The 7 Biggest Upsets From the NCAA Tournament's First Weekend
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament lived up to the hype of March Madness and then some.
An NCAA Tournament record was set with 10 double-digit seeded teams winning their first-round games, including a 13, 14, and 15 seed all winning on the same day, which was the first time that has also occurred.
But the madness didn't end there, as three 9 seeds upended 8 seeds, and two major seed upsets took place in the second round.
While watching lower seeded teams win can be very exciting, not all upsets are created equal. This is evident when looking at our win probability models that we use on numberFire Live.
Win probability measure each team’s chance to win when taking team strength, score of the game, time remaining, and possession into consideration. In reference to this weekend, of the 15 games where the lower seeded team won, only seven of the teams entered the game as true underdogs, according to our projections. For example, while 11-seeded Gonzaga defeating 3-seeded Utah could look like a huge upset, Gonzaga’s win probability entering the game was actually 54.6 percent.
Using win probability as the main factor, let's take a look at the biggest upsets of the weekend.
7. (11) Northern Iowa 75, (6) Texas 72
Before Northern Iowa ended up on the wrong side of the madness with their second-round collapse against Texas A&M, the Panthers woke people up with their midnight half-court buzzer-beater in the Round of 64 to take down Texas.
Northern Iowa entered the game with a 33 percent win probability after qualifying for the tournament as the Missouri Valley Conference champions. The game was back and forth throughout most of the second half, and the Panthers did themselves no favor by missing a free throw while up by only two with 11 seconds to go. Texas took the rebound the length of the court to tie the game with only two seconds left. With no timeouts remaining, the ensuing inbounds pass ended up in the hands of Paul Jesperson, who became an NCAA Tournament star by banking in a half-court heave as time expired.
6. (7) Wisconsin 66, (2) Xavier 63
Wisconsin earned their spot in the Round of 32 with a slow, unentertaining victory over Pittsburgh, 47-43. With only a 33 percent chance to beat Xavier -- which was reduced to 6 percent when the Badgers trailed 58-49 with around six minutes remaining -- Wisconsin looked to be headed home. However, the perseverance they used to get this far came through when they knocked down two three-pointers in the final 12 seconds of game action to topple the 2 seed in the East Region.
5. (13) Hawaii 77, (4) California 66
Although Cal was slated to be without top scorer Ty Wallace and learned right before the start of the game that they would be without junior guard Jabari Bird, Hawaii’s win probability was merely 27 percent to start the contest. A strong first half led to a six-point lead that grew to 10 before Cal pushed their way back into the game.
But the resilient Rainbow Warriors fought off the Golden Bears, never relinquishing the lead, even with their best players in foul trouble. Hawaii put the game away, when an 8-2 run put them up by 12 with only 2:20 remaining. The win was Hawaii’s first tournament win in school history.
4. (12) Yale 79, (5) Baylor 75
Throughout the week, Yale was mentioned as a team that could bust some brackets in the first round. And they were our top 12/5 upset, too.
Although the Bulldogs were playing 100 miles from campus, their win probability against Baylor was 26 percent. Yale held a five-point halftime lead which ballooned to as much as 13 before the Bears clawed their way back into the game. Baylor got within one with 15 seconds remaining, and after Yale went one of two at the free-throw line, the Bears had a chance to fend off the upset bid.
However, on the ensuing possession, Lester Medford slipped, turning the ball over to Yale without even attempting a potential game-tying shot. Yale sank both free throws to cap off the four-point victory.
3. (14) Stephen F. Austin 70, (3) West Virginia 56
Stephen F. Austin won the Southland Conference tournament for the third straight year, entering as a 14 seed, their lowest seed during that stretch. The Lumberjacks were able to score their second upset in three tries, this time knocking off 3 seed West Virginia.
SFA’s win probability entering the matchup was 23 percent, and even dipped down to 8 percent midway through the first half, trailing by eight. The Lumberjacks stormed back, finishing the first half on a 22-8 extended run, grabbing the lead and never looking back. Senior swingman Thomas Walkup led SFA with 33 points and 9 rebounds. He and the Lumberjacks fell just short of an encore upset performance, as they lost to Notre Dame by one point on a last second tip-in.
2. (12) Arkansas-Little Rock 85, (5) Purdue 83
The game that registered as the most impressive comeback of the first round was also the second biggest upset, as Arkansas-Little Rock shocked Purdue in double overtime. The Trojans’ win probability was only 22 percent at the start of the contest, but they were able to hang tough in the first half, only trailing by three at the break.
The Boilermakers pulled away in the second half, leading by 14 with just over four minutes to go, dropping Arkansas-Little Rock’s win probability to just 0.23 percent. But just as the game looked over, the Trojans went on a 15-2 run over the next three minutes to put themselves back in the game.
Down three, senior guard Josh Hagins put Little Rock on his back, dropping in a fade away three-pointer with a few seconds left in regulation. After Purdue missed a potential game winner at the end of the first overtime, Arkansas-Little Rock held a slim lead throughout the second overtime to outlast the Boilermakers and pull off an improbable comeback for the upset.
1. (15) Middle Tennessee 90, (2) Michigan State 81
The shocker of all shockers during the first weekend took place in St. Louis when Middle Tennessee knocked off 2-seeded Michigan State in surprisingly dominant fashion.
MTSU had by far the lowest win probability of any team to move on to the round of 32, with just a 6 percent chance of pulling off the upset against one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. The Blue Raiders jumped out to an early 15-2 lead and took a 6-point lead into halftime. Although they held the lead for the entire time up to this point, MTSU’s win probability did not eclipse 50 percent until they grabbed an 8-point lead at the halfway point of the second half.
The Spartans closed the gap to one with 3:34 remaining, but the Blue Raiders were able to answer every one of Michigan State’s big plays. The game was all but sealed when Eron Harris turned the ball over to Middle Tennessee and Reggie Upshaw Jr. threw it down to extend the lead to seven. Both teams were impressive offensively, each shooting over 55 percent from the field, but Michigan State couldn't knock the big shots down.