Half the fun of March Madness every year is that it yields upsets galore. The story of the NCAA Tournament is a story of Cinderellas, of that one shining moment that can turn a group of college kids into legends.
But not all upsets are created equal. Some were of the mildly-shocking variety, while others genuinely resulted in the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth for those who didn’t manage to see them coming. In that spirit, let’s evaluate the results that went against the chalk in the first two (full) rounds of the Tournament and rank them based on shock value.
(6) Baylor over (3) Creighton — West/Round of 32
Maybe this shouldn’t have been as shocking; after all, Baylor and not the Bluejays was ranked in the AP poll prior to the tournament. But Creighton was 20 spots higher in the RPI, and the McDermott show had won its games by an average margin of over 12 points while the Bears won by less than six points a game. What vaults this game to the top of the list is the blowout nature of the win. Holding Creighton to just 55 points in 40 minutes, Baylor bulldozed its way to the Sweet 16 with a 30-point victory — the second-largest margin of victory posted so far in the 2014 Tournament.
(14) Mercer over (3) Duke — Midwest/Round of 64
Duke has a propensity for bombing out of the Tournament far earlier than one might expect given their pedigree and perpetually high seeding. Just two years removed from being upset by 15-seed Lehigh in the 2012 Tournament, the Blue Devils once again were upset by a team playing above its weight class. Both teams were 26-8 entering the bracket, but Duke had played the sixth-toughest schedule in the country to amass that record while the Bears played the 233rd-toughest schedule. Yet it was the Atlantic Sun champions that pulled out the seven-point win to advance, knocking Mike Krzyzewski’s team out early yet again.
(12) Stephen F. Austin over (5) VCU — South/Round of 64
Shaka Smart’s Rams have been one of the rising crop of mid-major minnows that have roared during recent March Madness, positioning themselves as something more than just another Cinderella story. Against the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin, though, VCU simply couldn’t come up with enough to prevent the team from missing the Round of 32 for the first time since 2009. The Jacks led 36-30 at the half, and barely held on during a VCU onslaught in the second half. Missed free throws allowed the Lumberjacks to force overtime on a four-point play, and in the extra time Stephen F. Austin outscored the Rams 10-8 to advance.
(12) North Dakota State over (5) Oklahoma — West/Round of 64
Just like the Lumberjacks, North Dakota State needed overtime in their 5/12 matchup against the Sooners. The Bison, who are the reigning FCS football national champions, moved into the Round of 32 ahead of Oklahoma thanks in part to a 28-point night from junior guard Lawrence Alexander. The Sooners took 21 more shots from the field than North Dakota State, but the favorites were undone by a deplorable 34.7 percent success rate on their 72 attempts. The Bison would fall in the following round to San Diego State, but they had already made their presence felt in the Madness of the bracket.
(11) Dayton over (3) Syracuse — South/Round of 32
(11) Dayton over (6) Ohio State — South/Round of 64
Dayton certainly had the motivation in their matchup against their fellow Ohioans, having been spurned by the Buckeyes when trying to schedule regular-season games between the two schools. Knocking off one of the trendier picks in this year’s bracket, the Flyers stayed calm after Aaron Craft scored for Ohio State in the closing seconds and found Vee Sanford for the game winner. The carriage that brought them to the Round of 32 didn’t turn into a pumpkin against Syracuse, as Dayton played a similar game to oust the Orange. Tyler Ennis had a chance with two seconds remaining to end the Flyers’ run, but once his shot clanged off the rim it meant that Archie Miller’s crew had survived to become this year’s Sweet 16 darling. Dayton will face another surprise school for the chance to reach its first Elite Eight since 1984.
(10) Stanford over (2) Kansas — South/Round of 32
(10) Stanford over (7) New Mexico — South/Round of 64
Stanford is no mid-major, but they certainly weren’t given much of a chance against New Mexico’s size in the paint. Then again, we saw Harvard upset the Lobos last year, and should’ve seen the potential for the Pac-12 school to squeak by to the Round of 32. The Cardinal were fueled by hot shooting from beyond the arc, hitting on eight of their 15 attempts from three-point range, and they also took care of business at the charity stripe to send New Mexico back to Albuquerque early for a second straight year. Then Stanford followed up that victory with another solid performance against the Jayhawks, ending Kansas’ season before the second weekend of Tournament play. Though they went cold from long distance, missing on all nine of their three-point attempts, the Cardinal nonetheless clamped down defensively on Andrew Wiggins and prevailed 60-57 to see the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2008.
Tommy Amaker’s crew proved last season that they are capable of taking down Goliaths in the NCAA Tournament, upsetting New Mexico in the 3/14 matchup. This time around, the Ivy League champions once again played above their potential on paper to upset a higher seed and reach the Round of 32. The Crimson held the lead almost from the outset, forcing the Bearcats to become one-dimensional as they depended on Sean Kilpatrick to generate points. It wasn’t enough to outdo the team effort by Harvard, and while the magic ended against Michigan State the Crimson are nonetheless becoming upset staples in the Tournament.
(7) Connecticut over (2) Villanova — East/Round of 32
Many people didn’t even expect UConn to advance out of the Round of 64 against St. Joe’s in its first year since Jim Calhoun’s retirement from coaching, and once they prevailed in overtime it became even less likely that they’d knock off Villanova. Yet the Huskies didn’t waste any time against the Wildcats, turning the screws after halftime to pull away with a 12-point victory. Senior guard Shabazz Napier netted 25 and four other shooters were in double figures to fuel the upset that sent the Huskies to the Sweet 16 for the first time since their 2011 championship season.
Without the seedings in front of each team’s name, this would be anything but shocking. But the Shockers entered their Round of 32 contest with a 35-0 record, the top seed in the Midwest Region, hoping to validate their position among the elite with a win over one of the preeminent blueblood programs in the sport. Instead, Fred VanVleet’s three-point attempt at the buzzer clanged off the rim, and Wichita State was headed back to Kansas after its first and last loss of the 2013-14 season. Kentucky, a year removed from missing the Tournament altogether and two years removed from a national championship, now faces rival Louisville in the Sweet 16.
(11) Tennessee over (6) Massachusetts — Midwest/Round of 64
Tennessee had to play its way into the main bracket, beating Iowa in the preliminary round to earn its shot against the Minutemen. Once in the main bracket, though, the Volunteers built up a 19-point lead in the first half against UMass and held on to win by the same margin. Tennessee would have two players, guard Jordan McRae and forward Jarnell Stokes, score more than 20 points in the victory. The SEC afterthought benefitted from Mercer’s upset of Duke, beating the Bears in the Round of 32 by 20 points, and the Vols enter their Sweet 16 matchup against last year’s losing finalist Michigan on a tear.
(9) Pittsburgh over (8) Colorado — South/Round of 64
Yes, technically this was an “upset” in terms of seeding. But the 8/9 matchup is often a toss-up anyway, and in this particular case Pittsburgh was woefully underseeded — and playing a woefully overseeded Buffaloes squad. Though Colorado was eight spots higher in the RPI, the Panthers have been far better in neutral-site and road games this season and beat opponents by an average of nearly eight more points per game than the boys from Boulder. The Panthers were efficient offensively, hitting on over 50 percent of their field-goal attempts and missing just once from the free-throw line, and stifled Colorado’s offense en route to a 29-point victory.