We didn’t get March Madness in 2020. I will never not be sad about it. We never got to find out which top seeds would flame out in the early rounds at the expense of a school you may or may not have heard of to the shock of everyone who hasn’t watched an NCAA Tournament before.
But we have years of collapses and falling well below expectations to look back on, and there was a wealth of squandered opportunities in the last decade past. March Madness has a long and storied history of upsets and catastrophic endings for the so-considered heavy hitters, so for this exercise, we will only look at those who broke their fan bases’ hearts the most in the 2010s.
It should come as no surprise that 2018 Virginia is atop this list of men’s March Madness busts. It is the only No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed, and it did so as the No. 1 overall seed and by 20 points. It’s hard to believe there was many worse sports postseason busts ever than the 2018 Cavaliers, let alone in the last 10 Big Dances. But who is unlucky enough to round out the rest of the top five?
Biggest March Madness Busts of the Decade
5. 2012 Duke
Duke losing to Lehigh in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament is an iconic moment in March Madness history and one of a string of early-tournament losses the Blue Devils suffered in the 2010s. This one stands out more than the other Duke upsets, though. The Blue Devils came into the 2012 Big Dance with 20/1 odds to bring a title to Durham and had higher expectations than in 2014 or 2017. Duke had finished second in the ACC at 13-3 and had Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee leading the way. As the No. 2 seed in the South Region, Duke was considered a Final Four contender at minimum.
It wouldn’t happen that way as No. 15 seed Lehigh had other plans for the Dukies. Behind 30 points from CJ McCollum, who played 39 of the game’s 40 minutes and shot 9-of-24 from the field, the Mountain Hawks amounted a 75-70 triumph over the heavy favorites that sent the college basketball world into a frenzy. The reason 2012 Duke finds itself at five on this list and not higher is because we know how good McCollum is, and compared to some of the others on this list, Duke wasn’t thought of as a shoe-in for the Final Four or national championship. This was a giant upset of epic proportions, and that’s why it’s on here. But it wasn’t the total upending of earth that some of these other games were.
4. 2012 Missouri
Only once have two No. 2 seeds lost in the first round in the same year, and fans watching in 2012 were lucky enough to witness it. That is, unless they were Duke fans, as we previously covered, or Missouri fans, as we will cover now.
Missouri isn’t a storied basketball program. Sure, the Tigers have some history, with four Elite Eights (five if you included the 1994 vacated trip) and eight conference tournament titles. But Missouri has not been to the Final Four, and entering the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the Tigers looked like one of the top contenders to reach the national semifinals.
Mizzou had 12/1 odds to win the whole thing, and there was momentum behind it. The program nearly made the Final Four in 2009, falling in the Elite Eight one game short, and was dancing for the fourth-straight season. Marcus Denmon, Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe, Michael Dixon and Phil and Matt Pressey headlined the squad, and after winning the Big 12 Tournament and finish second in the conference during the regular season, the belief in Missouri was there.
Then Norfolk State happened.
In the first round of the tournament, No. 15 seed Norfolk State shocked Missouri and the rest of the country with an 86-84 victory over the Tigers. Kyle O’Quinn had 26 points and 14 rebounds against the Tigers, with Pendarvis Williams and Chris McEachin also chipping in 20 points each. As a team, the Spartans shot 52.6 percent from beyod the arc, and it was enough to bury Missouri and its Final Four ambitions.
3. 2016 Michigan State
Although Michigan State was awarded a No. 2 seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and did not win the Big Ten regular season crown, the Spartans were one of the favorites to take home the championship. Michigan State was given 5/1 odds to win it all before the start of the tournament, the second-best shot of anyone in the field. Following another Big Ten Tournament title, Michigan State had won nine in a row dating back to Feb. 14, and largely did so in dominating fashion. In fact, the Spartans only lost once between Jan. 23 and Selection Sunday – a one-point overtime loss on the road at No. 18 Purdue – and Denzel Valentine looked like the nation’s best player, averaging 19.2 points, 7.8 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game. Alongside him were Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello, Eron Harris, Devonta Davis and more, with Tom Izzo, the king of March, as head coach. The whole country believed Michigan State would continue its great form into the Big Dance.
But Middle Tennessee was not made aware of its opponent’s coronation, and as such, spoiled the party before it could begin, 90-81. Five Blue Raiders scored in double figures with Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw stealing the show. Upshaw recorded 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, plus four assists and three blocks, and Potts hit Michigan State with 19 points on a 6-of-10 mark. As a team, MTSU shot 11-of-19 (57.9 percent) from three, antithetical to the 33.5 percent the Spartans allowed opponents to shoot from deep all season long. The storm of triples raining down on Michigan State will haunt Izzo for years to come, and Upshaw’s booming dunk in transition in the final minute to seal Michigan State’s fate will live on as a classic moment in NCAA Tournament history.
2. 2010 Kansas
Unlike the other teams that made this list, 2010 Kansas did not lose in the first round. You might think this means its flaming out of the Big Dance wasn’t as big of a bust as others, but you would be wrong.
The Jayhawks were the No. 1 overall seed and came into the tournament with 3/1 odds to win it all, the best shot of anyone in the field. Kansas was thought to be well ahead of almost everyone else in the country, having lost only twice all season long and claiming the Big 12 Tournament and regular season championships. The team hovered around the very top of the polls from start to finish of the campaign, never falling below No. 3 and playing all but eight of its games as No. 1. Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry, Cole Aldrich, Tyshawn Taylor and Marcus and Markieff Morris were the biggest names on the squad, and it wasn’t a question of if Kansas would progress deep into the tournament but whether or not it would complete the quest for its second national championship in three years.
Kansas did what it was supposed to in the first round, handling No. 16 seed Lehigh, 90-74. But it all went wrong in the second round when No. 9 seed Northern Iowa challenged the Midwest Region’s top seed. Kansas fell victim to one of the most iconic shots in NCAA Tournament history when UNI’s Ali Farokhmanesh sank an ill-advised three in transition late in the game to extend his team’s lead to four, keeping the Jayhawks at arm’s lengths and ultimately at bay. Those were three of his 16 points that day, and Jordan Eglseder and Jake Koch chipped in their own double-digit scoring efforts, too. The Panthers held Collins to 4-of-15 shooting from the field and just 10 points, enough to eek out a 69-67 win and making 2010 Kansas one of the biggest March Madness busts ever.
1. 2018 Virginia
You all knew this was coming. There was no way to make this list and not put 2018 Virginia at the top. You can’t discuss the biggest busts in March Madness history without beginning on the 2018 Virginia Cavaliers.
Virginia came in the 2018 NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and an expected juggernaut to contend for the national title. The Cavs were tied with Villanova with 5/1 odds to win the whole thing, the best of anyone in the Big Dance. Virginia won the ACC regular season title with only one conference loss, brought home the ACC Tournament championship, too, and only lost one game between Dec. 16 and the start of March Madness: a 61-60 overtime thriller versus arch rival Virginia Tech on Feb. 10. With Kyle Guy, Devon Hall, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter, Isaiah Wilkins and many more key players dotting the roster, Virginia looked poised to make amends for previous postseason disappointments.
Instead, the Cavaliers delivered the worst of all disappointments, totally and utterly collapsing at the hands of No. 16 UMBC in the first round, 74-54. UMBC’s Jairus Lyles had a game-high 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the floor, with three other Retrievers – Joe Sherburne, Arkel Lamar and K.J. Maura – scoring in double digits. UMBC went 12-of-24 (50 percent) from beyond the arc while Virginia shot just 4-of-22 (18.2 percent) from deep. The 74 points UMBC scored against the Cavs was the most the team gave up to any opponent all season long and the only time any 2018 Virginia opponent broke 70.
Considering the seasons both teams had prior to their meeting, this game didn’t make any sense whatsoever. There is no reason why UMBC should have ever beat Virginia, let alone by 20. If we could time travel and make these teams play 10 times, this would likely be the only one the Retrievers even came close to the Cavs. But, in a single-elimination tournament, it only take the one bad day to ruin a season, and 2018 Virginia knows that all too well.