Could it happen again? No one expected Auburn, a No. 5 seed, to be in this year’s Final Four. The same holds true for Texas Tech, a No. 3 seed. Neither is favored to win their semifinal matchup. If either team could pull off a victory, the upset would likely qualify as one of the biggest in Final Four history. Here are the four biggest upsets in the history of the Final Four.
The 2014 Connecticut Huskies UConn basketball had a long tradition of winning and had won NCAA titles in 1999, 2004, and 2011. The 2014 team though was not special in any particular way. Legendary UConn head coach Jim Calhoun had retired a few years prior and new coach Kevin Ollie’s team began the 2013-14 season ranked No. 18 in the polls.
When the Huskies lost 81-48 in their regular season finale to Louisville, no one believed this could be a national championship caliber team. Instead, UConn entered the tourney a No. 7 seed and proceeded to beat four consecutive AP Top 11 teams (Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, and Florida) before beating unranked Kentucky 60-54 for the national championship.
Duke’s First (1991) It’s hard to believe but prior to 1991 Duke had never won a national championship. Just a year prior, the Blue Devils did make it to the national final. They fell victim to the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV and lost by 30 points. A year later, they would have to get by UNLV in the national semifinals to have a shot at a title. The Rebels had won 45 games in a row and were unbeaten when Duke’s Christian Laettner hit two free throws with 12 seconds remaining to give the Blue Devils a 79-77 victory. It was a game Duke was not supposed to win, but they did and beat Kansas two nights later to win their first-ever national championship.
Survive & Advance 1983 Coached by Jim Valvano, the N.C. State Wolfpack was ranked in the Top 20 as the 1982-83 season began. When the regular season came to an end in early March, the Wolfpack were just 17-10. Making the NCAA tournament – which had been expanded from 48 to 52 teams for 1983 – was a long shot.
For Valvano and his players, the easiest way to make it to the NCAA tournament was to win the ACC tourney and gain the conference’s automatic bid. N.C. State would beat Wake Forest, No. 5 North Carolina, and No. 2 Virginia to win the ACC tournament title.
With an automatic bid in hand, the Wolfpack faced Pepperdine in their opening game of the NCAA tournament. Not a college basketball power, Pepperdine went toe-to-toe with N.C. State and the Wolfpack needed overtime to beat the Waves 69-67. Valvano and company would record one-point wins over UNLV (71-70) and Virginia (63-62), the fourth meeting of the season with the Cavaliers.
The Wolfpack were to have no chance against Phi Slamma Jamma and Houston in the national championship game. It game down an errant 35-foot jumper by senior guard Dereck Whittenburg. The shot came up short, but Lorenzo Charles grabbed it in mid-air and dunked the ball to give N.C. State the national championship.
The Upset of the Ages (1985) Georgetown had won the 1984 national championship and made it back to the title game in ’85. They were a heavy favorite against No. 8 seed Villanova, a team that entered the tournament with 10 regular season losses. The Wildcats were outmanned, but they would go on to shoot the lights out and win. Villanova shot 78.6 percent from the floor (90 percent in the second half) and pulled off the 66-64 upset.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.
His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.
When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.