Upsets happen in every sport, but it seems like they happen the most often in basketball. There are times when even a fairly unathletic shooter can get hot and knock down enough three-pointers to make a huge difference while the favored team goes ice-cold with their looks. As a result, some of the best teams from the best programs in college basketball history have been taken down by mid-majors that many have never heard of.
Whether it be early in the season or a trip to the Final Four on the line, some upsets have left neutral fans jumping out of their seats while fans of the blue-chip programs are still feeling dejected to this day. Here are our picks for the five biggest upsets in college basketball history.
Chaminade over Virginia
Prior to Chaminade hosting the Maui Invitational, they would take on some top programs early in the college basketball season for a tune-up game and a chance for those programs to get to Hawaii for the holiday season. Chaminade became a whipping boy for these teams, but that wasn’t the case in 1982 when they took on Ralph Sampson and the number-one-ranked Virginia Cavaliers.
Chaminade and Virginia entered halftime tied at 43-43, and they certainly didn’t go away in the second half. The Cavaliers took a lead midway through the half, but Chaminade fought back and grabbed the lead with just 35 seconds remaining. They held on and stretched their lead by three more points, shocking the world by winning 77-72, handing Virginia its first loss of the season.
UMBC over Virginia
Heading into the 2018 NCAA Tournament, a number one seed had never lost to a number 16 seed. Almost nobody thought that Virginia would be the team to be the first top seed to lose, but they did just that against the UMBC Retrievers in the first round of the tournament. Neither team was getting their shots to drop in the first half, and the two teams were tied at 21 apiece following the first half.
Virginia came into the game and favored to win by more than 20 points, but they came out flat in the second half, especially on defense. The Retrievers outscored the Cavaliers 53-33 in the half and went from 20-point underdogs to 20-point victors. Sadly, UMBC’s run wouldn’t last long as they lost to Kansas State 50-43 in the second round of the tournament.
Eastern Illinois over Iowa
There have been a few long shots that ended up winning despite being underdogs by around 20 points. In the history of college basketball, no team that was excepted to lose by 30 or more points had ended up winning their game. In December 2022, Eastern Illinois University put an end to that 558-game stretch by defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes.
By the time the game tipped off, the EIU Panthers were a 31.5-point underdog to Iowa, and it looked like the Hawkeyes were going to cover that spread when they jumped out to a 14-point lead within just a few minutes. However, the Panthers stormed back in a big way and wound up stunning Iowa with a 92-83 win. It’s not like EIU showed flashes of being good outside of the game, either, as they were 3-9 heading into the contest.
Norfolk State over Missouri
The 15-seed vs 2-seed matchup in the NCAA Tournament is always a bit more interesting than the 1-16 game. There have been several occasions where the 15-seed has pulled off a major upset, and perhaps the biggest one came in 2012 when the Norfolk State Spartans upset the Missouri Tigers 86-84 in the school’s first-ever tournament appearance.
The game was overshadowed a bit because fellow 15-seed Lehigh had upset Duke in the first round as Duke has a lot more detractors, but the Norfolk State win was even more shocking. Unfortunately, Norfolk State didn’t play well at all in the following round as they lost by 34 points to Florida, who eventually made the Elite 8.
NJIT over Michigan
The University of Michigan has a storied history in basketball, whereas NJIT doesn’t have much of a history at all. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the Highlanders became a Division I program in basketball and at one point became the seventh team to go winless in a college basketball season in 2008.
In January 2014, though, they defeated the Wolverines, who were ranked #17 in the country at the time. The game was close throughout and the Highlanders held onto their narrow lead for the last few minutes of the game, winning 72-70. What was even more surprising was that NJIT was only 2-5 coming into the game.