Jairus Lyles helped UMBC become the first No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed.
March Madness didn’t get its name by accident. It’s a great name to use in marketing, but it’s rooted in truth - no matter what the form book says when we’re going into the NCAA tournament, and how imbalanced one team might seem against the other, we’re usually guaranteed to see at least one stunning upset. That’s what makes filling in our bracket predictions so difficult.
We don’t mind that though - seeing a shock result is part of what makes watching the sport so exciting. Some players and team make their reputations with an outstanding performance. Others find their aura dented by a performance or result that nobody sees coming. There are plenty of winners and losers in the court by the time all is said and done, but the real winners are the huge television audiences who have a chance at seeing basketball history every time they tune into a game.
Everybody loves an underdog story, and - except for the people on the wrong side of the result - everybody likes to see an unfancied team or player get their moment in the spotlight. Take a trip down memory lane with us, as we look back in the biggest March Madness upsets in the history of the sport!
Cleveland State Beats Indiana, 1986
While it would be stretching the truth a little to say that everyone expected the Indiana Hoosiers to win the whole tournament in 1986, they certainly weren't supposed to make an undignified exit in the first round. The Hoosiers had been seeded at number 3, and looked to have been handed a plum draw when they were paired with Cleveland State Vikings, ranked a lowly fourteenth. Fate had other ideas for the prospects of both sides that year, though.
There have been better Hoosiers teams to enter the tournament than the side who wore the vests in 1986, but with Bobby Knight at the helm, they were always thought to stand a chance. Landing on the wrong end of an 83-77 scoreline came as a major shock to the system, and saw Knight presiding over a first-round exit for the first time in his long career. The defeat proved to him that while Steve Alford was a great player, he couldn't do all the heavy lifting alone. Recruiting Dean Garrett and Kevin Smart made all the difference next time around, and the Hoosiers would go on to win the national championship the following year by a single point.
Villanova Beats Georgetown, 1985
It wasn't so much the seeding that made Villanova beating Georgetown such a shock in 1985. Coming in at number 8 seed, Villanova was far from the worst team in the tournament that year. It was just the fact that Georgetown was considered to be the outright favorites, and had earned their #1 spot. Couple that with the Big East rivalry between the teams, and there was surely no way that Georgetown was going to allow Villanova to embarrass them on the big stage. Because they're on this list, though you already know that's exactly what happened.
This would have been a shock at any stage of the tournament, but this game was the final. Villanova had already pulled off a string of upsets, claiming the scalps of Memphis and Michigan on their way to the big game. Not even the presence of future NBA legend Patrick Ewing could stop Villanova securing victory by a margin of two points, and in the process completing one of the greatest fairytale runs to the championship in NCAA history. Not even their incredible 2016 triumph could top this.
Florida Gulf Coast Beats Georgetown, 2013
Poor Georgetown - lightning has struck twice when it comes to them and defeats that nobody saw coming! Georgetown was seeded at number 2 coming into March Madness in 2013, with Florida Gulf Coast sitting at a lowly fifteenth. You might remember this Eagles side for the 'Dunk City' slogan, and Georgetown got a lesson in how they earned that moniker.
Georgetown had no answer for the smash-mouth style of the 2013 Florida side, who handily disposed of them 78-68 before also sweeping aside San Diego to end up in the final 16. They've barely troubled the tournament since, but that might be because the Cinderella run cost them their head coach. The USC job came beckoning for the talented Andy Enfield when the competition was over. He's been in that role ever since, and the Eagles have never looked the same. They'll always have the memory of this stunning night in Philadelphia, though.
George Mason Beats UConn, 2006
Someone got the script wrong in 2006. When George Mason went on their incredible tear through the tournament, inspiring and exciting the entire nation on their way, the stage was set for them to win the whole thing. Sadly, Florida had no sympathy for the plucky eleventh-seed outsiders, and stopped them stone dead in the Final Four. They’d already left their mark on our hearts and minds, though, and they did it by despatching first-ranked UConn.
The battle between UConn and the Patriots happened in the Elite Eight, with nobody giving George Mason a chance of overcoming such a huge hurdle. UConn should have been paying closer attention to what had happened to North Carolina and Michigan State in earlier games - the same was about to happen to them. Had the Patriots gone on to win the whole thing, this would probably be talked about as the greatest basketball upset story in history.
UMBC Beats Virginia, 2018
Any list of March Madness updates that didn’t have this shocker in the top spot would be built on lies. This is the result that sports betters could never have forecast. The odds against UMBC were so long that they almost weren’t bookmakers’ odds at all; they were more like the odds you’d get by placing a single stake when playing mobile slots, and expecting to see the jackpot at the first time of asking. Spending a few dollars playing the Basketball Star mobile slots game would have been seen as a safer bet than backing UMBC, but UMBC beat the house. All slots players stick at the hobby because they know that sooner or later, the jackpot is going to come out of the other end. 2018 was jackpot year for UMBC, and the house paid out big time.
No team in March Madness history had won a single game from a seeding position of sixteenth. UMBC is the team that tore up that record, and they did it by beating tournament favorites Virginia. This wasn't a lucky break either; Virginia was outfought and outclassed, going down by twenty clear points. A second-half masterclass by Jairus Lyles was the key to his side scoring 53 after half time, and re-writing the history books in the process.