Biggest first-round upsets in March Madness history

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Thursday March 16th, 2017

It often leads to many brackets in the trash bin, but some of the best NCAA tournament upsets have come when a No. 15 seed defeats a No. 2 seed. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, a No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed. The 15 over 2 upset has happened seven times in history.

There are also plenty of No. 14 seeds that have upended No. 3 seeds.

Let's re-visit some of the best first-round upsets in NCAA tournament history: 

No. 15 upsets No. 2

No. 15 Richmond defeats No. 2 Syracuse (Spiders 73, Orange 69)

March 14, 1991

Richmond's upset of Syracuse marked the first time that a No. 15 seed won a game in the NCAA tournament. It should not have been much of a surprise, as Spiders coach Dick Tarrant orchestrated wins over top ranked teams like Charles Barkley's Auburn Tigers in the 1984 tournament before reaching the Sweet 16. He also beat Indiana and Georgia Tech as a No. 13 seed in 1988. Syracuse's team in 1991 was headlined by Billy Owens, who would be taken with the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft. Richmond pulled away for a 10-point lead and CBS turned the game over to Verne Lundquist and a prime-time audience.

No. 15 Santa Clara defeats No. 2 Arizona (Broncos 64, Wildcats 61)

March 18, 1993

By some miracle, Santa Clara held off a 14-0 run by Arizona to end the first half and an 11-0 run to open the second half and still won the game. Arizona entered the tournament with just three losses, but the Broncos were led by future NBA MVP Steve Nash. Nash hit six free throws to hold onto a lead at the end. 

No. 15 Coppin State defeats No. 2 South Carolina (Eagles 78, Gamecocks 65)

March 14, 1997

Coppin State and South Carolina were tied at the half and closed out the game with 38 points in the final 13 minutes to South Carolina's 18. No MEAC conference team had won an NCAA tournament game before Coppin State's 13-point victory.

No. 15 Hampton defeats No. 2 Iowa State (Pirates 58, Cyclones 57)

March 15, 2001

Hampton was making its tournament debut. Iowa State featured Jamaal Tinsley, but it would be Tarvis Williams of the Pirates who stole the show. With just seven seconds remaining in the game, Williams made a shot from about four feet out. Tinsely was unable to finish a layup at the buzzer, and Hampton held on for the upset. Coach Steve Merfeld was carried by his players in the celebration.

No. 15 Norfolk State defeats No. 2 Missouri (Spartans 86, Tigers 84)

March 16, 2012

The Spartans overcame a 21.5-point spread with the help of future New York Knicks big man Kyle O'Quinn, who tallied 26 points and 14 rebounds. Chris McEachin and Pendarvis Williams also notched at least 20 points in the victory.

No. 15 Lehigh defeats No. 2 Duke (Mountain Hawks 75, Blue Devils 70)

March 16, 2012

C.J. McCollum dropped 30 points to follow up the Norfolk State upset that took place earlier in the day. The game was also held less than 60 miles from Duke's campus but still a little closer for North Carolina fans to come out, watch the Tar Heels beat Vermont and then cheer on the Mountain Hawks in the second half. It was not one of Coach K's greatest Duke teams, but they were poised for a far run. This may be the first 15-seed to inspire a song about Duke's upset.

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 2 Georgetown (Eagles 78, Hoyas 68)

March 22, 2013

The Eagles made their way into the tournament just two years after becoming eligible and six years after becoming a Division I team. The Hoyas were on upset alert by halftime when FGC led by two points. They pulled away in the second half with the same electric offense that gave them the nickname Dunk City. Georgetown lost to a double-digit seed for the fifth straight time since 2007.

No. 15 Middle Tennessee State vs. Michigan State (Blue Raiders 90, Spartans 81)

March 18. 2016

The Blue Raiders had people throwing their brackets in the garbage and Googling "Where is Middle Tennessee State?" Denzel Valentine and the Spartans were heavily favored, with sports books in Vegas saying that more money was bet on them to win the tournament than any other team. The Blue Raiders hit 11 of its 19 three-point attempts and were led by Reggie Upshaw's 21 points as they trounced Michigan State. The Spartans were the first No. 2 seed that was once No. 1 in the AP poll to lose to a No. 15 seed in the tournament.

Notable No. 14 upsets of No. 3

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, 18 No. 14 seeds have defeated No. 3 seeds. No 14 seed has advanced beyond the Sweet 16.

Below is a full list of the No. 14 seeds that upended No. 3 seeds.

2014: Mercer 78, Duke 71

2013: Harvard 68, New Mexico 62

2010: Ohio 97, Georgetown 83

2006: Northwestern St. over Iowa 64-63

2005: Bucknell 64, Kansas 63

1999: Weber St. 76, North Carolina 74

1998: Richmond 62, South Carolina 61

1997: Chattanooga 73, Georgia 70

1995: Old Dominion 89, Villanova 81 (OT)

1995: Weber State 79, Michigan St. 72

1992: East Tennessee St. 87, Arizona 80

1991: Xavier 89, Nebraska 84

1990: Northern Iowa 74, Missouri 71

1989: Siena 80, Stanford 78

1988: Murray State 78, N.C. State 75

1987: Austin Peay 68, Illinois 67

1986: Cleveland State 83, Indiana 79

1986: Arkansas-Little Rock 90, Notre Dame 83

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