The 2023 NCAA Tournament is now the undisputed king when it comes to the biggest upsets in March Madness history.
Houston opened the tournament with the shortest odds at sportsbooks, but college basketball fans know that crazy and unlikely outcomes are common this time of year. And we learned again that not even No. 1 seeds are safe.
No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson’s 63-58 win over top-seeded Purdue on Friday marked the biggest upset in tournament history based on the point spread. The Boilermakers entered the game as a 23.5-point favorite.
Arizona, the No. 2 seed in the South, lost to No. 15 Princeton in Sacramento in First Round action on Thursday. The Wildcats were 14.5-point favorites.
Also in the South on Thursday, No. 4 Virginia went down to No. 13 Furman, although the Cavaliers spotted the Paladins just 5.5 points on odds boards.
There is a reason we watch “March Madness” and not “March Mundane” or “March Mild”. The Round of 64 is especially treacherous for favorites — all 11 upsets below, listed in order of point spread, are from the opening matchups. Fans of the presumptive favorites should familiarize themselves with some Goliaths who fell to Davids over the years.
We’re sure to see more upsets as we progress through March Madness.
Largest Upsets in March Madness History
This list is based on point spread — the wider the betting line, the bigger we consider the upset.
1. 2023: No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights vs. No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers
Closing betting line: Purdue -23.5
Final score: Fairleigh Dickinson 63, Purdue 58
The 2023 NCAA Tournament will have its share of shining moments, but it will always be remembered for producing the biggest upset in March Madness history. Fairleigh Dickinson shocked the college hoops world with a stunning takedown of top-seeded Purdue in the opening round.
The smallest team in college basketball played the role of giant slayer, as the Knights used relentless defense to upend Purdue and 7-foot-4 All-America center Zach Edey.
2. 2012: No. 15 Norfolk State Spartans vs. No. 2 Missouri Tigers
Closing betting line: Missouri -21.5
Final score: Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84
Norfolk State matched Missouri with three 20-plus point scorers — including 26 from future NBAer Kyle O’Quinn. Falling to a team led by an NBA-bound big man may have eased the pain somewhat. However, Missouri won the Big 12 Tournament and entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll.
3. 2018: No. 16 UMBC Retrievers vs. No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers
Closing line: Virginia -20.5
Final score: UMBC 74, Virginia 54
UMBC remains the first and only 16-seed to take down a 1-seed. Not only did the Retrievers win, they delivered a blowout. This was a Cavaliers team with legitimate national championship aspirations. They were the ACC regular-season and tournament champions, and entered the Big Dance as the overall top seed.
4. 1993: No. 15 Santa Clara Broncos vs. No. 2 Arizona Wildcats
Closing line: Arizona -20
Final score: Santa Clara 64, Arizona 61
Santa Clara pulled off this upset despite shooting a frigid 37.7 percent from the field, including 4-of-22 from three. Of course, that’s possible when the opponent shoots 30.9 percent, including 5-of-15 from beyond the arc. Freshman Steve Nash outplayed fellow future NBA star Damon Stoudamire in the Broncos’ victory.
5. 1997: No. 15 Coppin State Eagles vs. No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks
Closing line: South Carolina -18.5
Final score: Coppin State 78, South Carolina 65
South Carolina was ranked No. 6 overall en route to its first-round NCAA Tournament exit. The Eagles’ 13-point margin of victory is the same advantage they enjoyed at the free-throw line.
6. 2022: No. 15 Saint Peter’s Peacocks vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats
Closing line: Kentucky -18
Final score: Saint Peter’s 85, Kentucky 79
Raise your hand if you were on the wrong side of this one last year. MAAC champion Saint Peter’s stunned Kentucky in overtime to crack the top-five biggest upsets in March Madness history.
The Wildcats had the best player on the floor in Oscar Tshiebwe, who didn’t disappoint with 30 points and 16 rebounds. Tshiebwe opened OT with a pair of layups, but the Peacocks countered with a 10-1 run. Guard Daryl Banks III played the role of hero with a team-high 27 points for Saint Peter’s.
T-7. 2001: No. 15 Hampton Pirates vs. No. 2 Iowa State Cyclones
Closing line: Iowa State -17.5
Final score: Hampton 58, Iowa State 57
Big 12 Player of the Year, All-American, and future NBA vet Jamaal Tinsley couldn’t save his Cyclones in this one. Hampton’s Tarvis Williams filled the boxscore with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and six blocks, and he put in the go-ahead bucket with 6.9 seconds remaining. Tinsley drove the length of the floor, but was unable to convert his attempt at a game-winning layup.
T-7. 1986: No. 14 Little Rock Trojans vs. No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Closing line: Notre Dame -17.5
Final score: Arkansas-Little Rock 90, Notre Dame 83
There wasn’t much defense being played in this upset bid. Little Rock’s 62.3 percent shooting from the field dwarfed Notre Dame’s 52.2 percent mark. This was prior to the three-point shot, but the Trojans secured a 24-13 advantage at the free throw line. Notre Dame star guard and eventual first-round pick David Rivers scored 25. However, three Trojans scored 20-plus, including Pete Myers, who poured in 29 in 29 minutes. Perhaps the saving grace was that Notre Dame’s in-state rival Indiana also fell to a No. 14 seed.
9. 2016: No. 15 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders vs. No. 2 Michigan State Spartans
Closing line: Michigan State -16.5
Final score: Middle Tennessee 90, Michigan State 81
The Spartans played well offensively, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent from beyond the arc. However, they dropped the ball defensively. The Blue Raiders hit 11-of-19 three-point attempts and shot 55.9 percent overall. MTSU also won the turnover battle, providing them five more shot attempts. When two teams are scoring at will, the team with the most attempts often prevails.
10. 2021: No. 15 Oral Roberts Golden Eagles vs. No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes
Closing line: Ohio State -15
Final score: Oral Roberts 75, Ohio State 72
Poor production from beyond the arc (5-of-23) and from the free throw line (9-of-18) doomed the Buckeyes. The Golden Eagles were far from marksmen, shooting 35.7 percent from the floor. However, they knocked down 11 threes and took advantage of their opportunities from the charity stripe (14-of-18). Ultimately, Kevin Obanor (30 points) and Max Abmas (29) were too much for Ohio State to handle.
11. 2023: No. 15 Princeton Tigers vs. No. 2 Arizona Wildcats
Closing line: Arizona -14.5
Final score: Princeton 59, Arizona 55
Arizona tightened up down the stretch, relinquishing a 12-point second-half lead by turning the ball over six times and shooting a woeful 3-for-14 over the final 11 minutes. Tosan Evbuomwan was the only Tiger to score in double figures, going for 15 points while busting brackets in office pools across the country.
Also read: NCAA Tournament Betting Lines for 2023 March Madness | How to Bet on March Madness