Craziest Upsets from the First Weekend of March Madness

Written By Tommy Beason and Ben Goldman

     In the NCAA Tournament, there are always upsets, but this year was extra crazy, with 8 upsets through the first 2 rounds. While 8 upsets isn’t a ton of upsets, for comparison there were 14 upsets through the first 2 rounds last year, there were a lot of BIG upsets, for example #16 FDU beating #1 Purdue. Here are some of the biggest upsets broken down through the round of 32 including FDU’s huge win over Purdue, Arkansas knocking off #1 Kansas, #15 Princeton’s run to the Sweet 16, and more. (For context, the NCAA defines an upset as a team seeded 5 spots lower than its opponent winning.)

Deebo Davis spins around a defender to score a layup against Illinois. (Arkansas Athletics)

Arkansas Knocks off #1 Kansas

     The round of 32 had some very exciting games but Arkansas vs Kansas could have been the best of the bunch. Behind the duo of Ricky Council IV and Deebo Davis, the 8th seeded Arkansas Razorbacks squeaked past 1st seeded Kansas despite Jalen Wilson’s best attempts to stop them. All year long, the Razorbacks had two modes: overachiever and disappointment. The Hogs were good enough to beat any team, but also can lose to any team when they’re not on their game, which happened a worryingly amount of times during the season, the reason for their less than exceptional 20-13 regular season and conference tournament record. Against Kansas though, the Razorbacks were at their best, grabbing 8 more offensive rebounds than Kansas and forcing 12 turnovers. Although the Hogs’ star, Nick Smith Jr., struggled, Deebo Davis stepped up in a massive way that no one could’ve seen coming. While he had only 4 points in the first half, Davis took over in the 2nd half scoring 21 points. Davis said “this team was struggling, and we figured it out. I’m glad we figured it out at the right time.” Despite trailing 35-27 at the end of the 1st half, the Razorbacks came back with a HUGE 45 point 2nd half. Ricky Council IV also stepped up down the stretch, making a stepback jumper and 5 free throws to ice the game in the last 2 minutes. Jalen Wilson, a senior for Kansas and their best player, did his best to keep Kansas in it, putting up 20 points and grabbing 4 rebounds. Arkansas key to winning the game was locking down Gradey Dick, the freshman sharpshooter for Kansas. They held him to only 7 points, and he shot just 1 for 3 from 3 point land. All in all, it was a great win for Arkansas and one of the most exciting games of the tournament so far. Next round, the Razorbacks took on #4 UConn in what was a tough test for both teams. While the UConn Huskies came out on top it did not take away from the Hogs’ great run.


Furman Guard J.P. Pegues shoots the game winning three point shot for the Paladins to upset the 4th seeded Virginia Cavaliers. (Furman University)

Furman Upsets the Experienced #4 Virginia

     While Furman may have been a semi-popular upset choice, the comebacks, plural, which they completed could not have been predicted. Virginia kept a steady lead most of the game, playing tough defense, but shooting very poorly. The Cavaliers shot only 16.7% from three over the course of the game, showing why they had many doubters going into the tournament. Would their tough defense make up for the lack of offense? Unfortunately for the team from Charlottesville, Virginia, the answer was no. With a little less than 12 minutes remaining in the game, Isaac McKneely made a three pointer for the Cavaliers, putting them up 12. At this moment in the game, for an experienced team like Virginia, they should not lose the game. In 7 minutes, the Furman Paladins took the lead, putting themselves up by one point with 5 minutes left. After a hard fought last five minutes, Virginia found themselves up by 4 with 19 seconds left. Many viewers thought: Virginia can’t lose now. But soon those spectators would be shocked by the result.

     Furman was able to push the ball up the floor and draw a foul, granting themselves two free-throws. Garrett Hien, a junior forward, went to the line, knocking down both of his foul shots. Now in a two point game, the Paladins swarmed the Cavaliers and were desperate for a steal. Luckily for Furman, Virginia’s senior guard Kihei Clark lobbed up a pass while trapped in the corner. This pass was not the best decision for Clark as the ball landed easily in the hands of the opposing team. With two seconds left in the game, the Paladins sealed the deal. JP Pegues knocked down a three point shot from the wing, giving the Paladins the lead. With little time left and no timeouts, the Cavaliers could not even get close to scoring. The 13th seeded Furman Paladins gave the fans their first upset of March Madness, and a crazy one at that. Although they would go on to get blown out in the second round by the San Diego State Aztecs, the crazy comeback the Furman pulled will definitely be remembered by many across the country.


Fairleigh Dickinson Knights Guard Grant Singleton flexes after a big second half play for the Knights against the Purdue Boilermakers. (USA Today)

Fairleigh Dickinson Takes the Crown off Purdue’s Head

     The 16th seeded Fairleigh Dickinson Knights did not make the tournament in a conventional way. They lost by one point in their conference tournament final to Merrimack but luckily for the Knights, Merrimack was not eligible for the tournament due to their transition into Division 1. The NCAA has a rule where a team has to wait four years until they are eligible for postseason tournaments so even though Merrimack won their conference championship, they had to pass the torch to Fairleigh Dickinson. FDU was slated to play against Texas Southern in their first four matchup. Texas Southern had a lot of tournament experience and although they had a horrible record that year, they were the favorites to beat FDU. The Knights trounced Texas Southern, winning by 23 points. Although they had a major victory, no one expected them to beat the Purdue Boilermakers in the first round. One person who did have faith in the Knights was FDU head basketball coach, Tobin Anderson. He was shown talking to his team after their win over Texas Southern. Anderson said, “The more I watch Purdue, the more I think we can beat them.” Anderson could not have been more right about his inspiration statement to his team. 

     The Knights kept the game very close the entire game, worrying the Boilermakers that they would be the second ever #1 seed to be sent home in the first round (the first being Virginia, losing to UMBC). With almost 4.5 million viewers looking on, FDU was holding on to a three point lead, with 12 seconds left. The 7 foot 4 Boilermaker center Zach Edey was having a great game, with 21 points and 15 rebounds. This statline was not surprising though considering FDU’s tallest player was 6 foot 7. Although Purdue had the height advantage, FDU had the heart advantage. With 12 seconds left in the game, the Boilermakers were down by 3 and called a timeout to regroup and draw up their final play of regulation. After a few passes the ball got to Fletcher Loyer, the Purdue guard, in the corner and he took a contested three pointer, attempting to tie the game. The ball clanked off the rim and FDU got the rebound, sealing the game for the Knights. The Cinderella story came to fruition for the small school from Teaneck, New Jersey and they shocked the world.


Number 20 Tosan Evbuomwan finishes at the rim around a sea of defenders. (The Sporting News)

Princeton’s Incredible Run

     Princeton was not the best team in the Ivy League, and there’s no chance that they would be in the tournament if they had not beaten Yale in their conference tournament finals. They also had the resume of a 16 seed, but since they played in a well known conference they were able to snag a 15 seed, and that’s all they needed. They took down Arizona in the first round, and then they went on to beat #7 Missouri handily in the 2nd. No one had any expectations for Princeton coming into the season, as they lost 3 of their top 5 leading scorers from last year, but it is safe to say they have proved everyone wrong. In the first round against Arizona, they were losing almost the entire game, but kept it close enough to take the lead 56-55 with two minutes left in the game. They held the lead for the rest of the game and iced it with two free throws from Caden Pierce to win the game 59-55. This was a huge win for Princeton basketball, and their first NCAA tournament win since 1998. The Tigers defense did a great job of shutting down Arizona’s high powered offense, holding them to 55 points, almost 30 points lower than their season average of 82.7. The hero for Princeton was Tosan Evbuomwan, the 6’8” senior from Newcastle, England. This season he’s averaging 14.8 points per game and is a likely candidate to win Ivy league Player of the Year. Against Arizona, he put up 15 points and hit a late free throw to put the game away for good. Most big upsets from the first round lose in the 2nd round, but Princeton wasn’t done yet, steamrolling #7 Missouri 78-63 with help from strong performances by Evbuomwan and Ryan Langborg. Again, Princeton’s defense controlled the game holding the Missouri Tigers to 63 points, much lower than their season average of 79.5. They also played very well against Missouri’s turnover forcing defense, only turning the ball over 7 times against the Tigers defense that forces over 17 turnovers per game. Princeton’s clean, efficient basketball has left a mark on this tournament, and no one will be able to forget their incredible run.


Michigan State Spartans guard Tyson Walker showing off his muscle after extending the lead late in the upset win over the Marquette Golden Eagles. (New York Post)

The Spartans Are Moving On 

     The Michigan State Spartans in recent years have been a team to watch out for. Led by future hall of fame coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans went under the radar this season. They played some extremely tough games early on in the season and actually fared pretty well. When it got to conference play however, the Spartans went 11-8, in an extremely tough conference however, which kept them under the headlines. Heading into the NCAA tournament as a 7 seed, their expectations were set very low, with most people thinking that they could only reach the second round. Tom Izzo and his squad had other ideas when it came to this March. After beating the USC Trojans by 10 in their first round matchup, the Spartans were slated to play second seeded Marquette, who some argued was one of the hottest teams in the country. Michigan State senior guard Tyson Walker decided that he was not going to let his team go home in the second round. He scored 23 points and held Marquette’s stud guard Tyler Kolek to just 7 points. Walker certainly won this matchup and was a huge reason that the Spartans upset the Golden Eagles. With three and a half minutes left in the game, Michigan State only led by one point. From that point on in the game, Tyson Walker scored 9 of his team’s final 13 points and led the way to victory. The final score was 69-60 and the underdog Spartans proved that they were a legit team to look out for in March. 


     Although there is a lot of time left to go in the tournament, this March has already brought some crazy upsets and unmatched excitement that all of the fans were hoping for. This first weekend certainly calls into question whether double digit seeds will start winning more games in the future. As college basketball develops it seems that the gap between the elite teams and the solid teams is getting smaller and smaller. While the gap is decreasing and the blood pressures are rising, the March Madness environment always gives the fans a great Cinderella story and an underdog to root for. The real question is: who will cut down the nets this year?