They say everyone loves an underdog, but that doesn’t always apply to sports – unless it’s March Madness. Every year, people look for the right upsets to put in their brackets for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. They’ll mostly be looking at the 13-4, 12-5 and 11-6 matchups in terms of seeding, but is it really an upset when a conference champion beats a disinterested at-large team?
Absolutely. And every once in a while, a 15-seed will pull off the near-impossible and make it to the Second Round. It hasn’t happened with a 16-seed yet, but give it time. Meanwhile, here are the five biggest Cinderella stories in modern Tournament history, with betting odds included.
2012: No. 15 Norfolk State Spartans (+21.5) over No. 2 Missouri Tigers
This may have been the craziest game college basketball has ever seen. The Spartans weren’t an elite 3-point shooting team, but they hit 10-of-19 on this day. And in retrospect, they had the best player on the court: center Kyle O’Quinn, now with New York Knicks. O’Quinn led all scorers with 26 points as Norfolk State beat the Tigers 86-84.
1997: No. 15 Coppin State Eagles (+18.5) over No. 2 South Carolina Gamecocks
It looked like the SEC champions were going to cruise to victory in the second half after going up by 7. Then the Eagles turned it on, scoring 38 points in the final 13 minutes to win 78-65. It’s still the largest margin of victory ever by a No. 15 seed.
2001: No. 15 Hampton Pirates (+17.5) over No. 2 Iowa State Cyclones
This is what happens when a quality team like the Cyclones goes to the Big Dance after a disappointing result during Champ Week. They were upset by Baylor (+10) in the first round of the Big 12 tourney, and they coughed up this first-round game 58-57 against Hampton when Jamaal Tinsley put a little too much mustard on his would-be winning lay-up.
2016: No. 15 Middle State Tennessee Blue Raiders (+16.5) over No. 2 Michigan State Spartans
Not even mighty Michigan State is immune from the Madness. They had a legitimate gripe about not getting a No. 1 seed last March, but their argument was rendered moot when the Blue Raiders beat them 90-81, in a game that MSTU led wire-to-wire.
2013: No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (+14) over No. 2 Georgetown Hoyas
In 2010, the No. 3 Hoyas lost 97-83 to No. 14 Ohio as 13.5-point favorites. They topped themselves three years later by losing 78-68 to FGCU, who joined Division I in 2011 after playing as an independent team in Division II. “Dunk City” went on to reach the Sweet Sixteen, becoming the first and only No. 15-seed to do so.