As we prepare to launch another months worth of coveted NCAA Tournament games, it's best to remind everyone that in a one-and-done format, even the 'underest' of underdogs can advance.
Below are the top five examples of the little guy getting one over on the big dogs. It happens. Not often, but it happens. And that, my friend, is why you play the game.
5. No. 15 Richmond over No 2 Syracuse, 73-69, 1991 first round
Before this Richmond Spiders win over Syracuse, no 15 seed has ever advanced to the second round. But the Spiders brushed off history and jumped out to an early lead against the Orangemen and never looked back. Syracuse tried to fight back and brought the game down to a one point difference with only 32 seconds left, but Richmond iced the game with clutch free throw shooting to deliver this most improbable of upsets.
4. No 11 George Mason over No 1 UConn, 86-84 (OT), 2006 Elite 8
The UConn defeat by little George Mason is easily the greatest Cinderella story of the past ten years. George Mason University plays in the little talked about Colonial Athletic Association Conference and had the benefit in the tourney of playing what basically amounted to home games, as their tourney games were just 20 miles from campus. After piling up unbelievable wins against Michigan State and North Carolina, they topped off their epic run to the Final Four with this classic win over top seeded UConn. Uconn was loaded with next level talent that saw four of their players taken in the first round of the NBA Draft; five more players were drafted in the second round. That talent wasn't enough, however, to halt the little engine that could.
3. No. 13 Princeton over No 4 UCLA, 43-41, 1996 first round
UCLA came into this game as the defending National Champion and was expected to easily roll over the Princeton Tigers. Princeton had different plans. After close losses in their four previous tourney appearances, they finally cracked through and got one of the most unlikeliest wins of all time. Princeton utilized their famed 'Princeton' offense of backdoor cuts to slow down the game enough that UCLA could never get into their groove. The pivotal moment came with six minutes to go and the Tigers trailing by six. Princeton went on a defensive tear, shutting down UCLA the rest of the way while closing the game to the eventual win.
2. No 6 NC State over No 1 Houston, 54-52, Championship Game, 1983
This upset is historically one of the most well known thanks to the iconic image of NC State's coach Jimmy Valvano running around like a madman after Lorenzo Charles put in the game winning dunk to steal one of the most unlikeliest wins in NCAA history; and it's remembered that way rightly so. The '83 Houston Cougars were led by two of the greatest NBA players of all time in Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler and came into this game with one of the flashiest offenses the college ranks have ever seen. The NC State Wolfpack, on the other hand, came in a hot team after a late season push moved them in the top 20 in the country. Despite their late season success, however, nobody thought the Wolfpack had any chance against the Cougars. The end result tells a different tale.
1. No 8 Villanova over No 1 Georgetown, 66-64, Championship Game, 1985
Coming off of their first NCAA Championship the year before, the Georgetown Hoyas were widely regarded as the team to beat in '85. Led by future legend Patrick Ewing, Georgetown both began and ended the regular season as the top ranked team in the country. Their opponent in the '85 Champion game, Villanova, by contrast, didn't even crack the top 20 in the rankings in the regular season. On paper, this was the classic David vs. Goliath scenario, and like the occasional million to one chances, Villanova pulled out all the stops to secure the win and become the lowest seed ever to win a Championship. The key to their win (in the last game not to utilize a shot clock), was their super hot shooting. Against the top defense in the college ranks that season, they shot a scorching 78% from the field, a blistering percentage that earned them a standing ovation from their opponents after the win.
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