March Madness: The 10 biggest national championship upsets in NCAA Tournament history
The 1980s were a hot time for incredible upsets at the close of NCAA tourneys
It's called March "Madness" for a reason. The upsets that crush your bracket every year happen all month, but as the tournament goes deeper, the chances of a monumental upset in a later round get more slim. But that's not to say that there have not been upsets in the national championship game.
You only have to go back as far as 2016 to find one of the best, most thrilling victories the tourney has ever seen, but each decade has its own gems. Here's a look back at 10 of the most incredible national championship upsets of all time:
10. No. 2 Villanova defeats No. 1 UNC (77-74)
April 4, 2016
It was clear that Jay Wright and co. were not to be taken lightly when the Wildcats entered NRG Stadium for a much-anticipated clash with the Tar Heels. A 95-51 shellacking of Oklahoma in the Final Four proved 'Nova was ready to contend. But UNC was still UNC, seeking its sixth national title with three future NBA draft picks in the starting five. After losing a 10-point second-half lead on a double-clutch trey by UNC, Villanova responded with its own highlight, a game-winning, buzzer-beating three by Kris Jenkins to give the Wildcats their first 'chip since 1985 and seal an instant classic, not to mention an "improbably ... insane" tourney run.
April 7, 2003
Two years after a second-round defeat at the hands of the Jayhawks, Syracuse had a shot at redemption in the Superdome. Thanks to 21 points from Carmelo Anthony, a last-minute block by Hakim Warrick , and an off-target buzzer-beating three-point try by Kirk Hinrich, the Syracuse delivered despite Kansas (30-7) entering as five-point favorites under four-time Final Four-contending coach Roy Williams. The Jayhawks nearly overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half of the showdown, but Jim Boeheim's squad held on to secure the school's only national championship.
March 31, 1997
A year removed from their 1995-96 title run as "The Untouchables," Rick Pitino's Wildcats looked primed for a repeat in 1997 thanks to All-American Ron Mercer, a convincing West Regional championship, and a 16.2-point average margin of victory in their first five tournament games. Apparently Kentucky didn't account for -- or at least couldn't stop -- Arizona freshman point guard Mike Bibby, who dropped 19 and weaved through Kentucky's defense alongside Miles Simon, a foul-shot artist under pressure, to push Kentucky to overtime and steal a win in a game that included 18 different lead changes.
7. No. 2 Michigan State defeats No. 1 Indiana State (75-64)
March 26, 1979
This one was as much a stage-setter for 1980s NBA as it was an historic March Madness moment. The game is now remembered for being the first showdown between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who would not only jump-start interest in the Final Four, but would go on to meet in the NBA Finals three times and lead the league to new heights of popularity. It was also an unforgettable feat for the Spartans, who had yet to win a national title and faced a 33-0 Sycamores team led by Bird, who was the consensus National Player of the Year in 1979. Thanks to 24 points and seven rebounds from Johnson, Michigan State handed Indiana State it's lone loss -- and did it quite handily.
6. Texas Western defeats Kentucky (72-65)
March 19, 1966
Long before John Calipari's tenure, Kentucky reigned as one of college basketball's elites, entering the 1966 title game with four championships already in the trophy case. Ranked No. 1 by coaches and the AP, the Wildcats got to a 27-2 record with big names like Pat Riley and Louie Dampier in the lineup, but Texas Western (now UTEP) cruised to a comfortable win that gave the Miners their first national title and rewrote a chapter of race relations in sports, with Texas Western being the first team with an all-black starting five to win the national championship game, later inspiring the book and film "Glory Road"
5. No. 6 Kansas defeats No. 1 Oklahoma (83-79)
April 4, 1988
The Sooners came in as eight-point favorites against the Jayhawks, who were also up against history in that no team with more than 10 losses had ever won a men's basketball tourney before. Starring future NBA players Mookie Blaylock, Ricky Grace and Stacey King, OU had also already beaten Kansas twice that year, riding an uptempo offense to a 35-3 record heading into the title game under coach Billy Tubbs. Kansas was able to meet Oklahoma's offensive intensity early, going into the halftime with a high-scoring 50-50 tie. Jayhawks coach Larry Brown had his team put the clamps on the Sooners in the second half, holding them to just 29 points, en route to a title, and the formation of "Danny and the Miracles" -- a tribute to Danny Manning's tone-setting 31 points and 18 rebounds.
4. No. 1 Connecticut defeats No. 1 Duke (77-74)
March 29, 1999
A No. 1 seed beating a No. 1 seed? Don't be fooled. UConn was no slouch near the turn of the century, finishing 33-2 under coach Jim Calhoun and behind future NBA star Rip Hamilton, but Duke was the closest thing to a lock as a title contender can be. The Blue Devils boasted some of the best talent of longtime coach Mike Krzyewski's career, with Elton Brand, Shane Battier, and Corey Maggette among the stars, and being ranked No.1 or No. 2 in the AP poll for all but four weeks in the regular season. Yet it was UConn who stole the Tropicana Field spotlight, overcoming a first-half deficit with 27 points from Hamilton for their first-ever championship.
3. Loyola-Chicago over Cincinnati (60-58)
March 23, 1963
Before Texas Western boasted the first all-black lineup to NCAA win a national tile, Loyola-Chicago became the first team to start four African-Americans in a championship game. Up against the two-time defending champion Bearcats, the Ramblers fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second half of their title game but rallied with their "Iron Men" starting five, which played the entire contest, pushed Cincy to OT and then upset the champs with Vic Rouse's tip-in buzzer-beater -- a thrilling end to Loyola's only championship. The Ramblers would return to the Final Four 55 years later as a Cinderella in 2018, bowing out in the national semifinals.
2. No. 8 Villanova defeats No. 1 Georgetown (66-64)
April 1, 1985
Georgetown entered the 1985 title game not only with a 35-2 record, but as the defending national champions, and with future Hall of Fame NBA superstar Patrick Ewing leading the way. Villanova, meanwhile, came into the tournament at just 19-10 and, even after big upset wins over Michigan and North Carolina, seemed like no match for a Hoyas club they's already lost to twice in Big East play. The Wildcats, however, proceeded to hit on more than 78 percent of their shots, despite only 28 field goal attempts in the game, setting Final Four records that stand to this day. Ed Pinckney was named Most Outstanding Player after outscoring and out-rebounding Ewing en route to Nova's first title in men's basketball.
April 4, 1983
No one was supposed to beat Houston. The Cougars high-flying basketball fraternity known as "Phi Slamma Jamma" reeled off 26 straight wins, blew away its tournament competition and rode future NBA MVP Hakeem Olajuwon and future 10-time All-Star Clyde Dexler to a No. 1 seed, not to mention title-game clout as a 7.5-point favorite to win the championship. But then NC State showed up. Despite trailing by seven after a 17-2 second-half Cougars run, the Wolfpack slowed the pace of the game and held the ball in the closing seconds, breaking a 52-52 tie with a desperation heave-turned-catch-and-dunk as time expired. From Lorenzo Charles' game-winning slam to coach Jim Valvano's post-game celebration, this upset immediately went down in history, marking the first time an NCAA team with 10 losses cut down the championship nets.
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