Michigan State captured the Big Ten tournament title, boasted college basketball's best player and entered the NCAA tournament with the second-lowest odds to win the national championship.
Middle Tennessee finished three games out of first place in the nation's 21st-best league, lost to the likes of Western Kentucky and Georgia State and failed to beat a single top-100 opponent in Ken Pomeroy's ratings.
There was absolutely no reason to believe an upset was remotely possible in their opening-round game on Friday afternoon until the ball was tipped and the underdog Blue Raiders jumped all over the heavily favored Spartans.
Middle Tennessee's 90-81 victory over Michigan State is probably the biggest first-round upset in the history of the NCAA tournament. Of the seven previous No. 2 seeds who lost to No. 15s, none were more deserving of a No. 1 seed, none were considered such strong championship contenders and none were coached by a seven-time Final Four coach known in some circles "Mr. March."
The more intriguing question is where Middle Tennessee's victory ranks when all rounds are considered. Here's where I'd place it among the greatest NCAA tournament upsets of all time:
8. 1999 Round of 64: Weber State 76, North Carolina 74
North Carolina's first opening-round NCAA tournament loss in 19 years came against an little-known opponent. Big Sky champion Weber State entered the NCAA tournament completely under the radar despite taking Alabama to overtime during the regular season and also beating BYU and Texas Tech. The Wildcats edged the Tar Heels thanks to the combination of a scintillating individual performance and timely 3-point shooting. The hero of the win was Harold "The Show" Arceneaux, who secured his place in NCAA tournament lore by scoring 36 points. Weber State also sank 14 of 26 attempts from behind the arc including 7 of 10 in the second half.
7. 2011 Elite Eight: VCU 71, Kansas 61
VCU was enough of a long shot to get an NCAA tournament bid that the Rams went out for burgers instead of watching the selection show, Two weeks later, they beat the NCAA tournament's title favorite to go from the First Four to the Final Four. Jamie Skeen scored 26 points and VCU became the third No. 11 seed to make the Final Four, joining George Mason and LSU. The Kansas team that the Rams beat was loaded with talent, from the Morris twins, to future lottery pick Thomas Robinson, to guards Tyshawn Taylor and Josh Selby. The Jayhawks were the only No. 1 seed still alive in the bracket and appeared to have a favorable path to a national championship.
6. 1991 Round of 64: Richmond 73, Syracuse 69
Richmond had a history of NCAA tournament upsets under legendary coach Dick Tarrant, but what the Spiders' 1991 team pulled off was truly memorable. The Spiders became the first No. 15 seed to win a game in the tournament when they toppled a Syracuse team that won 25 games and captured the Big East regular season title. Richmond built a 10-point second-half lead by befuddling the second-seeded Orange with a series of different man and zone defenses. Owens scored 22 points, but it was not enough to save Syracuse from a titanic upset.
5. 2012 Round of 64: Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84
Whereas previous victims of No. 2 vs. No. 15 upsets were considered vulnerable entering the NCAA tournament, Missouri was a clear exception. The 30-win Tigers won the Big 12 tournament with three convincing victories, drew consideration for one of the final No. 1 seeds and were anointed a 21.5-point favorite over little-known Norfolk State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The MEAC champs pulled the upset by shredding Missouri's defense behind 26 points and 14 rebounds from center Kyle O'Quinn and 20 points from guard Pendarvis Williams. Point guard Phil Pressey missed a clean look at a 3-pointer as time expired, and Missouri became the biggest point-spread favorite every to lose an NCAA tournament game.
4. 2016 first round: Middle Tennessee 90, Michigan State 81
The craziest part of Middle Tennessee's victory is that the Blue Raiders kept control throughout. They never trailed, they led 15-2 in the opening minutes and they had an answer for every Spartans surge. Michigan State rose to the forefront of the national championship picture behind the all-around excellence of national player of the year candidate Denzel Valentine, the outside shooting of Bryn Forbes and the blue-collar scoring and rebounding of center Matt Costello. The Spartans (29-6) had won 13 of their last 14 games and captured the Big Ten tournament the previous weekend, dispatching of highly rated Maryland and Purdue in the process.
3. 1985 national title game: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64
It was supposed to be a coronation for Patrick Ewing's greatest Georgetown team. The Hoyas had won 17 straight games, had held opponents to 39 percent shooting all season and were one win away from joining the small group of teams that had captured back-to-back national championships. Eighth-seeded Villanova was an improbable candidate to spoil the day for Georgetown. The Wildcats finished tied for third in the Big East, didn't crack the top 20 in the final AP poll and lost its final regular season game by 23 points. But led by point guard Gary McLain and center Ed Pinckney, Villanova earned one of the most memorable title game victories in college hoops history. The Wildcats opened a five-point lead with 1:24 to go and sank just enough free throws to seal the upset.
2. 1983 national title game: NC State 54, Houston 52
Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma team was seemingly one of the most invincible favorites in NCAA tournament history, a 31-2 undisputed No. 1 that crushed opponents by an average of 18 points per game and did so via a barrage of jaw-dropping dunks. Stars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were not just future pros but future NBA all-stars. Somehow, some way, NC State shocked the Cougars when Lorenzo Charles dunked Dereck Whittenburg's last-second miss at the buzzer. The sixth-seeded Wolfpack lost 10 games, barely made it into the NCAA tournament and were fortunate to have advanced to the title game at all, having beaten Pepperdine, UNLV and Virginia after each missed free throws down the stretch.
1. 2006 Elite Eight: George Mason 86, Connecticut 84 (OT)
Eleventh-seeded George Mason had already validated its heavily criticized at-large selection by dispatching of Michigan State, North Carolina and Wichita State, but the juggernaut awaiting the Patriots in the Elite Eight was more formidable than any previous opponent. Top-seeded UConn (30-3) was bursting with future pros like Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone and had inherited the role of title favorite after No. 1 overall seed Duke fell in the Sweet 16. When George Mason lost a four-point lead in the final 18 seconds of regulation, it appeared as though the Patriots had allowed a historic upset to slip through their fingers. Instead they showed tremendous poise and eked out their biggest and unlikeliest victory of all after Denham Brown's step-back 3-pointer bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
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