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NCAA Tournament: The History of No. 15 Seeds Over No. 2 Seeds

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In the early days of the NCAA Tournament’s expanded bracket era, which began with the 1985 tournament and its 64-team field, selecting a 15 seed to knock off a two seed was considered a far-fetched idea. However, it has happened occasionally over the years, with some of these upsets becoming legendary in March Madness lore. To help you prepare for this year’s tournament, we’ve compiled a comprehensive rundown of the history of 15-vs.-2 upsets in the NCAA Tournament. This guide includes the most unforgettable underdog stories and crucial statistics to remember when filling out your bracket.

No. 15 Seeds vs. No. 2 Seeds All-Time Stats

  • 10-138: Record for 15 seeds vs. No. 2 seeds
  • 6.8 percent: Overall winning percentage for 15 seeds since 1985
  • 3.8 percent: Winning percentage for 15 seeds in 64-team era (1985-2010)
  • 13.6 percent: Winning percentage for 15 seeds since the expansion to 68 teams in 2011
  • 13: Largest margin of victory for a 15 seed; Coppin State over South Carolina (78-65)
  • 1: Smallest margin of victory for a 15 seed; Hampton over Iowa State (58-57)
  • 0: Buzzer-beater wins for 15 seeds
  • 3: 15 seeds to win at least two games

2023 NCAA Tournament No.15 Seeds vs. No. 2 Seeds

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The History of No. 15 vs No. 2

While No. 15 seeds have historically struggled to win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — with only ten such victories to their name — the past decade has seen six such upsets occur, including two in the same year. However, when No. 15 Richmond toppled No. 2 seed Syracuse in the 1991 tournament, it was a genuinely shocking and unforgettable first-round upset. Although a handful of No. 14 seeds had already pulled off surprise victories heading into that year’s tournament, Richmond’s historic win over Syracuse remains one of the most remarkable moments in March Madness history.

Year Winner Loser Score
1991 Richmond Syracuse 73-69
1993 Santa Clara Arizona 64-61
1997 Coppin State South Carolina 78-65
2001 Hampton Iowa State 58-57
2012 Lehigh Duke 75-70
2012 Norfolk State Missouri 86-84
2013 Florida Gulf Coast Georgetown 78-68
2016 Middle Tennessee Michigan State 90-81
2021 Oral Roberts Ohio State 75-72
2022 Saint Peter’s Kentucky 85-79

Some Memorable No. 15 Over NO.2 Upsets

No. 15 Richmond 73, No. 2 Syracuse 69 – March 14, 1991

Dick Tarrant, the coach of the Richmond Spiders, had already established himself as an expert in NCAA tournament upsets by the time his team faced off against Syracuse in 1991. In 1984, his Spiders had shocked No. 5 seed Auburn and a young Charles Barkley as a No. 12 seed before making a surprise run to the Sweet 16 as a 13 seed in 1988, defeating defending national champion Indiana and Georgia Tech along the way. However, Tarrant’s 1991 squad achieved something remarkable when they became the first No. 15 seed to win a game in the tournament, defeating second-seeded Syracuse, who had been the Big East regular-season champions. Although the Spiders’ tournament run was cut short in the second round by a loss to Temple, their historic upset of Syracuse will always be remembered as one of the greatest moments in March Madness history.

NCAA Tournament: The History of No. 15 Seeds Over No. 2 Seeds

No. 15 Oral Roberts 75, No. 2 Ohio State 72 – March 19, 2021

On the first day of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Oral Roberts, the Summit League champions, caused a seismic upset by knocking off the Big Ten runner-up and the sixth-seeded team overall, Ohio State, sending shockwaves through millions of March Madness brackets. To achieve this stunning victory, the Golden Eagles relied heavily on two standout players, Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas. Obanor scored 30 points on 9-of-21 shooting and pulled down 11 rebounds, while Abmas contributed 29 points, including 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc, five rebounds, and three assists. Despite the lack of double-digit scoring from any other player on the team, these two stars carried Oral Roberts to a historic triumph over Ohio State. Abmas is back this year to try and lead the 12th-seeded Golden Eagles over the ACC Champion and No. 5-seeded Duke Blue Devils.


NCAA Tournament: The History of No. 15 Seeds Over No. 2 Seeds

March 5th, 2012

  • No. 15 Norfolk State 86 – No. 2 Missouri 84
  • No 15. Lehigh 75 – No. 2 Duke 70

March Madness is always full of surprises, but the first day of the 2012 NCAA Tournament took things to a whole new level. In an unprecedented turn of events, not one but two No. 15 seeds emerged victorious in their first-round matchups. First, Norfolk State stunned Mizzou before Lehigh followed suit, led by future NBA star C.J. McCullum a few hours later by defeating Duke in Greensboro, North Carolina, just an hour from the Blue Devils’ campus. These two upsets sent shockwaves through the college basketball world and left fans everywhere reeling from the unexpected turn of events.

NCAA Tournament: The History of No. 15 Seeds Over No. 2 Seeds

After four seasons of professional baseball in the San Diego Padres system, Colin was featured as a freelance sports writer in numerous publications. He enjoys handicapping and writing about sports wagering while covering the MLB, NBA, NFL, PGA, and multiple college sports. Colin attended and played baseball at St. John's University in Queens, NY. He enjoys traveling with his wife, Ana, and two sons, Enzo and Wes.

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