Since the NCAA moved to a 64-team tournament in 1985, only one tournament has had more upsets than this year's — and only one tournament has had as many big upsets.
After the second round of the tournament, The Wire took a look at how it compared to past tournaments, finding that while the first two rounds had a lot of upsets, they weren't that uncommon. But as the tournament progressed, ending with a 7-seed versus 8-seed championship match, 2014 moved into the top tier.
There are two different ways to measure the upsets in an NCAA tournament. One metric is the number of upsets — defined as any match in which a lower-seeded team beats a higher-seeded team. So Monday night's final wasn't an upset: a 7-seed beat an 8-seed. The other metric is the strength of the upset, which we measure by simply comparing the seedings of the two teams. If a 16-seed beat a 1-seed — which has never happened — that's an upset value of 15 (16 minus 1).
The tournaments with the most upsets in total, out of 63 games:
- 1999: 23 upsets (7 one-seed difference)
- 2014: 21 upsets (3 one-seed difference)
- 2001: 21 upsets (6 one-seed difference)
- 2006: 21 upsets (4 one-seed difference)
- 1989: 20 upsets (9 one-seed difference)
- 2010: 20 upsets (4 one-seed difference)
- 2011: 20 upsets (4 one-seed difference)
- 1990: 19 upsets (3 one-seed difference)
- 2003: 19 upsets (8 one-seed difference)
- 2005: 19 upsets (6 one-seed difference)
Only the 1999 tournament had more upsets than 2014, although the 2001 and 2006 tournaments had the same number of upsets. Note, though, that 2014 also had fewer upsets that were between teams that were only one seeding apart — meaning that it had fewer 9-seeds beating 8-seeds and so on.
Most big upsets
The tournaments with the highest cumulative upset value:
- 1986: 105 in total upset value
- 2014: 104 in total upset value
- 2013: 104 in total upset value
- 1999: 103 in total upset value
- 2006: 101 in total upset value
- 2010: 98 in total upset value
- 2002: 95 in total upset value
- 1990: 94 in total upset value
- 2011: 94 in total upset value
- 1985: 93 in total upset value
And only the 1985 tournament had upsets that had a bigger combined spread than this year, meaning more lower-ranked teams beating more higher-ranked teams. Interestingly, this year had the same combined upset value as the 2013 tournament, despite it seeming much more upset-heavy.
If you look at the average upset value per upset — meaning the average spread between the two teams in the upset — 2014 again comes in second, while 2013 drops to the middle of the pack. The average spread between winner and loser in 2014's upsets was 4.95, the same as 1986 and 1987. The tournament with the biggest average spread was 1989, with an average 5.05 spread.
One final note: the record for the team with the most upset losses didn't change from our analysis earlier this month. It is still Duke, which has been eliminated from the tournament in an upset in 19 of the 30 tournaments since 1985.