How 8 Teams Pulled Off Big Upsets in the Tournament by Wes Kosel
There were a lot of great upsets in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. There were also a lot of great moments – Wisconsin hitting a buzzer beater to beat Xavier, Notre Dame tipping the ball in at the end to beat Stephen F. Austin, and Texas A&M coming back from 12 down with less than a minute left against Northern Iowa. All of these moments are what makes March Madness so great. In this article, we will dive into how eight teams busted brackets and pulled off huge upsets. (I limited it to eight putting only #11 seeds or higher into the mix, Wisconsin over Xavier could have been put down as an upset, as well as VCU winning in the first round, etc.) The upset reviews are in alphabetical order, it’s up to you to decide which one was the biggest upset.
Included with each review is a video playbook. The full PDF playbook of Upset X’s & O’s can be downloaded at the bottom of the page.
#12 Arkansas – Little Rock vs. #5 Purdue
I was fortunate enough to be at this game in Denver. Little Rock was hanging in it the entire game, but it felt like the Trojans just didn’t have enough to come back and beat Purdue. Purdue seemingly started playing “not to lose”, and Little Rock started gaining momentum quickly. In a flash, the Trojans forced the game into overtime and pulled off the upset.
#11 Gonzaga vs. #3 Utah
It wasn’t a huge surprise that Gonzaga beat Seton Hall in the first round of the tournament, but not many people had the Zags defeating Utah in the second round. For one, people questioned the bigs for Gonzaga against Jakob Poeltl. Second, they weren’t sure how well the guards from Gonzaga would match up against Utah’s defense. Mark Few and his Bulldogs proved everyone wrong, and handled the Utes easily.
#13 Hawaii vs. #4 Cal
If you listened to any of the sports talk shows before the tournament, almost everyone told you to watch out for Cal’s pro talent. I even heard several experts say that Cal was the most talented team in the tournament field. Hawaii didn’t get the memo, however, and beat Cal in an upset that no none saw coming. The Rainbow Warriors did a good job using their length and speed at the big position.
#15 Middle Tennessee State vs. #2 Michigan State
Perhaps the most shocking of upsets, Middle Tennessee State was the ultimate bracket buster beating a strong championship contender in Michigan State. Myself, and many others, had the Spartans winning it all. I mean, why wouldn’t you? Tom Izzo’s team has balance, toughness, and a star player. Coach Kermit Davis had something to add though, his Blue Raiders were tough and balanced too. MTSU was able to pull off this upset with remarkable shooting and rebounding.
#11 Northern Iowa vs. #6 Texas
This wasn’t a huge upset by the true definition, but it was still a small conference vs. big conference battle in favor of the Longhorns. Plus, Shaka Smart was the expert in upsets, right? Coach Ben Jacobson led his Panthers to perhaps the most thrilling game in the tournament winning on a half court buzzer beater. Unfortunately, Northern Iowa was on the other end of a crazy game against Texas A&M in the Round of 32.
#14 Stephen F. Austin vs. #3 West Virginia
This upset had the most traction, as SFA had done it before with a tournament upset over VCU a couple of years ago. Brad Underwood was and is a hot coaching name, and Oklahoma State jumped on board hiring him as the next head coach. This game had a lot of storylines behind it, Underwood and Huggins coaching together, similar defensive styles, and a great senior player for the Lumberjacks in Thomas Walkup. The upset over WVU (and the game against Notre Dame) proved to be everything we wanted out of a Cinderella matchup. (This video is much more comprehensive and includes video from Stephen F Austin’s last four games).
#11 Wichita State vs. #6 Arizona
Once again, Wichita State by themselves aren’t really an “upset team” this season, but going up against Sean Miller’s Arizona powerhouse put the Shockers back into the underdog role. The Shockers controlled this game from the tip, and made Sean Miller sweat a little bit (or a lot). Gregg Marshall proved why he is one of the best coaches in college basketball winning in convincing fashion over the Wildcats.
#12 Yale vs. #5 Baylor
This game was a favorite upset pick coming into the tournament, but how many thought it was actually going to happen? Everyone knew the formula: Yale needs to shoot well against Baylor’s zone. However, Yale did something even more impressive, they out-rebounded the huge, athletic Baylor Bears. Yale ran some great actions against the zone, including some horns sets.
All of these upsets were impressive, and some coaches really put their names on the map. Brad Underwood has already made the jump to Big 12 Oklahoma State, and it looks like Chris Beard (Little Rock) may be making a jump soon as well. Just two seasons ago, Beard was coaching at Division II Angelo State in Texas and now is one of the hottest names in college basketball. Eran Ganot and James Jones built up their resumes, and with some more success in the coming years they could make a jump to bigger jobs. Mark Few, Gregg Marshall, and Ben Jacobson added to the great history of their programs. If any of those three want to leave, any Big 5 Conference school would love to have them. Lastly, Kermit Davis made the most of a tournament appearance with perhaps the biggest upset we have seen in the NCAA Tournament. We have seen many upsets with #15 seeds winning, but rarely against as strong of a favorite to win the whole thing as the Spartans were. The Blue Raiders did so by sticking to the game plan and making the most of their opportunity. That’s why we play the game, right?
This playbook features plays from Little Rock, Gonzaga, Hawaii, Middle Tennessee, Northern Iowa, Wichita State, and Yale.
This 20 page playbook features a comprehensive breakdown of Brad Underwood’s offense at Stephen F. Austin.