These days, the first round of the NCAA tournament is actually what’s known as the first four, where no upsets can occur, with the real stuff and the actual best of 64 beginning in the second round. To this day, no number one seed has ever lost to a #16 seeded team, but we’ve had six upsets of a 15th seed over a number 2, including twice last season, with Duke losing to Lehigh and Missouri dropping a game to Norfolk State.
Prior to that, we’ve seen some huge upsets going back to 1991 with Richmond over Syracuse, Santa Clara over Ariznoa, Coppin State over South Carolina and Hampton against Iowa State.
Lehigh over Duke
In 2012, Lehigh, a team from the Patriot League, finishing their season at 27-8 and second in their conference, lucking out by beating Bucknell for the conference tournament title, beat Duke 75-70. Duke, a number two seed, with a 13-3 record in the ACC, and were ranked as the #6 team in the nation before the tournament. For Lehigh, it was only their fifth appearance in the tournament, and first ever win in it. For Duke, it was the first time since 2008 that they didn’t make it into the Sweet Sixteen.
Norfolk State over Mizzou
Missouri weren’t expected to go far as Duke, but the Tigers were the Big 12 conference champions, ranked as 8th by the selection committee. They were 14-4 in the Big 12 and ranked #3 in the nation by the AP poll. Norfolk State, from the MEAC, finished second in their conference but won the tournament, giving them their first ever berth in the NCAA tourney against a team that was on its fourth consecutive trip. Norfolk State ended up winning 86-84 with Kyle O’Quinn being a national darling for a minute after 26 points and 14 rebounds.
Hampton over Iowa State in 2001
For the Hampton Pirates coming out of the MEAC, it was their first ever appearance in the tournament. They won both the regular season title and conference tournament, but no one expected them to beat the Big 12 champions, Iowa State, led by future NBA point guard Jamaal Tinsley. The Cyclones were ranked 10th in the nation going into the tournament, but took a brutal beating, losing by one point as Hampton’s star, Travis Williams scored 16 points and led Hampton to their only round of 32 appearance.
Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997
It wasn’t the first appearance in the tournament for the Eagles, being somewhat of a MEAC force in the 1990’s, but still, no one thought they’d be beating the SEC champions, as South Carolina lost only conference game during the regular season. In the end, it wasn’t even close – Coppin State won 78-65, as Danny Singletary and Antoine Brockington combined for 42 points to pull off the huge upset, and Coppin State’s only tournament win to date.
Santa Clara Beating Arizona
The Broncos, with a very young Steve Nash, weren’t exactly new to the tournament in 1993, having gone to it 8 time before (but not a single time since Nash left in 1996); They needed to win the WCC tournament in order to get in after losing five times in conference play. Arizona on the other hand were Pac-10 champions, losing only once during the season under Lute Olson, with Damon Stoudamire starring at point guard. In the game, Santa Clara won 64-61 with Nash scoring 10 points on a terrible 1-7 from the field, but 8-10 from the line.
Richmond beating Syracuse in 1991
The pattern continues, as Richmond, losing four times in the CAA during the regular season, make it into the tournament for the fifth time thanks to winning the conference tournament. Syracuse come from the much stronger Big East, also with four losses, and with Billy Owens on his last season in College as their big star. As most Jim Boheim teams do in the tournaments, they messed up, despite 22 points from Owens, as Richmond pulled off the 73-69 upset.