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Greatest March Madness First Round Upsets

By Carlos Chacon

No sporting tournament in the United States can compare to the unbridled elation and drama that the March Madness tournament can deliver. Over the decades, there have been multiple massive upsets at the Big Dance, with most of the more memorable ones happening right in the opening round. This begs the question: what are the most shocking upsets in the first round of the national tournament?NitroBetting is ready to dish out some timely assists to our bettors all throughout the 2022 March Madness season. This time, let’s count down the five biggest first-round upsets in the history of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Top 5 Greatest First Round Upsets in March Madness History

READ MORE: March Madness No. 16 vs. No. 1 Upset History

2018: (16) UMBC 74, (1) Virginia 54 – 2018

We kick our list off with the one and only instance of a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed, and it also happens to be the most recent first-round upset to date. The UMBC Retrievers did the unthinkable by beating top-ranked Virginia and did so in an emphatic fashion with a 20-point rout of the Cavaliers despite being 20-point dogs themselves.

What makes this one-of-a-kind upset all the more compelling is just how lopsided this matchup actually was. During the regular season, UMBC scored just 39 points and lost by 44 points to a little-known Albany team. Meanwhile, Virginia won all but two games that season and by a mere combined margin of eight points at that.

2016: (15) Middle Tennessee 90, (2) Michigan State 81 – 2016

Prior to the aforementioned loss by No. 1 seed Virginia, Michigan State was the biggest laughingstock in town just two years prior when it was stunned by the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the first round.

So many bracket predictions were broken when the Spartans lost to the Blue Raiders, as nearly a quarter of all bracket predictions submitted in online bracket pools had Tom Izzo’s battle-hardened boys from MSU winning the national title. MT would then lose immediately in the second round to Syracuse by 25 points, further leaving us with one of the more infamous “what could’ve been” moments for the Spartans.

2013: (15) Florida Gulf Coast 78, (2) Georgetown 68

One storied college basketball program gave way to a rising team in Division I back in 2013, as the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles staged a 10-point upset of the John Thompson III-led Georgetown Hoyas; the only double-digit victory by a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 seed in the decade.

FGCU was just two years into their Division I tenure when they surprisingly knocked the Hoyas out of the tournament. The Eagles’ run at the 2013 national tournament deserves even more recognition, especially considering that they’re still the only 15th-seeded team in the tourney’s history to reach the Sweet 16.

2012: (15) Lehigh 75, (2) Duke 70

Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils have suffered a couple of first-round exits in the 2010s, with the first big upset of the decade coming at the hands of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in 2012. The other occurred just two years later when Coach K and the boys from Durham fell to 14th-seeded Mercer.

Thanks to future NBA standout C.J. McCollum’s 30-point explosion, Lehigh handed Duke one of the school’s lowest points in school history. Little did basketball fans know at the time as well that McCollum would go on to become a great scoring threat in the pros, whereas the likes of Blue Devils players in Austin Rivers and the Plumlee brothers all having relatively mediocre NBA careers to date.

1997: (15) Coppin State 78, (2) South Carolina 65

The oldest entry on our list also features two schools that have had little-to-no impact in the current college basketball landscape, but still provides a slice of what upsets in the Big Dance were like during the 1990s.

Older college basketball betting fans would recall that the Coppin State Eagles were pegged as around 30-point underdogs against the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Eagles would stun the brackets by beating the Gamecocks by 13 points; one of the most lopsided first-round upsets in March Madness history. Coppin State secured the biggest win in MEAC history at the time as the first historically black school to pick up a significant victory in the national tournament.

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