It’s a given: Every year, you spend time carefully filling out your NCAA tournament bracket, and every year, some low seed nobody saw coming winds up busting your chances before the first weekend even begins. We don’t know who it might be this year (keep a close eye on Bucknell), but here are five of the most notorious bracket-shattering early-round upsets in tournament history.
#15 Norfolk State 86, #2 Missouri 84, 2012
The MEAC Champions pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in recent years when Missouri’s Phil Pressey missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Kyle O’Quinn led Norfolk State with 26 points and 14 rebounds. “We even messed up my bracket,” he admitted afterward.
#14 Mercer 78, #2 Duke 71, 2014
The stats gurus over at Five Thirty Eight gave Mercer a 7 percent chance of winning this game, thereby making this loss arguably an even worse loss than Lehigh’s upset of Duke in 2012. Mercer shot 55.6 percent from the field compared to Duke’s 35.5 percent. “This is what March Madness is all about,” said Mercer’s Langston Hall.
#15 Middle Tennessee State 90, #2 seed Michigan State 81, 2016
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is generally renowned for his tournament-coaching brilliance, but this loss was further proof that March Madness can envelop anyone. The Spartans were 16.5-point favorites over the Blue Raiders, but couldn’t stop the onslaught. “In my wildest dreams I didn’t think they’d hit some of the shots they hit,” Izzo said afterward.
#15 Santa Clara 64, #2 seed Arizona 61, 1993
A wild victory for a school that’s best known for producing point guard Steve Nash—but interestingly, Nash, only a freshman, shot 1-for-7 from the floor, and missed a couple of key free throws in the final seconds. The Broncos still held on to win after Arizona missed a 3 at the buzzer. “They didn’t panic,” said Broncos coach Dick Davey, “but I did.”
#15 Richmond 73, #2 Syracuse 69, 1991
This wasn’t the first time Richmond had proven to be a bracket-buster—coach Dick Tarrant’s team also defeated Charles Barkley and Auburn as a No. 12 seed back in 1984. But Richmond again made history in 1991, becoming the first-ever 15 seed to beat 2 seed. But by the end of this one, Richmond had captured the imagination of a national audience on CBS, which had shifted nearly all its national viewers to this game, and forever ratcheted up the wild unpredictability and strange beauty of March Madness.
When Tarrant was told by broadcaster Verne Lundquist that 25 million people were watching the end of this game, he joked that his players might have, um, had some digestion issues had they known.