Every 16 seed to upset a 1 seed in March Madness

No. 1 seeds are heavily favored in March Madness. How many 16 seeds have managed to knock off a top dog in NCAA Tournament history?

G Jairus Lyles, UMBC Retrievers. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
G Jairus Lyles, UMBC Retrievers. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

One of the best parts of March Madness is filling out your bracket and trying to find those upsets that will shake up the NCAA Tournament. The most popular one to call is the 12-5 upset, one that occurs on a nearly annual basis, but the biggest upset possible is for a 16 to take down a 1.

It makes sense that 16 seeds don’t beat 1’s very often because these are the worst teams in the field taking on the best. 16-seeds are a whopping 1-147 against 1-seeds since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but the one upset was a massive one.

How many 16 seeds have won an NCAA Tournament game?

There have been two No. 16 seeds who have won a game in March Madness, UMBC becoming the first to do so in 2018 and the Farleigh Dickinson following suit in 2023.

The first 16-over-1 victory was a historic one as UMBC blew up the 2018 bracket by shocking Virginia in a 74-54 blowout that set Twitter on fire. The Cavaliers weren’t just a 1-seed, but the overall top seed in the bracket, so this upset was truly monumental.

The absence of future NBA lottery pick DeAndre Hunter, who had to sit out with a left wrist fracture, was a bigger deal than anyone could have imagined for Virginia. The Retrievers also shot the lights out, going 12-of-24 from beyond the arc to set the stage for their dramatic upset.

FDU then got in on the action and blew up brackets in 2023 with an upset of No. 1 seed Purdue in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. The Knights' 63-58 victory was highlighted by forcing the Boilermakers to commit 16 turnovers and, even with big man and National Player of the Year Zach Edey putting up 21 points, holding Purdue to just 35.8% shooting from the field. Sean Moore led the way for Farleigh Dickinson with a 19-point performance.

Has a 16 seed ever made the Sweet 16 in March Madness?

Unfortunately, the 16-seed magic has only ever lasted for one game as the farthest a No. 16 seed has ever gone is the Second Round of March Madness.

The Cinderella run lasted just one more night for UMBC, which played hard against Kansas State before falling 50-43 in the Round of 32. Things turned out alright for Virginia as well since the Cavaliers rebounded from this disappointment to win the national championship the very next year.

As for FDU, they ran into another Cinderella in the Second Round in a matchup with No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic. It was a spirited effort from the Knights, but they ultimately fell, 78-70, as the Owls began their run to the Final Four.

UMBC and FDU still sit alone in history but, after two 16-over-1 upsets in the span of five NCAA Tournaments, perhaps we're due to see it more frequently in the coming years.