The Great NCAA Upsets in History

The Great NCAA Upsets in History

If there ever was a reason that explains why so many people tune in to follow NCAA tournaments it must connected to the fact that college matchups promise some of the most entertaining and often downright unexpected sporting action in the country.

Among the most momentous events in NCAA history are those involving a surprise upset for teams that are deemed by many as a sure bet and, correspondingly, a stunning comeback from the underdogs of the situation.

Fans are left scrambling in the aftermath of such results: leaving their brackets in disarray and sending shockwaves of disbelief that are reported far and wide on the media. In this article we take a look back at four great NCAA upsets that people still talk about to this day.


#4 Princeton 43 - UCLA 41 (March 14, 1996)


Credit: Tim Russo/AP

The game between Princeton and UCLA was a real shocker for NCAA fans, who discovered first-hand why they call it March Madness.

UCLA asserted its presence on the court and finished the first half of the game with a one-point margin over their opponents. This early advantage and any dreams of a certain victory were dashed by the Princeton Tigers, as they implemented a back-door pass strategy which took the Bruins by surprise and saw the two team tied at 41-41 just seconds away from the buzzer.

It was then that one more sneaky back-door pass, by which Steve Goodrich passed the ball to Gabe Lewullis who then dunked it, sealed the deal for Princeton and sent UCLA packing.


#3 Villanova 66 - Georgetown 64 (April 1, 1985)

April 1, 1985, will go down in NCAA history as the date of one of the tournaments biggest upsets. The action unfolded on the basketball court during that season’s championship final, which saw Villanova square off against the reigning champions Georgetown.

Everybody’s money was on Georgetown clinching the title for the second time, their opponents had never even got into the Top 20 and had suffered a fair share of big losses during the season. That prediction however, turned out to be horribly wrong.

The moment the game started, Villanova took control of the court and played a flawless game that saw them claim the first half at 29-28. Georgetown were doing their best, but the Wildcats seemed to be one step ahead every time.

In what seemed like a terrible April Fool’s prank, Georgetown fans saw their formidable team being beaten by underdogs Villanova with a two-point margin, taking the victory at 66-64. Villanova proved everybody wrong and did so in the most spectacular ways possible in sport: by taking away a certain victory from their opponents in the least expected circumstances.

Surprise, surprise! You never know what to expect next

Nothing matches the excitement and thrills that sports gives to people as they watch the action unfold right in front of their eyes or on the TV screen.

Undoubtedly, one of the most emotion-packed moments is when a team considered by many to be the inferior one in a game shatters everybody’s expectations and goes on to make heroes of its players with an inspiring comeback and an equally stunning upset for the favourites.

The NCAA is full of such surprises. As the best sporting talent the US has to offer battle it out, millions of fans watch on hopefully while clutching their banners or, if they wagered a bet or two, their wallets in the hope of an unexpected windfall that sweetens the win. Basketball is undoubtedly increasing in popularity, and, with it, so is betting on it, predominantly online across the world.


#2 Virginia 72 - Chaminade 77 (December 23, 1982)

Virginia was pulling out all the stops in the 1982/3 season with a tough and mean team that wouldn’t let anyone get in the way of a win. When their game against Chaminade was next on the tournament schedule, everybody expected to see the Silverswords blown away by the mighty Cavaliers.

Chaminade were stepping onto the court fresh from a victory against Hawaii, but nobody seriously thought they could pull off another win against Virginia. However, the signs of an impending upset were clear after the first half, as the two teams ended with a tie at 43-43.

By the end of the second half, the Silverswords completely thrashed the Cavaliers with a furious series of free throws to achieve one of the most incredible wins in NCAA history and one still discussed years later.


#1 North Carolina State 54 - Houston 52 (April 4, 1983)

North Carolina State

Credit: USAToday

The final game of the 1983 NCAA men’s division 1 basketball has gone down in sporting history as one of the most infamous matches of all time.

North Carolina State had somehow gotten their way through to the Elite Eight and then to the championship game after losing ten regular season matchups. Confronting them on the court was the top-ranked Houston team, who’s cocky attitude was summed up by Hakeem Olajuwon’s prediction that ‘the team with the most dunks will win’.

Unfortunately, the dunks came thick and fast, but not for the Cougars. Instead it was the Wolfpack that took the lead early on in the game and dominated the first half with a result of 17-2.

As NC State netted one ball after the other, Houston found its ground and began closing in on their rivals. However, their hopes were dashed with Lorenzo Charles’s famous dunk thirty feet out just moments before the buzzer sounded. NC State won the game, and the championship, with a 54-52 victory that is considered the greatest upset even in NCAA history.