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The 20 Biggest NCAA Tournament Point Spread Upsets Since 1978

The 20 Biggest NCAA Tournament Point Spread Upsets Since 1978 article feature image
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Jamie Sabau/NCAA Photos via Getty Images. Picutred: Fousseyni Drame, Doug Edert and KC Ndefo

Saint Peter’s did it again.

The Peacocks became the first No. 15 seed to ever reach the Elite Eight, and added another huge point spread upset to the ledger. Their win over Purdue as a 13-point underdog ranks 17th among all NCAA Tournament upsets since 1978. Their first-round win over Kentucky (+17.5) ranks fifth.

Saint Peter’s win over Purdue was also the biggest upset in the Sweet 16 or later since at least 1978.

  • 2022 Saint Peter’s +13 vs. Purdue (S16)
  • 2002 Indiana +12 vs. Duke (S16)
  • 2011 VCU +11.5 vs. Kansas (E8)
  • 1998 Utah +10.5 vs. Arizona (E8)

Using our data from Bet Labs and other historical sources, here are the 20 biggest NCAA Tournament upsets measured by the point spread since 1978 (the first year we have full data).

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Year Upset
2012 Norfolk State +21 vs. Missouri
2018 UMBC +20.5 vs. Virginia
1997 Coppin St +18.5 vs. South Carolina
1993 Santa Clara +18.5 vs Arizona
2022 Saint Peter’s +17.5 vs. Kentucky
2001 Hampton +17.5 vs. Iowa State
1986 Arkansas-Little Rock +17 vs. Notre Dame
2016 MTSU +16.5 vs. Michigan State
2021 Oral Roberts +15 vs. Ohio State
2015 UAB +14 vs. Iowa State
2010 Ohio +14 vs. Georgetown
1987 Austin Peay +14 vs Illinois
2018 Marshall +13.5 vs. Wichita State
2013 Florida Gulf Coast +13.5 vs. Georgetown
2005 Bucknell +13.5 vs. Kansas
1990 Northern Iowa +13.5 vs. Missouri
2014 Mercer +13 vs. Duke
1999 Weber State +13 vs. North Carolina
1993 Southern +13 vs. Georgia Tech
2021 Saint Peter’s +13 vs. Purdue
1981 St. Joseph’s +12.5 vs. DePaul

1) No. 15 Norfolk State over No. 2 Missouri

  • Year: 2012
  • Spread: +21

DukeLehigh gets remembered, but this game, played on the same day, tops our list.

Missouri went 30-5 that season and had just dominated the Big 12 Tournament, winning all three games by double digits en route to the title.

Kyle O’Quinn was huge down the stretch for Norfolk State, which outlasted the Tigers 86-84. The Spartans lost by 34 points to Florida in the second round.

2) No. 16 UMBC vs. No. 1 Virginia

  • Year: 2018
  • Spread: +20.5

Perhaps the most memorable game on this list, UMBC shocked the top-seeded Cavaliers to become the first No. 16 seed to ever win a game in the NCAA Tournament.

The crazy part is that it was never really close once the second half began. The game was tied 21-21 at halftime, and UMBC won by 20 points behind a 12-24 shooting performance from 3-point range. UVA shot just 4 of 22 from distance.

The Retrievers lost to Kansas State in the second round, and Virginia bounced back to win the national title the following season.

3) No. 15 Coppin State vs. No. 2 South Carolina

  • Year: 1997
  • Spread: +18.5

Coppin State had never won an NCAA Tournament game before beating South Carolina by 13 points in 1997.

Amazingly, Copping State shot just 2 of 13 from 3-point range but got to the foul line 34 times and converted 26 of them.

4) No. 15 Santa Clara vs. No. 2 Arizona

  • Year: 1993
  • Spread: +18.5

Arizona was in its hay-day when it met Santa Clara in the 1993 NCAA Tournament first round. The Wildcats had reached the Sweet 16 in three of the previous five seasons and went to the Final Four the following year.

But in 1993, as an 18.5-point favorite, Santa Clara did the impossible. It stood as the biggest NCAA Tournament upset (tied with Coppin State in 1997) until 2012, when Norfolk State beat Missouri.

5) No. 15 Saint Peter’s over No. 2 Kentucky

  • Year: 2022
  • Spread: +17.5

Kentucky was among the most popular national title choices in 2022 but fell to the MAAC champion in the first round in overtime.

6) No. 15 Hampton over No. 2 Iowa State

  • Year: 2001
  • Spread: +17.5

This game was memorable because it came down the absolute wire

Hampton scored with under 7 seconds left to go up 58-57, then Iowa State’s Jamaal Tinsley had a game-winning layup roll off the rim as time expired.

Hampton lost to No. 10 seed Georgetown in the next round by 19 points.

7) No. 14 Arkansas-Little Rock vs. No. 3 Notre Dame

  • Year: 1986
  • Spread: +17

You may not remember this one. I certainly don’t. The 3-point line didn’t even exist in the NCAA Tournament yet! (it came the following year).

Little Rock just could not miss in this 90-83 win, shooting 62.3% from the field and converting 24 of 32 free throws.

8) No. 15 MTSU vs. No. 2 Michigan State

  • Year: 2016
  • Spread: +16.5

Michigan State was a popular pick to win the entire tournament. The Spartans had won the Big Ten Tournament title, and seemed to be peaking at the right time after struggling through the early part of conference play.

This roster featured 5-stars Miles Bridges and Josh Langford, plus veterans Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes. This team had been to the Final Four the season prior, too.

But Middle Tennessee had other ideas. Both offenses shot at least 45% from deep in this game, but the Spartans could not get stops down the stretch and the Blue Raiders pulled away to win 90-81.

9) No. 15 Oral Roberts vs. No. 2 Ohio State

  • Year: 2021
  • Spread: +15

This Ohio State team was reeling a bit entering the NCAA Tournament, but Oral Roberts — one of the few 15-seeds to also win its second game and reach the Sweet 16 — took full advantage.

The Buckeyes couldn’t convert on several opportunities at the end of regulation and overtime, allowing Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas to help Oral Roberts score the upset.

 

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