The Biggest NCAA Tournament Bracket Upsets of the 2010s
Brackets were busted.
As we take stock of the 2010s, men’s basketball’s “big dance” provided a number of NCAA Tournament bracket upsets. You may ask, how was it possible for you to pick just a top five? The answer is that we didn’t: it’s a top ten.
Upsets are not uncommon in the events known as “March Madness.” When an 11 seed topples a six, that’s an upset, sure, but is it really one that will make its way onto a top-ten all-decade list? Find out in a minute, but these are the David vs. Goliath upsets that rocked college basketball. We are sure you already know what one of them is. You may even remember watching all of these games.
The upsets, ranked from tenth to first, come from NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournaments between 2010 and 2019.
The Top Ten NCAA Tournament Bracket Upsets of the 2010s
#10: Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia (2016)
Don’t say that Stephen F. Austin’s win over West Virginia was stone cold. First, that was about Steve, not Stephen. Second, that would most likely violate a trademark. We’ll tell you what it was, however: an exciting win by a program with a funny name. This was a victory of a number 14 seed over a three, West Virginia, that had aspirations of going deep into March.
Fans of the sport who were plugged into the tournament remember Thomas Walkup drilling a late three, sticking out his tongue, and leading SFA to victory. By then, the game was already in hand, but that was the Lumberjacks flipping the Mountaineers one last bird for the road. It was a long trip back to Morgantown for West Virginia after that game, one in which the Mountaineers took victory for granted.1
This mighty Southland team from Nacogdoches, Texas went on to a 76-75 loss to Notre Dame in the Round of 32, showing in the process that their upset was no fluke.
#9: Georgia State over Baylor (2015)
How many brackets melted down after Baylor got upset in 2015? Ours did, and the ending of a successful season was dramatic and painful for the Bears. With under three seconds left and a 56-54 Baylor lead, RJ Hunter of Georgia State drained a very deep three to put the Panthers ahead once and for all.2 The surrender cobras went up at that moment in Waco and at the arena among people in green and gold. They wondered how they could lose to a Sun Belt team like Georgia State.
The Panthers, hailing from Atlanta, went no further than the second round in the 2015 tournament.
#8: VCU over Kansas (2011)
The VCU Rams faced a lot of adversity to get to their game against Kansas, which was far from a first-round game. First, they were one of the original “First Four” teams as the field expanded to 68; some did not feel they deserved their at-large bid. Then VCU had to start slaying high-profile opponents from major conferences. In the First Four, VCU beat USC. Then they navigated through Georgetown, Purdue, and Florida State to make it to the Elite Eight.
Waiting at the end of that road for them were the Kansas Jayhawks, perennial national championship contender and blue-blood program. It was a matchup of a one vs. an 11, and this time, the 11 won. VCU defeated the elite Jayhawks by a 71-61 score to advance to the Final Four. The game was not particularly close, either, as VCU led most of the way.
Coach Shaka Smart made his name that season, eventually upgrading to a job as the head man at Texas. His Rams did not make the national championship game, but they did make a Cinderella run for the ages.
#7: Cornell over Wisconsin (2010)
Cornell is a team that managed two NCAA Tournament bracket upsets. It was one thing for Cornell, an Ivy League school led by Steve Donahue, to pull a 12-5 upset over Temple, themselves a mid-major team. It was quite another for them to annihilate 4-seed Wisconsin of the Big Ten in the Round of 32 to make the Sweet Sixteen. Donahue’s Big Red three-pointed the Badgers right out of the tournament, also shooting 61 percent from the floor overall against what is usually a stingy Wisconsin defense.3
Cornell could not withstand Kentucky in the regional semifinal, but Donahue went on shortly thereafter to become the coach at Boston College.
#6: Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown (2013)
You may not remember much about the game itself, or about what kind of team Georgetown was in 2013, but you remember “Dunk City.”
The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, an Atlantic Sun team playing in their first NCAA Tournament game, beat the 2-seeded Georgetown Hoyas in a 78-68 decision in Philadelphia. Many Hoyas fans made the journey to see this contest, but it was the FGCU fanbase from Fort Myers that went home happy. It was a remarkable tournament debut for a team nobody thought would last.
The story got even better for the Eagles, who then beat San Diego State in the Round of 32. As of 2019, they are the lone 15 seed to ever make the Sweet Sixteen.