Nailing a 14-over-3 pick is a rite of passage for every NCAA Tournament fan. If you get one of those right, it doesn’t even matter if you win the bracket pool, because you definitely get bragging rights for the next year.
The 14 seeds are the perfect intoxicating mix for the bracket pickers. For starters, these upsets, though far from likely, they’re far from rare.
And there’s this: 14-seeds generally aren’t from the lowest-ranked conferences, and they’re generally teams that had solid regular seasons, instead of the ones that just got hot at the right time and ran through the conference tournaments to earn the auto bid. But they’re still very much underdogs, so there’s an element of “I’m feeling this team” that plays into picks.
And isn’t that what’s so much fun about filling out a bracket?
Here’s a complete breakdown of the history of 14 vs. 3 upsets in the NCAA Tournament, including the most memorable underdog runs and important numbers to know while filling out your March Madness bracket.
History of 14 seed vs. 3 seed upsets in NCAA Tournament
The 1986 NCAA Tournament was a special brand of crazy. It’s probably best known as the first time a double-digit see reached the Final Four — that was 11 seed LSU — but don’t forget that two 14 seeds won games that year. Cleveland State and Arkansas Little Rock both pulled off big-time upsets, beating Indiana and Notre Dame, respectively. It was only the second year of the 64-team field; in the first year none of the 14 seeds finished within nine points of a 3 seed.
But a 14 seed won again in every tournament until 1993, and those victories have continued pretty regularly. That seven-year stretch with at least one 14 seed winning is the longest, but it’s not the only streak. A 14 seed won in 1997-98-99 and the same in 2013-14-15-16. In fact, there has only been one gap of more than three years without a 14 seed victory since the tournament expanded in 1985 — from 2000 to 2004, a gap bookended by Weber State’s shocker over North Carolina and Bucknell’s stunner vs Kansas.
The memorable performances and moments are plentiful. In 2014, Mercer closed on a 20-8 run to beat Duke by seven points. In 1990, Northern Iowa’s Maurice Newby — who averaged just 4.9 points per game that year — drained a rainbow 3-pointer moments before the final buzzer to upend Mizzou. In 1999, Harold “The Show” Arceneaux dropped 36 on a UNC team with Antawn Jamison and Jerry Stackhouse to lead Weber State to the upset. Dick Vitale had to stand on his head after Austin Peay beat Illinois in 1987.
In 2010, Ohio looked like national championship contenders as they dropped 97 points on a Georgetown team that was pretty solid defensively. In 1989, Marc Brown scored 32 for Siena as the Saints upended Stanford. And who can forget the contested corner 3-point bucket Northwestern State’s Jermaine Wallace made with 0.5 seconds left to beat Iowa in 2006? Or the time in 2015 when R.J. Hunter’s game-winning triple knocked his dad, coach Ron Hunter, out of his chair as Georgia State knocked off Butler?
|1986||Arkansas Little-Rock||Notre Dame||90-83|
|1988||Murray State||NC State||78-75|
|1995||Weber State||Michigan State||79-72|
|1999||Weber State||North Carolina||76-74|
|2016||Stephen F. Austin||West Virginia||70-56|
14 seeds vs. 3 seeds by the numbers
- 21-119: Record for 14 seeds vs. No. 3 seeds
- 15.0 percent: Overall winning percentage for 14 seeds since 1985
- 14: Largest margin of victory for a 14 seed; Ohio over Georgetown (97-83) and Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia (70-56)
- 1: Smallest margin of victory for a 14 seed; six times, first by Austin Peay over Illinois (68-67)
- 2: Buzzer-beater wins for 14 seeds: Northern Iowa vs. Missouri (1990), Northwestern State vs. Iowa (2006)
- 2: 14 seeds to win at least two games: Cleveland State (1986) and Chattanooga (1997)
Has a 14 seed ever won March Madness?
You know the answer to this one: A 14 seed has never won the NCAA Tournament. But let’s talk about the two teams that made it to the second weekend.
In 1986, the second year of the expanded 64-team bracket, Cleveland State became the first No. 14 seed to win a game, but the Vikings didn’t stop there. After knocking off 3-seeded Indiana by four points in the opener — the frenetic tempo and pressure was more than the Hoosiers could handle — Cleveland State beat sixth-seeded Saint Joseph’s by six points (75-69) in the second round. And they came of-so-close to a spot in the Elite Eight, falling by a single point (71-70) to No. 7 seed Navy behind 22 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots by Navy big man David Robinson.
In 1997, Chattanooga walloped Georgia early in the opening round, racing out to a 15-0 lead and still led by 15 at halftime. The Bulldogs rallied to pull within one in the final minutes before the Mocs prevailed. And the club’s tendency to score in bunches helped again in the second round, as a 20-4 run in the second half turned a four-point Illinois lead into a Moc advantage, and they eventually won going away, 75-63. Their Sweet 16 matchup was a double-digit delight against No. 10 Providence, which had knocked off Marquette and Duke. The Friars wound up with a 71-65 victory.
Lowest seed to win the NCAA Tournament
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, we’ve seen five double-digit seeds reach the Final Four:
- 11 seed LSU in 1986
- 11 seed George Mason in 2006
- 11 seed VCU in 2011
- 10 seed Syracuse in 2016
- 11 seed Loyola Chicago in 2018
All four lost before reaching the title game. Only four teams seeded lower than the No. 3 seed line have ever won the national title: one 4 seed (Arizona in 1997), one 6 seed (Kansas in 1988), one seven seed (UConn in 2014) and one 8 seed (Villanova in 1985). No 5 seed has ever won. The Villanova story is the stuff of legend; a plucky, methodical 8 seed that reached the title game by grinding out a series of narrow wins (three by three points or fewer) and facing off against the might Georgetown Hoyas in the championship game.
It’s considered by some as the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. But here’s the thing: It makes for a great David and Goliath story, but Villanova was pretty darn good. In the 1985 and 1986 NBA Drafts, three starters from that 1985 team went in the top 30 picks (Ed Pinckney at 10 and Dwayne McClain at 27 in 1985 and Harold Pressley at 17 in 1986; Gary McLain went in the seventh round in 1985). Factor in that Villanova had already played Georgetown tough TWICE that year — losses by only two points and seven points — and, sorry, it doesn’t make for a top-five all-time upset.
It does, though, make for a pretty cool championship story.