The 2014 NCAA Tournament was pretty crazy, for sure — an eight-seed (Kentucky) met a seven-seed (UConn) in the national championship game, after said eight-seed (at one point the No. 1 team in America) had dispatched the only undefeated team in the field (Wichita State), possibly the best team in the field (Louisville) and possibly the deadliest shooting team in the field (Michigan). The seven-seed, UConn, defeated everyone’s presumptive favorite (Michigan State) in the Elite Eight, then everyone’s out-and-out favorite (Florida) in the Final Four. Louisville, MSU, Arizona — all teams regularly picked to win it all — didn’t even make the Final Four. Nuts.
Nuttiest ever? Almost.
There are two ways to look at this: you can do straight # of upsets, meaning anytime a lower-seed beats a higher-seed. This is a little bit harder to deal with, because 8-9 games aren’t necessarily upsets for most people (7-10 games aren’t often, and 5-12 games aren’t even for a lot of people because of the increasing reality of something happening there). If we’re just counting upsets (lower-seed over higher-seed), 1999 had 23 upsets (7 of those only had a 1-seed difference, i.e. a 5 over a 4) and 2014, 2001, and 2006 had 21 upsets (although 2014 had the lowest amount of one-seed differential upsets therein, with 3).
Now, we can also go by assigning point values to the difference. A 16-seed has still never beaten a 1-seed, but were that to happen, the value would be “15” (16-1). A 15 over a 2 would have a value of “13,” and so on down the line. If you assign a point value differential to every upset and then add those up, 1986 is No. 1 (105 points), 2014 and 2013 are tied at No. 2 (104 points), and 1999 is next (with 103 points).
Here’s a chart:
The 1999 NCAA Tournament — Final Four was in Tampa — was Jim Calhoun’s first championship at UConn (they won it as a 1-seed, so the overall outcome wasn’t that crazy). It’s probably best known, upset-wise, as the year that Gonzaga came out of seemingly nowhere to make that Elite Eight run that ushered in the world of mid-majors (that’s the conventional narrative, anyway). Three 1-seeds made the Final Four (again, not that crazy), but there were upsets in the earlier rounds aside from Gonzaga, such as OSU beating Auburn (a 1-seed) in the Sweet 16 (OSU later vacated this tourney run). The final was UConn over Duke — a game that ironically pitted arguably one of the best tournament teams of the modern era against one with the most upsets-against-them since 1986:
So next time anyone asks you about crazy-arse NCAA Tournaments (which admittedly likely won’t happen until next March), remind them that 1999 might have been the craziest, but 2013 and 2014 were right up there, so hopefully we’re trending in the more dramatic direction.