Column: Underdogs run wild in the big dance

David Leffler

The NCAA tournament is upon us, and with it comes a welcome dose of chaos.

As usual, the big dance was full of surprises last year, including Wichita State becoming the first No. 9 seed to reach the Final Four since 1979.

With madness sure to ensue following the tip-off of Thursday’s games, here’s a look at some of the great first-round upsets of years past.

Although we have yet to see a No. 16 seed down a No. 1 seed, matchups between No. 15 seeds and No. 2 seeds have had their share of wild games. One of the marquee first-round upsets came in 1993, when Steve Nash and Santa Clara shocked the world by toppling Arizona 64-61. Prior to 2011, though, Nash and Co. were only one of four No. 15 seeds to survive the first round — giving the group a combined 4-104 record.

Since then, three No. 15 seeds have won games in the past two tournaments, including Florida Gulf Coast last March. who alley-ooped their way to an easy 78-68 win over Georgetown.

The matchups between No. 14 seeds and No. 3 seeds have been more generous to the underdogs. The favorites have lost 17 times since 1985, including last year when Harvard downed New Mexico en route to its first tournament victory in school history. Another classic upset took place in 2005, when Bucknell shocked Kansas in a thriller.

This year, keep an eye on North Carolina Central. Despite their modest seeding, the Eagles have an explosive offense and own a 15-1 conference record. If any No. 14 seed has a chance to advance, it’s them.

Though the gap between No. 4 seeds and No. 13 seeds is large, things have not played out that way. A No. 13 seed has advanced 25 times in tournament history. The most historic upset in this seeding matchup came in 1996, when Princeton ousted defending champion UCLA 43-41 to send shock waves throughout the nation.

At this point, victories by No. 12 seeds over No. 5 seeds shouldn’t come as a surprise — three teams pulled off the upset last year alone, making it 25 times in the past 15 years. A few 12 seeds to watch are Harvard and North Carolina State. 

Without a doubt, there will be a handful of surprises this year. Some seem fairly predictable — NC State is a popular upset pick — but there is bound to be a team or two that comes out of nowhere to pull off a shocker. Until then, cross your fingers and pray an underdog doesn’t bust your bracket in one fell swoop.