Ranking the greatest Cinderella stories and March Madness upsets in NCAA Tournament history

Broken brackets and brilliant Cinderella stories.

That’s what March Madness comes down to, as college basketball takes over the American sports scene for a month.

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Fairleigh Dickinson showed the power of March Madness for the world to seeCredit: Getty

For decades, a No. 16 seed was unable to knock off a No. 1.

Now, it’s happened twice, and University of Maryland-Baltimore County will be remembered forever in NCAA history.

Here is talkSPORT’s look at the greatest Cinderella stories and March Madness upsets since the NCAA men’s tournament began.

No. 13 Furman 68, No. 4 Virginia 67

Furman should never beat Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.

But that’s exactly what happened in 2023, as the Paladins upset the Cavaliers in Virginia’s latest March Madness meltdown.

The Cavaliers led 32-27 at halftime but collapsed after the break, watching a 90 percent win probability disappear.

While the takedown wasn’t as big as a No. 16 versus 1 or 15 against 2, simply seeing Furman beat Virginia in the NCAA Tournament was worth the price of admission.

The Paladins fell to San Diego State in the second round but their job was already complete.

Winning one game in the NCAA Tournament can change the entire image of a program and school

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Winning one game in the NCAA Tournament can change the entire image of a program and schoolCredit: Getty
Shaquille O’Neal throws shots at LeBron James while making his stance on the Michael Jordan GOAT debate clear

No. 14 Abilene Christian 53, No. 3 Texas 52

One of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history came down to size versus heart.

“We just beat the University of Texas. Little ol’ Abilene Christian out in West Texas built a program that went toe-to-toe with the University of Texas, and it’s an incredible story,” Wildcats coach Joe Golding said. “It’s what March is about.”

During the first March Madness following the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Abliene Christian used an attacking defense to stifle the Longhorns.

The stunning first-round loss in 2021 helped push Texas coach Shaka Smart out the door in Austin.

“We needed March Madness, man. We needed some type of normalcy to our country,” Golding said. “We needed people to fill out brackets. We needed people to cheer for the underdog.”

No. 10 Gonzaga 82, No. 2 Stanford 74

This huge upset occurred before Cinderella was fashionable.

Gonzaga was a small school in the Pacific Northwest with a smaller following in 1999.

But the future NCAA Tournament powerhouse began to remake its image with a stunning win over Stanford, which led to a victory over No. 6 Florida before a tough defeat to No. 1 Connecticut.

In years to come, it became increasingly standard for small schools to take down major universities.

Gonzaga was one of the first and is still reaping the benefits 25 years later.

Jim Nantz was synonymous with unbelievable wins and surreal March Madness upsets

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Jim Nantz was synonymous with unbelievable wins and surreal March Madness upsetsCredit: Getty

No. 15 Saint Peter’s 85, No. 2 Kentucky 79 in overtime

Kentucky was one of the most prestigious college basketball programs in the country.

But the Wildcats haven’t been the same in recent years and they might never recover from a first-round embarrassment in 2022.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Saint Peter’s Daryl Banks said. “You grow up you watching March Madness, the tournament, so to let that sink in — knowing the game was over — it felt really good.”

Also known as the Peacocks, Saint Peter’s matched the Wildcats on the scoreboard in the first and second halves.

Then the small school from New Jersey took over in OT for an unbelievable upset.

“At the end of the day, every team that made it to the NCAA Tournament deserves to be here,” Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway said. “Every team that made it to the NCAA Tournament believes they can advance.”

The Peacocks made it all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to North Carolina.

No. 15 Lehigh 75, No. 2 Duke 70

One of the best parts of March Madness is the schools that few have heard of before.

Throw in future NBA star C.J. McCollum, and Lehigh’s huge win over Duke in 2012 was one for the ages.

The Blue Devils basically lost a home game, while Mike Krzyzewski was unable to stop McCollum, who scored 30 points in the second-round stunner.

The Mountain Hawks couldn’t get past Xavier in the third round.

But Lehigh became synonymous with March Madness and gave Coach K a loss he would never forget.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has seen March Madness change mightily in recent years

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Kentucky coach John Calipari has seen March Madness change mightily in recent yearsCredit: Getty

No. 15 Richmond 73, No. 2 Syracuse 69

The Spiders shocked college basketball with a memorable win over the Orange in 1991.

Richmond pulled off the first win for a 15 seed against a 2, and overcame future NBA Draft lottery pick Billy Owens.

It’s now accepted that a No. 15 team can make noise in the tournament.

The Spiders raised the bar and led to a new era of March Madness chaos.

No. 15 Santa Clara 64, No. 2 Arizona 61

Of course, Steve Nash took down a No. 2 seed filled with future NBA players.

The Broncos relied on bigger names in 1993, since Nash was only a reserve freshman.

But the future Phoenix Suns star and two-time NBA MVP added 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists as Santa Clara overcame Damon Stoudamire, Lute Olson and the much larger Wildcats.

Nash’s crew lost in the second round, but it was a sign of things to come from one of the NBA’s best pure point guards.

Steve Nash first made his name with a huge NCAA Tournament upset

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Steve Nash first made his name with a huge NCAA Tournament upsetCredit: AFP

No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, No. 2 Georgetown 68

The Eagles became the talk of the country in just their second season of NCAA Division I postseason eligibility.

Dunk City dominated the Hoyas, erupting for a 54-point second half and taking over March Madness in 2013.

FGCU reached the Sweet 16 before finally being stopped.

But it’s clear more than a decade later that the Eagles were a preview of a regime change for the NCAA Tournament, where little-known schools could prevail in the one-and-done era.

No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 63, No. 1 Purdue 58

The undersized Knights became just the second No. 16 seed to topple a top seed.

Throw in FDU knocking over Boilermakers big man Zach Edey, who stands 7ft 4in, and it was a win that destroyed brackets everywhere in 2023.

“If we played them 100 times, they’d probably beat us 99 times,” FDU coach Tobin Anderson said. “Play them 100 times, we have one win. But tonight’s the one we had to be unique, we had to be unorthodox. We had to make it tough on them, just be different.”

No. 16s were 1-150 against No. 1s before the Knights made it 2-150.

“Man, I can’t even explain it,” Sean Moore said. “I’m still in shock right now. I can’t believe it. It’s crazy. But it feels amazing.”

FDU knocked off No. 1 Purdue and became the second No. 16 seed to accomplish the feat

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FDU knocked off No. 1 Purdue and became the second No. 16 seed to accomplish the featCredit: Getty

No. 16 UMBC 74, No. 1 Virginia 54

The Cavaliers make this list twice, and they hold the spot for being on the wrong end of the biggest upset ever in March Madness history.

Annually overlooked University of Maryland-Baltimore County blew out Virginia, which was supposed to be a Final Four contender in 2018.

It was the first win for a No. 16 over a top seed and was the greatest reminder that anything can happen in March Madness.

The Retrievers lost to Kansas State in the second round and failed to advance to the NCAA Tournament the next five years.

It was almost like the biggest upset in March Madness history was a once-in-a-lifetime event.



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