Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., had its public profile raised to the nth degree on March 17, 2022, for sports fans interested in March Madness. Sports news that night was raised when the No. 15 seed Peacocks took down Kentucky 85-79 in overtime. Anyone bold enough to bet Saint Peter’s pregame would have beat the Wildcats would have returned 14 times their money.
The Peacocks were 18-point underdogs. Saint Peter’s was the second team in as many years to cash as large underdogs as the 15 seed. The Peacocks became the 10th No. 15 seed to score an upset in the first round. No. 15 seeds are now 10-136 all-time against No. 2 seeds. But Wildcats coach John Calipari shouldn’t feel too awful about taking an upset loss, he’s not the only Hall of Fame coach to fall in that scenario.
Here’s a look at some of the top underdogs to cash bettors’ tickets.
Fear the Spiders
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange became the first program to lose to a No. 15 seed in 1991. The Spiders tripped up the Orange 73-69 by building a large first-half lead. Syracuse was led by star player Bill Owens, who would score a game-high 22 points and grab seven rebounds. The Orange, who were nine-point favorites, just couldn’t get stops on defense.
Richmond built an eight-point lead at halftime and never let go of the lead in the second half. CBS wasn’t showing the game initially, but switched over the feed to the game in the second half when it was clear history may be made. When the announcer told Richmond coach Dick Tarrant that 25 million people were watching, he was relieved his players didn’t know out of fear they may be too nervous knowing they had such a big audience.
How many points are you giving me?
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Coppin State, an HBCU located in Maryland, wasn’t given much chance against SEC regular-season champion South Carolina in the 1997 NCAA Tournament. The Eagles were installed as 30-point underdogs heading into their first-round matchup in Pittsburgh.
There was nothing to indicate Coppin State could be competitive, as they had lost to Illinois by 36 points, Nebraska by 16, and Kansas State by four in the non-conference schedule. But the 22-9 Eagles would soon show they were more than capable. The game was tied at 34 at halftime.
In the second half, Coppin State attacked the rim relentlessly, earning 34 trips to the free-throw line, compared to just 16 for South Carolina. Antoine Brockington would knock down 9-of-10 free-throw attempts for Coppin State and finished with 20 points to help the Eagles seal a 13-point victory.
Not just stopping at one
Other 15 seeds may make it as far or further than Florida Gulf Coast did during the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but it’s hard to believe any other team could ever leave such a lasting impression in their wake. The Eagles stunned Georgetown in the first round as 13-point underdogs. Florida Gulf Coast did so by throwing down hellacious dunks that earned them a moniker of “Dunk City”.
In the next round, the Eagles would use a 17-0 run to fly by San Diego State 81-71 and reach the Sweet 16. The coach of that Florida Gulf Coast team, Andy Enfield, would go on to have a strong career at Southern California. He would lead the Trojans to the Elite 8 in 2021.
Max Abmas missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer against Arkansas that would have sent Oral Roberts to the Elite 8. Instead, the Eagles came up several inches short of making history during a 72-70 loss to the Razorbacks. Oral Roberts’ got everyone’s attention in the first round when it beat No. 2 seed Ohio State 75-72 in overtime.
Going into the game with the Buckeyes, Oral Roberts were 15-point underdogs. The Eagles didn’t appear to be intimidated by the environment, taking a three-point lead into halftime. Oral Roberts never trailed in overtime, scoring the first five points. The Buckeyes had two 3-pointers that would have forced a second overtime, but both were off the mark. Oral Roberts would go on to stun Florida as well in the second round.
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