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Daniel Wilco | | February 10, 2022

How No. 15 seeds do in March Madness

Was Oral Roberts' win the most unexpected moment of the NCAA tournament?

*Note: All data is from the 1985 tournament to the present.

After the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, it took six years before a No. 15 seed knocked off a No. 2 seed. Richmond beat Syracuse in 1991, 73-69. And every few years, a No. 15 seed shocks the college basketball world with a crazy upset. After a 10-year drought without an opening-round win by a No. 15 seed after Hampton in 2001, they have won five first-round games in the last nine NCAA tournaments.

But don't let that trick you into thinking the No. 15 seed has a good chance — they're just 9-135 all time against No. 2 seeds.

The most recent shocker came when No. 15 seed Oral Roberts took down No. 2 Ohio State 75-72 in OT in the 2021 NCAA tournament. Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas combined for 59 points, with each hitting five 3-pointers. That wasn't the end of the run, either, as the Golden Eagles then beat No. 7 Florida in the second round before bowing out in the Sweet 16 to No. 3 Arkansas, 72-70.

The 2012 NCAA tournament was particularly volatile for the No. 15 seed vs. No. 2 seed matchups, as worse-seeded Norfolk State and Lehigh grabbed impressive wins in the first round on the same day. After a decade of smooth sailing for second-seeded teams, Norfolk State eked out a win over Missouri and Lehigh built up enough momentum to beat Duke by five.

While the No. 15 seed sports a winning percentage of 6.25 percent, the winning margins for No. 2 seeds isn't always large.

Before Oral Roberts, only one other No. 15 seed advanced past the second round, when Florida Gulf Coast made it to the Sweet 16 in 2013. In only its second year of full NCAA eligibility and its first time in the NCAA tournament, the Eagles shocked the the field by not only beating second-seeded Georgetown by 10 points in the first round but also beating seventh-seeded San Diego State to advance to the Sweet 16.

Louisiana Monroe and Belmont own the most No. 15 seed appearances, as both the Warhawks and the Bruins have four berths at that slot in the 32 years of the expanded tournament. Here are the nine No. 15 seeds to beat No. 2 seeds.

Year Winner Loser Score
1991 Richmond Syracuse 73-68
1993 Santa Clara Arizona 64-61
1997 Coppin State South Carolina 78-65
2001 Hampton Iowa State 58-57
2012 Norfolk State Missouri 86-84
2012 Lehigh Duke 75-70
2013 Florida Gulf Coast Georgetown 78-68
2016 Middle Tennessee Michigan State 80-61
2021 Oral Roberts Ohio State 75-72 (OT)

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