The 20 Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History

The 20 Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History article feature image

Photo by Tyler Schank/NCAA Photos via Getty Images. Pictured: FDU celebrating one of the 20 biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history — No. 1, to be exact.

There's a new record holder when it comes to the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.

FDU beat Purdue on Friday as a 23.5-point underdog, becoming just the second 16 seed to knock off a 1 seed — and marking the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history as defined by the point spread.

FDU was +23.5 and as long as +2000 to win outright.

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).

The 20 Biggest Upsets in NCAA Tournament History

2023Fairleigh Dickinson +23.5 vs. Purdue
2012Norfolk State +21 vs. Missouri
2018UMBC +20 vs. Virginia
1997Coppin State +18.5 vs. South Carolina
1993Santa Clara +18.5 vs. Arizona
2022Saint Peter's +17.5 vs. Kentucky
2001Hampton +17.5 vs. Iowa State
1986Arkansas-Little Rock +17 vs. Notre Dame
2016MTSU +16.5 vs. Michigan State
2023Princeton +15.5 vs. Arizona
2021Oral Roberts +15 vs. Ohio State
2015UAB +14 vs. Iowa State
2010Ohio +14 vs. Georgetown
1987Austin Peay +14 vs. Illinois
2018Marshall +13.5 vs. Wichita State
2013FGCU +13.5 vs. Georgetown
2005Bucknell +13.5 vs. Kansas
1990Northern Iowa +13.5 vs. Missouri
2014Mercer +13 vs. Duke
1999Weber State +13 vs. North Carolina

1) No. 16 FDU over No. 1 Purdue

  • Year: 2023
  • Spread: +23.5

UMBC finally has some company. While many experts thought Purdue was vulnerable in this tournament, and while over 90% of the moneyline bets on this game were on FDU — even at +2000 — this still has to go down as one of the most stunning upsets in NCAA Tournament history.

It's certainly the biggest.

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

  • Year: 2012
  • Spread: +21

Duke-Lehigh 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.

3) 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 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.

4) 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, Coppin State shot just 2-of-13 from 3-point range, but got to the foul line 34 times and converted 26 of those.

5) 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. 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.

6) 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.

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

  • Year: 2001
  • Spread: +17.5

This game was memorable because it came down to the wire.

Hampton scored with under seven 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 by 19 in the next round.

8) 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.

9) 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.

10) No. 15 Princeton vs. No. 2 Arizona

  • Year: 2023
  • Spread: +15.5

Princeton was all over Arizona, holding the Wildcats to their season low in points. How was that to start the 2023 NCAA Tournament — and set the tone for an FDU upset to top things on Saturday?

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Sean Treppedi
Jun 12, 2024 UTC