UMBC over Virginia: Ranking the 10 greatest upsets in modern March Madness history

The day we all thought would never come to March Madness finally has arrived. Friday night, No. 16 seed UMBC (The University of Maryland in Baltimore County, for your information) became the first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament to dispose of its No. 1-seeded foe. The Retrievers not only defeated the ACC champion Virginia Cavaliers, they dismantled them by a final score of 74-54 in South Regional action

Immediately following the historical victory on Friday, many were calling this the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament. While the consensus may be that this is the biggest upset in the history of the greatest tournament in sports, it's still worth asking whether it really was the greatest

Well, let's have a look at that right now as we count down the 10 biggest March Madness upsets since that field grew to 64 in 1985. 

10. No. 15 Hampton over No. 2 Iowa State in 2001

We all remember the amazing visual of coach Steve Merfeld being lifted up off the court kicking his legs with glee, and for good reason. In what was the first appearance for the Hampton Pirates in the NCAA Tournament in their history, they defeated the No. 2 seed Iowa State Cyclones, 58-57. A 15 seed hadn't knocked off a 2 seed in four years prior to that day, so this moment was certainly due. 

9. No. 15 Norfolk State over No. 2 Missouri in 2012

Following that win by Hampton over Iowa State in the No. 10 slot, we would not see another 15-seeded team take out a No. 2 seed until 2012 when the Norfolk State Spartans, champions of the MEAC, narrowly downed the Missouri Tigers, 86-84. If Hampton's win as a No. 15 seed was due given the amount of time since the previous one, then this Norfolk State win was long overdue. 

8. No. 15 Coppin State over No. 2 South Carolina in 1997

Prior to 1997, Coppin State had made two trips to the NCAA Tournament in 1990 and 1993, getting trounced by Syracuse and Cincinnati, respectively. But, you know what they say about the third time being a charm. It indeed was this time around, as the Eagles cruised to a 13-point win over 2-seeded South Carolina. After suffering a heartbreaking one-point loss to Texas in the next round, Coppin State would not see the NCAA Tournament until 2008. But this one victory in 1997 is one we all won't soon forget. 

7. No. 14 Cleveland State over No. 3 Indiana in 1986

This is the game that ended the "Season on the Brink" -- John Feinstein's famous book about the 1985-86 Hoosiers that delved into Bob Knight's coaching methods in memorable ways. It's also the last NCAA Tournament game that Steve Alford would lose as a player -- the current UCLA coach was the senior star for the 1987 champion Hoosiers the next year. Cleveland State and Arkansas-Little Rock became the first 14 seeds to beat a No. 3 that year, as UALR beat Notre Dame.

6. No. 15 Lehigh over No. 2 Duke in 2012

The second of the infamous No. 15 over No. 2 upsets in 2012, no one believed this Patriot League school could defeat the mighty Duke. It was seemingly impossible. But, led by a pretty popular current Portland Trail Blazer you may know who goes by the name C.J. McCollum, the Mountain Hawks stunned the Blue Devils, 75-70, giving the 2012 NCAA Tournament a true feeling of madness. 

5. No. 11 George Mason over No. 1 UConn in 2006

gerorge-mason.jpg
Getty Images

First of all, George Mason probably shouldn't have even been in the field. That needs to be said because the Patriots clearly proved they had the talent to be there. This was the first mid-major double-digit seed -- i.e. a traditional Cinderella -- to make the Final Four, and this was the game that put it there. Mason's Jim Larranaga trod over Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Mark Turgeon and finally Jim Calhoun, and those Huskies were widely considered the favorite to win the national title.

4. No. 15 Richmond over No. 2 Syracuse in 1991

The first 15-2 upset in NCAA history was more than just a big deal in its day. Syracuse was an absolute power, led by Big East Player of the Year and first-team All-American Billy Owens, and Jim Boeheim was by no means known for early exits. But the Spiders forced the Orange to die on the 3-point line and made history.

3. No. 15 Middle Tennessee over No. 2 Michigan State in 2016

The 2015-16 Michigan State Spartans and coach Tom Izzo were Big Ten tournament champions, and heading into the NCAA Tournament, they were a trendy pick to come away with the national championship when all was said and done. But, those title hopes were dashed and brackets were lit in flames immediately in the first round when Middle Tennessee sent shockwaves throughout the college basketball world with its 90-81 win. 

2. No. 8 Villanova over No. 1 Georgetown in 1985 

We had a bit of a staff debate over whether this or Virginia deserved to be No. 1. Here's why we opted to "snub" this iconic game: pedigree and margin. Yes, 1985 Georgetown was better than 2018 Virginia and had won the previous year's national championship. But Villanova had played the Hoyas tough twice in the regular season. And Villanova is Villanova. They'd already had Paul Arizin and Howard Porter and other greats. The stakes were huge, but the result was a little more fathomable.

1. No. 16 UMBC over No. 1 Virginia in 2018

After years of waiting to see if the unthinkable could happen, it did on March 16, 2018. Led by a phenomenal performance from Jairus Lyles and his 28 points, the Retrievers etched their names in history forever by sending coach Tony Bennett and the ACC champion Virginia Cavaliers packing much earlier than expected. 

Jack joined CBS Sports in 2018 as an editor and writer covering college football, combat sports and golf. He was raised to love the New York Yankees unconditionally since birth and firmly believes a four-team... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories