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Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Updated: April 30, 11:05 AM ET
When underdogs dance

Page 2 staff

You're busy filling out your bracket and we're sure you are scrupulously studying those tight No. 8 vs. No. 9 games, and those tricky No. 5 vs. No. 12 match-ups. Careful now, don't write-off early exits from perennial powers. It's March, anything can happen.

What? You don't think Sam Houston State can oust the Gators? Think twice, after all, weirder things have happened.

Have a look at at our list of the greatest upsets in men's NCAA tournament history. Then vote in the poll to crown the biggest shocker of all time.

Lorenzo Charles
NC State's Lorenzo Charles finishes off Phi Slamma Jamma.
1. NC State stuns Houston in championship game (1983)
State had lost 10 regular season games, and nobody expected them to get to the Elite Eight, much less the championship game. But the Wolfpack was on a postseason roll, having won the ACC tournament and then advancing past Pepperdine, Virginia, and Georgia in tight games. Now they had the opportunity to face Houston's Akeem Olajuwon and the Phi Slamma Jamma gang.

The top-ranked Cougars were cocky, and had reason to be. "We figure the team with the most dunks will win," predicted Olajuwon.

If only it was so easy. NC State led at the half, and overcame a 17-2 run by Houston at the start of the second half to tie the game at 52 with two minutes left. The Wolfpack then fouled freshman guard Alvin Franklin, who missed the front end of a one-and-one. State rebounded and held the ball for the last shot, but the final play went awry, and Dereck Whittenburg -- who'd sunk two straight to tie the game -- missed a desperation 30-footer. As it fell far short of the rim, Lorenzo Charles went up, grabbed it, and slammed it in with one second left for an amazing Wolfpack win.

2. Villanova beats Georgetown for championship (1985)
John Thompson
John Thompson's Hoyas won the 1984 title, but they were ousted by lowly 'Nova in '85.
Georgetown, the 1984 champions led by Patrick Ewing, looked like a lock in 1985. Villanova, the eighth seed in the Southeast Regional, never cracked the Top 20 and lost twice during the season to the Hoyas. What a mismatch.

But it wasn't.

The Wildcats led 29-28 at the half, and then played a nearly flawless second half, missing only one shot from the field. Villanova won, 66-64, by shooting 78 percent against the best defensive team in the nation.

How great was 'Nova on that April Fool's day in Lexington? After the game, they were applauded by their stunned opponents. "Any time you shoot that percentage you deserve the praise," said Georgetown coach John Thompson. "You couldn't get much better."

3. Princeton eliminates UCLA (1996)
You know why the backdoor was invented? So 13 seeds could sneak by the defending champs in the first round. Tigers, 43-41.

4. Texas Western defeats Kentucky for title (1966)
How sweet it was. Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso) and its all-black starting five, heavy underdogs vs. Kentucky ("Rupp's Runts" -- all under 6'6") and its openly racist coach, Adolph Rupp. Rupp could spot white talent -- Louie Dampier and Pat Riley were All-Americans -- but he couldn't spot the future. Texas Western, 72-65.

5. Boston College over No. 1 UNC in round two (1994)
BC ended the Tar Heels' golden era of 13 straight Sweet 16 appearances, winning 75-72 despite facing a loaded, experienced team, featuring Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, that had won the 1993 title.

Print And Pick
The NCAA Tournament brackets are set, so sharpen your pencil and get busy. Whether it's for fun, bragging rights or maybe even a few greenbacks, we've got everything you need -- a printable bracket and free entry to the world's largest office pool, Tournament Challenge, where you can form group competitions among friends.
  • Printable bracket: gif | pdf
  • Tournament Challenge
  • 6. Canisius stuns NC State, 79-78 (1956)
    Before the final four was the Final Four, before March went mad, there was still an undeniable exciting, anything-can-happen flavor to the tournament. Case in point: The Wolfpack was ranked second in the nation when they faced Canisius in the first round. And in quadruple overtime, Canisius won, 79-78.

    7. Repeat for the Rebs? Duke just says no. National Semifinal (1991)
    The UNLV Runnin' Rebels couldn't lose -- most considered them unbeatable, even in the anything-can-happen world that is the NCAA dance. But Duke's D stopped the Rebels from doing much running, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley played brilliantly on the offensive end, and the Blue Devils avenged the 30-point drubbing UNLV had handed them in the 1990 final. The 79-77 Duke victory ended the Rebels' 45-game winning streak.

    8. Santa Clara beats Arizona, clobbers the spread (1993)
    The 15th-seeded Broncos were 20-point underdogs against Arizona, who they faced in the first round of the West Regional in Salt Lake City. Santa Clara, described by the St. Louis Post Dispatch as "a motley jumble of eggheads, surfers and imports," survived a mid-game run of 25 straight points by the No. 2 seeded and fifth-ranked Wildcats to win, 64-61.

    One of the imports: Steve Nash.

    The unexpected win didn't come without consequences. The Broncos were almost thrown out of their hotel, which was fully booked with folks who were supposed to remain in Salt Lake. And there was the national media.

    "My wife wasn't too thrilled," said Broncos coach Dick Davey. "I had about 15 phone calls from reporters before 8 o'clock. Jiminy Christmas, I didn't know there were that many radio stations out there."

    It was the second straight year that Arizona had been ousted in the first round in a huge upset. In 1992, the victors had been 14th seed East Tennessee State.

    9. Little Rock ousts the Irish (1986)
    Tenth-ranked Notre Dame went into their first round game at the Metrodome 17-point favorites over the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans. The Irish played well, but the 14th-seeded Trojans played a near-perfect second half, going 15 for 19 from the field and hitting 9 of 11 from the free throw line in the final minutes to win, 90-83.

    Astounding on the court? Sure. But UALR coach Mike Newell, surrounded by the media after the game, wanted to let everyone know that this team was smart. ''The average grades of our players now is 2.3. When I got here, it was something like a 0.8.''

    10. LSU beats Kentucky, advances to the Final Four (1986)
    LSU, seeded 11th in the Southeast, had already lost three times to No. 1 Kentucky during the season. It seemed destined to be a doomed year for the Bayou Bengals -- after opening the season 14-0, they lost hot prospect Tito Horford, a 7-footer, who just up and left; Zoran Jovanovich, another 7-footer, who hurt his knee; Nikita Wilson, their leading rebounder and scorer, who flunked out; and then came the chicken pox.

    But in the tourney, they scored three straight upsets -- over Purdue, Memphis State, and Georgia Tech. Then they beat Kentucky 59-57 at the Omni in Atlanta, effectively using "The Freak," a deceptive defense devised by Dale Brown -- and became the lowest seed ever to make it to the Final Four.

    Billy Packer wrote that Brown did one of the "greatest coaching jobs in history," in getting his decimated team to the semis.