The Best (And Worst) March Madness Runs Ever

North Carolina sports betting launches just in time for March Madness this year.

For bettors, it’s the best time to wager on college basketball. The tournament has 67 games played over roughly four weeks. Teams have little time to prepare as the tournament heats up, with games often occurring just days after another.

The results? A combination of thrilling upsets, heartbreak, and moments etched into fans’ memories for eternity.

Here’s a look at some of the best (and worst) March Madness runs in history.

Best March Madness runs

1982 North Carolina Tar Heels

There was no way we’d leave Michael Jordan off this list.

In his freshman year with the Tar Heels, Jordan knocked down the game-winning jumper in the national championship game. North Carolina defeated Georgetown 63-62 that game, which featured one of many future Jordan–Patrick Ewing duels.

North Carolina defeated James Madison, Alabama, Villanova, and Houston before taking down the Hoyas in the title game.

This UNC team was loaded. In addition to Jordan, head coach Dean Smith’s roster featured James Worthy and Sam Perkins.

1983 NC State Wolfpack

This list would not be complete without Jim Valvano’s 1983 NC State squad. During the regular season, this team was no lock to make the tournament. The Wolfpack only made the NCAA Tournament because they won the ACC Tournament.

6-seed NC State defeated the legendary “Phi Slamma Jamma” Houston team in the title game. The Cougars boasted a lineup featuring NBA Hall of Fame farmers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. It proved quite the victory for the Wolfpack, beating Pepperdine, UNLV, Utah, Virginia (with Ralph Sampson), and Georgia.

1986 LSU Tigers

11-seed LSU, led by future NBA player John Williams, beat 6-seed Purdue, 3-seed Memphis, 2-seed Georgia Tech, and 1-seed Kentucky. Each game was close.

The Tigers lost in the Final Four, but they are the only 11-seed in NCAA history to defeat a 1-, 2-, and 3-seed in one tournament.

2006 George Mason

11-seed George Mason made the Final Four, defeating Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, and UConn. All those teams outside Wichita State had won an NCAA title within the past six tournaments.

The Patriots didn’t have any NBA players on their roster, but led by head coach Jim Larranaga, the team was incredibly cohesive. George Mason’s run ended against eventual national champion Florida, which had a roster for the ages.

2013 Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast’s 2013 team advanced to the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed, but this team sticks in most minds thanks to incredible highlight plays.

“Dunk City,” as fans referred to the program, upset 2-seed Georgetown in the first round and then defeated 7-seed San Diego State. A quick YouTube search will pull up several high-flying dunks and jaw-dropping ally-oops plays. Florida Gulf Coast’s athleticism was on full display during the tournament, and the Eagles were the first 15-seed to make the Sweet 16.

2018 Loyola Chicago

If you want to talk about clutch teams in the tournament, the 2018 Loyola Chicago basketball team must be in the conversation.

The Ramblers earned an 11-seed in the tournament and took down Miami, Tennessee, Nevada, and Kansas State en route to the Final Four. Against Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada, though, Loyola Chicago knocked down a go-ahead, game-winner bucket within the final minute.

2022 Saint Peter’s Peacocks

Two years ago, Saint Peter’s basketball team was the only 15-seed to make the Elite Eight.

First, the Peacocks knocked off 2-seed Kentucky, which many viewed as a title contender. Saint Peter’s then beat 7-seed Murray State. Then dramatically beat 3-seed Purdue by three points in the Sweet 16. The Peacocks fell in the next round against eventual champion North Carolina, but the school, with only 3,500 students, made quite the impression on the national stage.

Worst March Madness runs in history

2014 Duke Blue Devils

3-seed Duke had the roster to compete for a championship handily. But this Blue Devils team that had Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood ended up losing its first game of the NCAA Tournament to 14-seed Mercer.

To make matters worse, Duke had a five-point lead with just under five minutes to play in regulation. That’s not a huge lead, but one that the Blue Devils should have held onto.

2018 Virginia Cavaliers

In 2018, Virginia looked to have a team capable of winning it all. Head coach Tony Bennett’s squad earned the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. The team, led by guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, boasted a feisty defense.

Virginia opened the tournament facing 16-seed UMBC. The Retrievers ended up making history, winning 74-54. UMBC became the first 16-seed to beat a 1-seed, but it came in dominating fashion. It was an embarrassing end to what was shaping to be a great season for the Cavaliers.

2023 Purdue Boilermakers

1-seed Purdue was the fourth-overall seed in the most recent NCAA Tournament. Led by seven-foot-four-inch center Zach Edey, the Boilermakers won both the Big Ten Tournament and the regular season title, posting 29 wins come time for the Big Dance.

Purdue faced off against 16-seed Fairleigh-Dickinson, which was quite the contrast from the Boilermakers. The Knights have had the second-shortest roster (in terms of average height) since 2006 but play with an up-tempo style.

Fairleigh-Dickinson shocked the nation, winning 63-58. Purdue became the second 1-seed ever to lose to a 16-seed in the opening round, earning a similar badge of shame as Virginia did five years prior.

About the Author

Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley's byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working as an editor and reporter for the Daily Iowan’s sports department.