What’s the best part of the NCAA tournament? It’s the upsets. They are what we remember from year to year.
Think about past tourneys. We all recall where we were when Bryce Drew shot Valpo over Ole Miss in 1998. Same for Santa Clara over Arizona in 1993. Richmond over Syracuse in 1991. N.C. State over Houston in 1983. Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997. Villanova over Georgetown in 1985. Hampton over Iowa State in 2001. George Mason over UConn in 2006. Princeton over UCLA in 1996. Duke over UNLV in 1991.
Last March added plenty to the upset lore, as we saw two No. 15 seeds dump No. 2 seeds, with Norfolk State beating Missouri and Lehigh shocking Duke.
With the NCAA tourney about to tip off in full force on Thursday, here’s a look at eight of the most memorable Big Dance upsets involving Big Ten teams since the NCAA tournament became a 64-team event in 1985.
No. 14 Northwestern State 64, No. 3 Iowa 63, 2006. The Hawkeyes’ last NCAA tourney appearance was a painful one. An Iowa team with Greg Brunner, Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner had a 17-point lead with less than nine minutes to play. But Northwestern State rallied to close the gap. Then, it happened: The Demons’ Jermaine Wallace grabbed a loose ball, shot a 3-pointer from the corner … and it went in. After the loss, rumors swirled that Steve Alford would leave to take the Indiana job. It didn’t happen for him.
No. 14 Cleveland State 83, No. 3 Indiana 79, 1986. Vikings coach Kevin Mackey had an excellent plan: play fast to take advantage of Cleveland State’s edge in quickness over the Hoosiers. It worked. Eric Mudd notched 16 points in a reserve role for the Vikings, downing Steve Alford and Winston Morgan and Co.
No. 14 Austin Peay 68, No. 3 Illinois 67, 1987. “Let’s go, Peay!” The game was tied at halftime, but ESPN’s Dick Vitale was so convinced Illinois would prevail that he proclaimed that he would stand on his head if the Governors went on to win. They did, and he didn’t. APSU’s Tony Raye sank two late free throws to shock the Fighting Illini and Ken Norman and Doug Altenberger.
No. 8 Villanova 59, No. 1 Michigan 55, 1985. The Wolverines were one of the biggest victims to fall to the Wildcats during their improbable run to the NCAA title. Michigan was the Big Ten champ, but Villanova’s Dwayne McClain tallied 20 points. Meanwhile, Michigan star Roy Tarpley was rationed to two second-half points after scoring 12 in the opening 20 minutes.
No. 13 Richmond 72, No. 4 Indiana 69, 1988. The Hoosiers became the first defending national champ to lose in the opening round in seven seasons. No doubt, IU could have used Steve Alford and Daryl Thomas off the 1986-87 squad. Indiana had a chance to force overtime at the buzzer but missed the shot, sending Rick Calloway, Dean Garrett and Jay Edwards home. The Spiders went on to beat No. 5 Georgia Tech in the next round.
No. 14 Weber State 79, No. 3 Michigan State 72, 1995. Sadly, this was legendary coach Jud Heathcote’s final game as Spartans coach. Shawn Respert, Jamie Feick and Eric Snow couldn’t close the deal in this tough loss. Tom Izzo took over as coach next season. The rest is history in East Lansing.
No. 14 Chattanooga 75, No. 6 Illinois 63, 1997. The Mocs were hot—and motivated. Chattanooga dumped Georgia in the first round and then knocked off Illinois. And the Mocs had extra incentive after hearing the Illinois figured it had an easy path to the Elite Eight after Duke was knocked out of the tourney earlier. This was a tough loss for Kiwane Garris, Chris Gandy and Matt Heldman.
No. 8 Georgia 76, No. 1 Purdue 69, 1996. No. 1 seeds don’t usually stumble in the second round. The Boilermakers–coming off a third consecutive Big Ten title–did. In fact, a Purdue team led by Brad Miller, Chad Austin and Roy Hairston almost got beat by No. 16 Western Carolina in the first round, winning only 73-71.