From True/Slant on March 21, 2010:
Where Does Northern Iowa’s Upset of Kansas Rank Among NCAA Tournament Upsets?
Pttthhhhhhht. Whoosh. That was the sound of Kansas’ basketball season going up in flames as Northern Iowa’s Adam Koch made a huge put-back layup with a little over a minute left in the second round game. Or maybe you heard it when UNI broke the ferocious Kansas full-court press, the ball found it’s way into the hands of Ali Farokhmanesh who, all alone at the three point stripe, took a moment to look around, thought what the hell, set his feet and launched the three that was the final body blow to the overall No. 1 seed. It was as good a basketball game as I’ve seen in the tournament in a long time. Kansas fought to the end. They did not lose this game. The Northern Iowa Panthers won it.
It started me thinking, where does this upset rank among the great upsets in NCAA tourney history? Clearly Top 10. Is it Top 5? The greatest ever? You can argue greatest ever from now until Dickie V. has nothing else to add, so I thought I’d compile my favorite upsets. The rule of course, being that I had to have actually, you know, watched the game, which means that, sadly, the historic 1966 Texas Western team (now UTEP) is left off the list.
Here are my 10 favorite upsets in NCAA Tournament history:
10. Cleveland State over Indiana, 1986. First Round.
Cleveland State had a really good team that year. They should have received a much higher seed than the 14 spot they got from the selection committee, so while it was surprising that they won, it was not quite the jaw-dropping shocker that the below games were. Not to anybody who had seen their games or even checked their record (27-3.) Still, Indiana? Hoosiers? Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers? Down in the first round? Gitouttahere.
9. Princeton over UCLA, 1996. First Round.
In Pete Carril’s last year of a legendary coaching career, the Princeton Tigers executed his Princeton offense to perfection. The Bruins never could close the backdoor and Carril’s team backdoor cut them to death. Coach certainly went out with a bang and not a whimper.
8. Vermont over Syracuse, 2005. First Round.
The what? The who? What the hell is a Catamount anyway? The Cats hit consecutive threes in overtime to topple perennial Sweet Sixteen dweller, Syracuse. I thought Boeheim was going to cry. It was awesome. (And I kinda like Boeheim, but still, it was awesome.)
7. Ohio U. over Georgetown, 2010. First Round.
The little Bobs didn’t need a buzzer beater. They didn’t need a miracle steal or a miracle foul or an unlikely bounce of the ball. They rolled big, bad Georgetown. They smoked them. They embarrassed them. They punched the Hoyas right in the snout and never backed down. Nice.
6. Santa Clara over Arizona, 1993. First Round.
Arizona’s been down for a couple of years, but Coach Lute Olson’s program was dominant at the time. A 15 seed taking down a 2 seed is nearly unheard of. In retrospect, it seems so easy to say, “Of course a team lead by Steve Nash won.” But we didn’t know at the time that the goofy looking, smooth, Canadian point guard would turn out to be a future NBA MVP.
5. Weber State over UNC, 1999. First Round.
Golaith, meet David. David was actually a sharpshooting kid named Harold Archeneaux who led little Weber State of Ogden, Utah over the UNC Tarheels in the first round of the tournament in 1999. Tarheels fans feel as though Final Four Appearances are their birthright. Archeneaux felt differently, despite the fact that the odds were against him — UNC had not dropped an opening round game since 1978. Welcome back to earth Tarheels.
4. Villanova over Georgetown, 1985. Final.
I considered putting this lower on the list, because it was, after all, the final game. It’s not like this Patrick Ewing Hoyas team went down in an early round or was felled by a mid-major. No. It was the final. And it was a team from a power conference. Still, context is everything. Georgetown was scary dominant in the Patrick Ewing era. They were to basketball what the 1985 Bears were to the NFL, what the 1927 Yankees and the 1933 Pittsburgh Crawfords were to baseball and what Mike Tyson at his zenith was to boxing. They seemed not only unbeatable, but untouchable. Nobody and I mean, nobody thought little Villanova (who Georgetown had beaten twice in the regular season) had a even a puncher’s chance of upsetting them. Just goes to show that if you shoot nearly 79% from the field, as Nova did that night, you can beat the unbeatable. The Main Line of Philadelphia would never be the same.
3. Northern Iowa over Kansas, 2010. Second Round.
Kansas held the lead for only about 40 seconds of this game. They were not merely A No. 1 seed, but THE No. 1 seed. Plus, Northern Iowa gets points for taking down UNLV in a mini-upset in the first round on a spectacular 3-point shot by Ali Farokhmanesh with time ticking away. And also for not crumbling against Kansas in the last few minutes of the game, when it would have been so easy to panic. So now we all get to say Ali Farokhmanesh for another week. God, I hope they win in the Sweet 16 because I really, really like rolling that name around on my tongue.
2. NC State beats Houston, 1983. Final.
Like the Georgetown-Villanova final, I thought about moving this down the list, because it was a final, but it remains one of the most memorable moments in all of college basketball history. This game had everything. A buzzer beater dunk. A dominant favorite loaded with NBA talent whose margin of victory that season had averaged around 18 points. An catchy, timeless nickname in Phi Slamma Jamma. And a charismatic coach. If I close my eyes, I can see Lorenzo Charles dunking Dereck Whittenberg’s missed Hail Mary, all holy hell breaking loose on the floor, and Jim Valvano in his greyish, tweedy jacket and red tie, racing around the court, just looking for somebody to smother in a bear hug. Okay, if I turn on ESPN this time of year, I can probably see it too, but the over-saturation doesn’t diminish the greatness of the original moment. It is perhaps the single most enduring image in the history of the tournament.
1. George Mason’s run, 2006. Multiple rounds.
On their way to the Final Four, they took down Michigan State, UNC, Wichita State, and UConn before they lost to eventual national champ Florida. The Patriots get the top spot because theirs was not merely a one game upset, but rather the upsets of three huge programs, a steady march through the tournament. It took an overtime period against UConn before they got to cut down the nets on their way to the Final Four. Their run is so miraculous, they’ve become shorthand for a Cinderella capable of making an extended run. Every year since, every bracket preview show poses this question to the panel: Who will be the next George Mason? Rarified air indeed.