March Madness could be the toughest postseason format for any sport with 68 participating teams and seven different rounds, if you include the First Four.
Every squad has to go through plenty of challenging teams with a short turnaround. Due to the format, the NCAA Tournament has become upset galore with many shocking events occurring every single season.
The madness begins with no team safe from a stunning upset. Through the years, we have seen numerous heavy national championship favorites toppled in the first weekend of tournament play.
Here are three of the biggest collapses in March Madness history.
Iowa State Blunders in Final Minutes
In 2001, the No. 2 seed Iowa State came into the Round of 64 as 17-point favorites against the 15th-seeded Hampton Pirates.
This could have been the Cyclones’ best regular season over the last 21 years with their 25-6 record headed into the tournament, but their season ended with disappointment after Hampton’s furious comeback.
Iowa State was leading by double-digits in the dwindling minutes. Hampton climbed back into the game, closing on a 14-2 run. To make matters worse, Iowa State was held scoreless over the last seven minutes.
The Cyclones led up until the final seconds, but they could not stop Hampton’s surge in the end. The Pirates’ leading scorer Tarvis Williams (21.9 points per game) capped the upset with his game-winning field goal with under seven seconds to play.
At the time, this could have been the biggest upset of all time in March Madness. Iowa State was a great squad in the 2000-01 season and had a future first-round pick with their lead scorer Jamaal Tinsley.
Not only did a potential Final 4 team lose in the first round, but Iowa State completely collapsed in the final minutes and failed to survive after their offense completely disappeared.
The Mighty Michigan State Spartans Not so Mighty After All
Ahead of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, Michigan State was viewed as a national title contender. Even as a No. 2 seed, the Spartans held the second-best odds to win the tournament.
However, their title run ended before it really even started. MSU was a complete no-show in the first round against Middle Tennessee, a 15 seed. Similar to Iowa State’s loss in 2001, Michigan State was a 17-point favorite.
There was this perception around the 2015-16 Michigan State squad that they were destined to compete for a national championship. Many predicted that the Spartans had a favorable region in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and most at least had MSU in the Final 4 (including myself).
The Spartans trailed 15-2 about five minutes into the game; the closest MSU would get to taking the lead was at 23-22 midway through the first half.
This was a complete showing for Middle Tennessee as it exploded for 90 points while shooting 55.9% from the floor. Once again, this was another shock since the Blue Raiders’ offensive efficiency was ranked 173rd.
Michigan State was a heavy title favorite and was handled from start to finish by a 17-point underdog. What a collapse this was for the 2015-16 Spartans, all of the title hype was all talk in the end.
Virginia on the Losing End of a Historic Upset
Before the 2018 March Madness tournament, 15 seeds had defeated No. 2 seeds on eight different occasions. These included some of the most improbable upsets of all time, like Iowa State’s loss in 2001 or Michigan State’s failure in 2016.
Surely this was as good as it got when it came to March Madness upsets, right? After all, in close games, 16 seeds could never get the job done against a powerhouse No. 1 seed. The top seeds had a 135-0 all-time record against 16 seeds. There was no way a region’s top team would fall in the first round, they were simply too talented.
The 2018 NCAA Tournament changed everyone’s perception of upsets when the small but mighty 16-seed UMBC Retrievers took down the No. 1 seed Virginia. This game alone showed absolutely anything is possible in March Madness.
Virginia was enjoying one of their best seasons in program history and had the second-highest odds to take home the national championship in 2018. The Cavaliers were favored by over 20 points in their first-round matchup, but lost 74-54 against a 16 seed.
The concept of any 1 seed losing in the first round was unfathomable, but the way this game went down was even more surprising. Virginia had a ferocious defense that held the top spot for defensive efficiency and were elite in nearly every defensive category.
They allowed UMBC to score 74 points while the Retrievers shot 54.2% and 12-24 from three. This was a back-and-forth game in the first half, it was 21-21 at half. Virginia was outscored 53-33 in the second half.
A 1 seed that was a title favorite was outscored by 20 points in one half… by a 16 seed. Worse, the “best defense in the country” allowed 53 points in the second half to UMBC’s offense that ranked 206th in offensive efficiency.
Virginia’s loss in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament made history. This is still the only time a 16 seed has taken down a No. 1 seed in the first round. The Cavaliers’ disappointment in 2018 March Madness is the biggest collapse in NCAA Tournament history.
Who knows how long it will take to see more unbelievable collapses by heavy contenders in March Madness? We are coming off one of the craziest tournaments in recent history.
Maybe in this year’s March Madness we could see another historical collapse that could contend with these memorable disappointments by title contending teams.