Before Friday, there were seven No. 15-No. 2 upsets in the modern era of the NCAA tournament. Now, thanks to Giddy Potts’ three-point shooting and Reggie Upshaw’s timely boards and athletic finishes at the rim, Middle Tennessee joins that group, after it stunned Michigan State, 90-81, on Friday.
Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis called the Blue Raiders’ win the greatest upset of the NCAA tournament, and while it certainly an amazing accomplishment, and one that will go down in “One Shining Moment” lore, it is not the biggest upset since the tournament expanded to a field of 64 teams in 1985 (or even to 68 several years ago).
Using the Simple Rating System index to measure the disparity in the eight No. 15-No. 2 upsets, the largest upset was 2012’s Missouri-Norfolk State matchup — the SRS margin between the two teams was 23.45. The MEAC program, with its SRS of -3.68, blindsided the Tigers.
Second is Friday’s Michigan State-MTSU game: The Spartans had the second-highest SRS in the nation (23.75) while the Blue Raiders (2.18) ranked just outside the top third of the rankings. And finally, the third largest upset come courtesy of Iowa State-Hampton first-round game in 2001 — the MEAC school had the lowest SRS (-3.7) of any of these eight upsets.
Since Ken Pomeroy began tracking data in the 2002 season, we are only able to measure half of those upsets, and again, Missouri, by far, was the most stunning: The differential in KenPom’s Pythagorean ranking between the two schools was .4980, which vastly outstrips the difference between Michigan State and Middle Tennessee.
Middle Tennessee now has a day to celebrate before preparing for No. 10 Syracuse, which pulled its own upset earlier today against seven-seeded Dayton. Kermit Davis’s group has busted millions of brackets, just like Richmond, Santa Clara and Florida Gulf Coast’s “Dunk City” before them, but the win is just off from being the biggest surprise in tournament history.