Every March and early April, 65 basketball teams make it to the NCAA tournament. Every year, a Cinderella team comes out of nowhere, provides excitement and upsets and reminds people why sports are so great. These are the top 10; who knows, maybe one from this year will earn a spot in this list next year.
10. No. 14 Weber State vs. No. 3 North Carolina (1999)
This first round game had it all: big leads, a huge comeback, lead changes and crucial free throws. UNC went into halftime leading 26-24, but Weber State put together a 9-2 run right after halftime. UNC fought back and with 13 seconds left, Weber State’s Harold Arceneaux hit two free throws to seal a 76-74 win.
9. No. 15 Hampton vs. No 2. Iowa State (2001)
It doesn’t happen very often, but when a 15 seed upends a two seed in the first round, it provides excitement, and that is exactly what this game was full of. Hampton was down by as many as 11 in the second half, but with less than seven seconds remaining in the game, Hampton’s Travis Williams hit a four footer in a 58-57 victory.
8. No. 15 Coppin State vs. No. 2 South Carolina (1997)
After winning the Southeastern Conference, many people expected the Gamecocks to cruise through to the second round, but Coppin State had other ideas. Trailing 47-40 with 13 minutes left in the game, Coppin State went on a 38-15 run the rest of the game and finished with a 78-65 victory.
7. No. 15. Santa Clara vs. No. 2 Arizona (1993)
Coming into the tournament, Arizona was familiar with upsets after falling to No. 14 East Tennessee State the previous year, and no one was giving the Broncos a chance as they were 20-point underdogs. Arizona went on a 25-0 run in the middle of the game, and it looked like it was all she wrote for the Broncos. Santa Clara battled back, and a guard by the name of Steve Nash hit six consecutive free throws down the stretch as they became the second No. 15 seed to advance to the second round with a 64-61 win.
6. No. 13 Valparaiso vs. No. 4 Mississippi (1998)
Nothing beats a last second shot in basketball, and this was one of the most famous. With the score 69-67 and only four seconds remaining, Mississippi’s Ansu Sesay had a chance to seal the victory but missed two free throws, giving the Crusaders one last chance. Valpo threw a baseball pass into Bill Jenkins just past mid-court with Bryce Drew trailing on the play; Jenkins quickly found Drew, and Drew hit a desperation three for the 70-69 victory. Every time March rolls around, this clip is shown.
5. No. 15 Richmond vs. No. 2 Syracuse (1991)
It seemed impossible for the Richmond Spiders to upset the Syracuse Orangemen. A 15 seed had never beaten a two seed, especially one with as much tradition as Syracuse. Richmond jumped out to an early lead and never trailed. Syracuse closed the deficit to one with 32 seconds left, but Richmond hit three free throws to cement a 73-69 victory.
4. No. 13 Princeton vs. No. 4 UCLA (1996)
UCLA came in as the defending National Champions, but Princeton had the Princeton offense, which is full of backdoor cuts. Princeton shut out the Bruins over the last six minutes and scored the go-ahead basket the only way they know how – with a backdoor cut – and prevailed 43-41.
3. No 2. Duke vs. No. 1 UNLV (1991)
A two seed beating a one seed doesn’t really seem like an upset, but UNLV wasn’t your average one seed. UNLV had won 45 in a row, including a 30-point thrashing of the Blue Devils in the championship game the previous year. The Runnin’ Rebels had a five point lead when Greg Anthony fouled out, and then Duke took over. Duke’s Christian Laettner hit two free throws with 12 seconds left on the clock for a 79-77 win.
2. No. 8 Villanova vs. No. 1 Georgetown (1985)
Georgetown came into the game as national champions, after beating Villanova twice already, they were confident. Playing without a shot clock ‘Nova slowed down the tempo and played their style of basketball. The game was back-and-forth until the Wildcats took the lead for good with just over two and a half minutes left in the 66-64 victory. ‘Nova shot close to 79 percent from the field and missed only one shot the entire second half.
1. No. 6 North Carolina State vs. No. 1 Houston
Houston was the clear-cut favorite with their “Phi Slamma Jamma” – which was led by Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler – and was on a 25-game winning streak. Houston went on a 17-2 run in the second half, but NC State came back for one of the wildest finishes to a basketball game. NC State grabbed a missed free throw and held it for one last shot. After Drexler almost stole a pass, an NC State player heaved a shot from 30 feet that fell short. Luckily for the Wolfpack, Lorenzo Charles was in the right spot as he grabbed the ball in midair and slammed it through for the 54-52 victory. The win sent NC State head coach running around the court “just looking for someone to hug.”