, there are other upsets than the ones listed. No one will forget Villanova upending Georgetown and the Hoya Paranoia in the 1985 championship game or the small school Cinderella runs made by Butler in the last two years. But as a primer for this week’s slate of Thursday through Sunday’s games here is a top-10 list of all-time upsets from the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
1. The First Time: No. 15 Richmond Spiders defeat No. 2 Syracuse Orange 73-69 in 1991
Richmond had played the role of David in the past, eliminating Goliaths such as Charles Barkley and Auburn in 1984 and Indiana, then the returning national champs, in ’88. But the win against the Orange is the biggest because it is the first time a 15 seed out dueled a No. 2 seed. Plus, it was the first year CBS had broadcast rights to the first round of the tournament and the Spiders notched the victory in primetime on national TV. While the Orange’s Billy Owens went on to an NBA career so did Richmond’s game-high scorer. Curtis Blair, who notched 18 points against Syracuse, remains an NBA referee today.
2. Backdoor to Victory: No. 13 Princeton Tigers eliminate No. 4 UCLA Bruins 43-41 in 1996
Days before the tournament Princeton’s legendary head coach Pete Carril announced his retirement. This first round game against the defending national champions would be his last shot at an NCAA tournament win. Carril’s Tigers played in his surgically slow-paced style that relied on precision passing and backdoor cuts. His system had brought the Ivy League school close to what would have been the biggest tournament upset in history. It was 1989 and the 16-seed Tigers pushed No. 1 Georgetown to the brink in a 50-49 loss. But in ’96 Princeton prevailed. Using a backdoor cut to hit a layup in the final seconds.
3. Motley Crew: No. 15 Santa Clara Broncos stun No. 2 Arizona Wildcats 64-61 in 1993
The St. Louis Post Dispatch dubbed the 20-point underdog Santa Clara Broncos “a motley jumble of eggheads, surfers and imports.” Arizona came into the game ranked fifth in the country. The Wildcats even had a 13-point second half lead. But the odd assortment of Broncos, which included a Canadian point guard named Steve Nash, rallied and stunned the college hoops world with the 64-61 win.
4. Cool Handed Farokmanesh: No. 9 Northern Iowa Panthers drop No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks 69-67 in 2010
Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokmanesh should have held the ball and run down the clock. But amid the storm of a full-court press and his team’s dwindling lead he had an unwavering cool and moxie. With 38 seconds left, his team was up by one against the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. The ball was in his hands. He should have dribbled around and kept the ball away from Kansas. Instead, the player nicknamed “Stroke” stared down a 20-foot jump shot for a half-second. Then he stroked it and jaws dropped across the country.
5. Sour End: No. 9 Boston College Eagles over No. 1 North Carolina Tarheels 75-72 in 1994
North Carolina had made 13 consecutive Sweet 16 appearances. The returning national champs were stacked with talent, namely Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. But a Billy Curly-led Boston College team upended the Tarheels 75-72 and ended the Sweet 16 streak. BC went on to take the cover of that week’s Sports Illustrated. The Carolina team ranks as one of the greatest Tarheel squads to never win a championship.
6. Hoosierland Miracle: No. 13 Valparaiso beats No. 4 Ole Miss 70-69 in 1998
Down two with 2.5 seconds left, Valparaiso has to go the length of the court to tie the game. But instead of going for the tie the Indiana school ran a play designed for a last-second three-point shot. The inbound passer, Jamie Sykes, lobbed the ball past half court where teammate Bill Jenkins – in one movement – jumped, caught and flipped it to Bryce Drew, the head coach’s son. Drew, who had been streaking up court, made the catch, set his feet and unloaded a three for the 70-69 win.
7. Best Post Game Celebration: No. 15 Hampton Pirates take out No. 2 Iowa State Cyclones 58-57 in 2001
This was Hampton’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Iowa State was ranked 10th in the nation. Hampton took the lead on a layup with 6.9 seconds to go. The Cyclones turned around and missed a potential game-winning layup with 1.2 seconds left on the clock. The ensuing celebration included a swarm of Hampton fans, the cheerleaders, the band and a player carrying fist-pumping, leg-kicking head coach Steve Merfeld around the court.
8. Over 100 years and Worth the Wait: No. 14 Bucknell Bison top No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks 64-63 in 2005
Chris McNaughton banked-in a hook shot with 10.5 seconds to give Bucknell the win. It was the school’s first NCAA tournament victory and it was a long time coming. Bucknell, along with Yale and Minnesota, started playing basketball in 1896 and they are the oldest hoops programs in the country. Before the victory against Kansas, Bucknell had failed to be competitive in its previous two tournament games – a 22-point loss to Georgetown in 1987 and a 23-point loss to Syracuse in ’89. On the flip side, the loss ended the Jayhawks’ 15-year streak of making it to the second round.
9. On the Brink: No. 14 Cleveland State Vikings thumps No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers 83-79 in 1986
Cleveland State bottled up Indiana and Hoosier sharpshooter Steve Alford with their pressure style of play dubbed “run ‘n’ stun.” Cleveland State went to the Sweet 16, losing to Navy and David Robinson. For Indiana, it was the last game in a season chronicled by John Feinstein in A Season on the Brink, the bestselling sports book of all time.
10. Nothing But Net: No. 14 Northwestern State Demons shock No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes 64-63 in 2006
Northwestern State, from the basketball haven of Natchitoches, Louisiana, was down 17 points with less than nine minutes to go. After grabbing a rebound in the closing seconds, Jermaine Wallace drained a step-back, fade-away three from the corner that didn’t even hit the rim on its way to the bottom of the net. The Demons started to celebrate and Iowa, the Big Ten champs, had a last second attempt that missed.