Back in February of 1981, I was working the copy desk at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel when Notre Dame beat then undefeated and top-ranked Virginia and Ralph Sampson. The headline I wrote for the next day’s paper was “Yes Virginia, there really is a Notre Dame.”
Similiarly, two weeks before Christmas in 1982, Sampson and the top-ranked Cavaliers were upset by tiny Chaminade, an NAIA school, in Hawaii.
These upsets were certainly amazing, but nothing like what happened in the first round of the NCAA tournment when 16th seed UMBC took out top-ranked and #1 seed Virginia 74-54. Finally, for the first time ever, a #16 seed beat a #1 seed. Make it one win and 135 losses.
Wow, this is the granddaddy of all NCAA tourney upsets. UMBC, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, became U Must be Cinderella. Fans rocked in the stands and the streets. The school’s website crashed after the game.
You know what this is like?” CBS Sports analyst Bill Raftery said after the game. “This is like saying, well, you know, one day the aliens are going to land here and that’s going to be incredible. But in the back of your mind you’re like, ‘C’mon, man, we all know the aliens are never going to land here.'”
We all thought we knew – a 16 can’t beat a 1. Not only did the UMBC Retrievers win, they won by 20 points, scoring 53 points in the second half against the nation’s top defensive team. Virginia allowed just 53.4 points per game during the regular season.
This is beyond madness. It’s insanity.
The UMBC victory easily ranks as the top upset in the history of the NCAAs, but there have been man others. Here are the top dozen, in chronological order:
12 Great NCAA Upsets
1944: Utah 42, Dartmouth 40 (OT) — Utah originally turned down an invitation to the NCAA tournament, but was given a second chance after losing in the NIT, and after Arkansas pulled out of the tourney after two players were injured in an automobile accident. In those days there were no seedings and no 64-team field, just two, four-team regionals and a title game at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Utes were the youngest NCAA champion in history; the team’s average age was 18 years, six months. And in the midst of World War II, the team had two Japanese-American players, one on release from an internment camp. The Utes defeated Eastern champion and heavily favored Dartmouth in the championship game on a set shot by forward Herb Wilkinson in the first overtime championship game in NCAA history. Utah became known as the Whiz Kids, Zoot Utes, and the Live Five from the Jive Drive.
1956: Canisius 79, North Carolina State 78 (4OT) — The Wolfpack was ranked second in the nation when they faced Canisius in the first round. The Golden Griffins won in four overtimes. The two teams set a record for longest NCAA Tournament game that’s been once tied (1961), but never broken. The San Francisco Dons, led by Bill Russell, won the NCAA title that year.
1966: Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 — Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso) and its all-black starting five was a heavy underdog to Kentucky’s all white starting five, including Pat Riley, and openly racist coach, Adolph Rupp. Yet the Miners managed the win. Rupp “carried the memory of that game to his grave,” wrote his biographer, Russell Rice.
1979: Penn 72, North Carolina 71 — The Quakers beat top-rated UNC in the East Regionals and later St. John’s in the Eastern regional finals, and became what remains the last Ivy League team to make the Final Four. Penn would be the only team to beat four higher seeded opponents to reach the Final Four until the feat was matched in 1986 by LSU and again in 2006 by George Mason. Penn was crushed in the national semis by Magic Johnson and Michigan State, which went on to beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State team for the championship.
1983: NC State 54, Houston 52 — NC State had lost 10 games during the regular season and wasn’t expected to be in the title match. The Cougars and their “Phi Slamma Jamma” crew of Akeem (later Hakeem) “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, meanwhile, were the nation’s top-ranked team and on a 25-game winning streak. But when Lorenzo Charles slammed home an errant shot as time expired, the Wolfpack had an improbable win and coach Jim Valvano went “looking for someone to hug.”
1985: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 — Many thought the eighth-seeded Wildcats didn’t belong on the same court with Patrick Ewing and the defending champion Hoyas. Georgetown had already beaten Villanova twice during the regular season. But the Wildcats shot a record 78.6 percent from the field, missed only one shot in the entire second half, and became the lowest-seeded team ever to win the national championship.
1991: Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 — Richmond became the first No. 15 to beat a two seed The win inspired the immortal headline: Orangemen Bitten by Spiders. Other 15-2 shockers include Santa Clara over Arizona in 1991 and Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997. More below.
1998: Valparaiso 70, Mississippi 69 — One of the most famous last-second shots in basketball history and the poster child for buzzer beaters was the three pointer by Bryce Drew, left, that helped 13-seed Valparaiso beat Ole Miss in a stunner.
2006: George Mason 86, Connecticut (OT) — A suburban commuter school from Fairfax, Va., that was a dicey choice to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, the 11th seeded Patriots upset No. 1 seed UConn and reached the Final Four. The Patriots were only the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four, matching LSU’s run, also as an 11th seed, in 1986. They were the first true outsider to crash the quartet since Penn and Indiana State both got there in 1979.
2010: Northern Ohio 67, Kansas 65 — It’s rare that the top seeded team in the tournament goes out this early. But NIU guard Ali Farokhmanes, the answer to future trivia question, hit a three-pointer with 34 seconds left to ultimately doom Kansas in the second round .The top-seeded Jayhawks were knocked out by ninth-seeded NIU in one of the bigger surprises in NCAA history.
2012: Lehigh 75, Duke 70 – Lehigh, a 15 seed, engineered the upset over second seed Duke. Led by C.J. McCollum, the Mountain Hawks from the Patriots League stunned the Blue Devils and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Related Blog: Top 10 Championship Games in Final Four History
It was a battle for Jesuit supremacy when Marquette and Xavier met in the West Regional Final of the NCAAs last week. Marquette and Xavier are two of the 28 Jesuit universities in the United States, many of whom boast a proud and rich basketball heritage.
Jesuit schools have fared well in the tournament, winning six championships since the NCAAs began in 1939. In fact, five of the previous six Jesuit entrants in the Final Four wound up winning titles. The University of San Francisco, centered by Bill Russell, above, took back-to-back championships in 1955 and 1956. Holy Cross won in 1947, Loyola of Chicago in 1963, Marquette in 1977 and Georgetown in 1984. Santa Clara made the tournament in 1952, but failed to reach the finals.
Gonzaga became the seventh Jesuit Final Four entry by beating Xavier, and could become the first Jesuit school to win the championship in 23 years.
The list of outstanding Jesuit college basketball players, many of whom went on to win the NCAAs, would stack up well against any competition.
All-Time Jesuit All-Star Five:
C – Bill Russell, San Francisco
F – Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
F – Elgin Baylor, Seatle
G – Bob Cousy, Holy Cross
G – John Stockton, Gonzaga
C – Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown
C – Dikembe Mutombo, Georgetown
F – Tommy Heinsohn, Holy Cross
F – Maurice Lucas, Marquette
F – David West, Xavier
G – Allen Iverson, Georgetown
G – KC Jones, San Francisco
G – Dwayne Wade, Marquette
G – Sleepy Floyd, Georgetown
G – Dana Barros, Boston College
Nearly 40 years ago, the New York Knicks made one of the biggest trades in their history when they acquired Hall of Fame guard Earl Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash.
The Pearl teamed with Walt Frazier to give the Knicks one of the best backcourts in NBA history, and helped lead to New York to its second NBA title in 1973. They haven’t won one since.
This week the Knicks made another reach for that elusive ring when they acquired four-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets. In a blockbuster deal, the Knicks traded away nearly half their roster, plus draft picks, in order to bring Melo to New York.
Anthony will join Amar’e Stoudemire to give the Knicks two superstars on the roster for the first time since….well since they last won a championship. Not suggesting New York is going to the NBA Finals this year, but they are heading in the right direction.
Lord knows the Knicks have tried to build a winner in the two decades since their title runs. Tried and failed. Repeatedly.
McAdoo in 1976
For example, in December of 1976, the Knicks sent John Gianelli and cash to the Buffalo Braves for Bob McAdoo — a three-time NBA scoring leader and MVP in 1975 — and Tom McMillen. The feeling was that McAdoo would join four regulars from the championship days — Monroe, Frazier, Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson — along with newcomer Spencer Haywood to bring another winner to Madison Square Garden.
Well not quite. These Knicks never advanced past the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1978. McAdoo was sent to the Celtics during the 1978-79 season for three number one draft picks, one of whom was center Bill Cartwright.
Three years later, the Knicks acquired Bernard King from the Golden State Warriors for Micheal Ray Richardson and a 1984 fifth round pick. King had a spectacular but brief career in New York, and in 1984-85 became the only Knick in history to lead the NBA in scoring, at 32.9 points per game. Unfortunately he blew out his knee that season and later signed as a free agent with the Washington Wizards.
With King leading the charge, the Knicks advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals in both 1983 and 1984 before losing to the eventual NBA champion 76ers and Celtics respectively.
It seemed like Knicks were bound for more championships after they won the 1986 NBA draft lottery and drafted center Patrick Ewing of Georgetown. But despite repeated efforts to firm up the roster, the Knicks failed to bring in a second superstar to help Ewing.
In 1988, seeking help on the boards, the Knicks traded Cartwright and first and third round picks to the Chicago Bills for Charles Oakley and a first-round pick. Oakley was the NBA’s top rebounder in both 1987 and 1988, but it was Cartwright who won three championships with Michael Jordan and the Bulls while the Knicks were shut out
The Knicks kept on trying, and although the deals highlighted below made them competitive, they could never quite get over that championship hump.
Ewing Era Deals
1990 — Knicks sign free agent John Starks, left, released by Golden State
1992 — As part of a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic, Knicks acquire forward Charles Smith
1994 — New York gets guard Derek Harper from Dallas for Tony Campbell and a first- round draft pick
1996 — On Bastille Day the Knicks make two moves, signing free agent guard Allan Houston from Detroit and acquiring Larry Johnson from Charlotte in a deal for Brad Lohaus and Anthony Mason.
1998 — Knicks trade Oakley and Sean Marks to Toronto Raptors for center/forward Marcus Camby.
1999 — In a mid-season deal, Knicks trade Starks, Terry Cummings and Chris Mills to Golden State for Latrell Sprewell.
The Knicks were competitive throughout the Ewing era. They advanced to the NBA Finals twice, losing to the Houston Rockets in a seven-game series in 1994 and the San Antonio Spurs in five games in 1999.
In the past 10 seasons, the Knicks have made the playoffs just once, where they were promptly swept by their cross-river rivals the New Jersey Nets in 2004.
Are the Knicks on the championship track at last? Only time will tell, but the pieces are starting to fall into place. And the electricity is back at Madison Square Garden.
“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”
— Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929
We’re all experts in this world. We think we know it all,
We see the crystal ball. We foresee the future.
In sports, as in life, we make predictions. We guarantee.
Oh sure, they’ll cover the spread. This one’s a lock. We’re gonna win.
But for every Joe Namath there’s a Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson. For every Mark Messier, a Patrick Ewing.
“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
— Bill Gates, 1981 ____________________________________________________________________
In 1969, quarterback Joe Namath brashly predicted his Jets would upset the heavily-favored Colts in the Super Bowl. They did of course, cementing the legend of Broadway Joe.
Two years earlier, Kansas City defensive back Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson, not only predicted his Chiefs would beat the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I. Furthermore, Williamson vowed that his trademark forearm chop to the helmet – a move he dubbed “The Hammer” – would rain down on Packers receivers all day.
Well the Pack crushed the Chiefs 35-10, and The Hammer was carried off on a stretcher after getting trampled by running back Donny Anderson. Asked afterward about Williamson, Packers coach Vince Lombardi said, “Was he out there? The only time I noticed him was when they carried him off.”
“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
— Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics was one of the greatest players in NBA history. During Bird’s rookie year, one NBA general manager was asked what he thoughts about Bird.
The GM admitted Bird was a pretty good shooter and a better passer than people thought. However, the GM did not think that Larry Legend was mentally tough enough for an NBA season. Yeah right.
“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face, and not Gary Cooper.”
— Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind”
Patrick Ewing, the Knicks center from Georgetown, was famous for issuing guarantees….guarantees which rarely, if ever, came true. In 1997, Ewing’s line to the media was “See you in Chicago,” by which he meant the Knicks would beat the Heat in a seventh game at Miami to face the Bulls in the Eastern finals. The Heat won.
Ewing ended his Knicks career by guaranteeing a victory in Game 6 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers. He missed his final six shots in a 93-80 defeat.
Contrast that with Mark Messier of the New York Rangers, who not only guaranteed a victory against the New Jersey Devils in Game Six of the 1994 NHL playoffs, but scored a hat trick in the third period to clinch a 4-2 win. The Rangers went on to win the series, and then Messier scored the decisive goal in Game Seven as the Rangers beat Vancouver to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”
— Dr. Lee DeForest, Inventor of TV
After winning the overtime coin toss in a 2004 playoff game at Green Bay, Matt Hasselbeck, the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, said, “We want the ball, and we’re gonna score.”
Shortly afterwards, Hasselbeck threw the ball right to Packers defensive back Al Harris, who returned it for the winning touchdown.
“This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
— Western Union internal memo, 1876
They’re great players, Hall of Famers almost to a man, half of them named to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players list in 1997. Some were MVP and scoring leaders, Rookies of the Year, rebounding kingpins, assist champions.
And they have something else in common. They’re the Lords Of The Ringless: Hoops Edition, the best players never to win an NBA championship. Some came close, others never made it to the NBA Finals.
All are members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, with the exception or Reggie Miller, who just retired and will undoubtly make it once he’s eligible.
Some came oh-so close. Patrick Ewing (right), Karl Malone, John Stockton and Charles Barkley were all derailed by the great Jordan. Elgin Baylor’s Lakers lost eight times in the NBA Finals and he retired just months before Los Angeles won the 1972 NBA championship. Adrian Dantley just missed out on the Lakers 1980 title and was traded to Dallas months before the Detroit won the 1989 championship
LORDS OF THE RINGLESS
C — Patrick Ewing: New York Knicks’ all-time leading scorer and rebounder, averaged 21 points, 9.8 rebounds, 11-time All-Star, first pick overall in 1985.
F — Elgin Baylor: Lifetime Laker, averaged 27.4 ppg (4th all-time) and 13.5 rebounds for career, 11-time All-Star, 71 points in one game in1960, first pick overall in 1958.
F — Karl Malone: “The Mailman” spent nearly entire career with Utah Jaxx, second leading all-time NBA scorer with 36,928 points, two-time MVP in 1997 and 1999.
G — John Stockton (left): 19 years with Utah Jazz, played 82 games 17 times, all-time NBA assist (15,806) and steals (3,265) leader, led NBA in assists 9 straight years.
G — George Gervin: “The Iceman” played in both ABA and NBA, primarily with San Antonio Spurs, won four scoring titles, average 26.2 pgg, 407 straight games in double figures.
C — Nate Thurmond: First player to record a quadruple double (1974), averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds per game, spent most of career with Golden State Warriors
F — Charles Barkley (right): “The Round Mound of Rebound” averaged 22.1 ppg and 11.7 rebounds, was NBA MVP in 1993 with Phoenix Suns.
F — Dominique Wilkins: “The Human Highlight Film” spent majority of career with Atlanta Hawks, scored 26,668 points, ninth all-time 24.8 pgg.
G — Lenny Wilkens: Played first eight years with St. Louis Hawks, 9-time All-Star, 10th all-time in assists, all-time winningest coach.
G — Reggie Miller: Indiana Pacers sharpshooter all-time career leader with 2560 three-point field goals, scored 25,279 points, 13th all-time.
C — Bob Lanier: Played with Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, averaged 20.1 points, 10.1 rebounds career.
F — Alex English: Denver Nuggets, first ever with 8-straight 2,000 point season, 11th all-time scorer, won scoring title in 1983.
F — Adrian Dantley: 18th all-time with 23,177 points. led NBA with 30.6 in 1984 with Utah Jazz, averaged 30 plus 4 straight years.
G — Pete Maravich (left): “Pistol Pete” all-time college scoring champ, averaged 24.9 ppg in NBA, scoring champ in 1977.
G — Dave Bing: Primarily a Detroit Piston, averaged 20.3 ppg, won scoring championship in 1968 averaging 27.1 ppg.
C — Walt Bellamy
F — George Yardley
F — Harry Gallatin
G — Mark Jackson
G— David Thompson
F — Chris Webber
G — Allen Iverson
G — Jason Kidd
Check out Lords Of The Ringless: Baseball Edition