The Biggest March Madness Busts That We All Remember… and Hate
by Stuart Kirsch
Selection Sunday, like just about every other facet and tangent of the sports world, has become a media and fan event. Experts, talking heads, special guests, and locker room remotes are part of the ritual. Nonetheless, bracketology, complete with computer rankings and committee seedings, remains an imperfect science.
The nationally ranked No. 1 team—and a No. 1 seed in the tournament—has won the championship 21 times; Kentucky is both the first and most recent, in 1949 and 2012. Since the seeding system was started in 1979, a No. 1 seed has won the tournament 24 times, just under half the time. That leaves a lot of top-ranked teams lying in the gutter of history.
The Biggest of the March Madness Busts: No. 16 Beats No. 1
No one can object to selecting the number-one ranked 2018 Virginia Cavaliers as the biggest bust in NCAA tournament history. Virginia was ranked first in the AP poll at the end of the regular season, posting a 28-2 regular season record, 17-1 in the ACC. They swept through the ACC tournament, and were named the top seed in the South Regional and the top overall seed.
They ran into a buzzsaw in 16-seed University of Maryland Baltimore County–in the school’s second-ever tournament appearance–falling 74-54. Overall, number-one seeds are 139-1 versus sixteen seeds.
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The Fall of Phi Slamma Jamma
The University of Houston Cougars of the early 1980’s created a new style of collegiate play. They played freewheeling and frenetic fast-paced ball, and prized the dunk as a high-percentage shot. Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Michael Young were among the most prolific players of the Phi Slamma Jamma era, who were built to win multiple championships. In the 1982 tournament, the Cougars lost to a North Carolina team featuring Michael Jordan and James Worthy in the semi-finals.
The 1984 version lost to Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas in the final game. But the nadir of Phi Slamma Jamma has to be the 1983 tournament bust. Houston entered the dance as the number one ranked team in the nation and the overall number one seed with a 25-2 regular season mark, undefeated in conference play, including the Southwest Conference tournament.
They cruised to the Final Four and beat Louisville to reach the final game against NC State. The sixth-seeded Wolfpack won victory on a last second dunk to keep the Cougars zero-for-championships.
2011 Upset Central
The 2011 March Madness tournament was one of the most upsetting in hoops history. Eleven-seed Marquette downed three-seed Syracuse to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Eleven-seed Virginia Commonwealth also tossed a three-seed in Purdue. None of the four regional number-one seeds made it to the Final Four. AP number one Ohio State lost to four-seed Kentucky, Kyrie Irving’s Duke to five-seed Arizona, 28-win Pittsburgh to eight-seed Butler.
But the biggest bust belongs to Big 12 champion Kansas, featuring Marcus and Markieff Morris among half a dozen players selected in the NBA draft. Kansas was only one-seed to make it to the regional finals, where they lost to upstart number eleven seed Virginia Commonwealth by ten points.
Failure to Repeat
Patrick Ewing, one of the legendary big men who dominated college basketball, led his Georgetown Hoyas to the 1984 National Championship, and expected to repeat in the 1985 tournament. John Thompson coached the team, which also featured David Wingate and Reggie Williams. The Hoyas were the preseason top-ranked team and entered the tourney top-ranked at 30-2 and Big East champions.
Georgetown ran the table in the East Region and winning its games against the sixteen, eight, four, and two seeds in the only time in NCAA tournament history in which an entire region went chalk. Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Villanova Wildcats, led by Ed Pinckney, brought the eraser to the final game with their Big East rivals, coming away with a two-point upset victory.
Tarheels Stuck in the Mud
Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith had led North Carolina to an incredible 13 consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances, including four Final Fours and titles in both 1982 and 1993. Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, and Eric Montross led the defending champions as the preseason number one and then top seed entering the tournament. The Tar Heels easily defeated number sixteen Liberty in the opening round, but inexplicably went bust against ninth-seed Boston College, 75-72.