March Madness 2018: Ranking the Top 16 #FaganJinx upsets

The author has seen seven No. 2 seeds on opening weekend, and SIX have been knocked out.

My friends have known about the Fagan Jinx for years.

They remember 2008, when I covered four double-digit seeds all winning their opening-round NCAA Tournament games in Tampa, and after that, my friends started filling out their brackets based on what games I’d be covering. I couldn’t blame them.

MORE: Ranking the Sweet 16, and how the bitter end could come

Turns out, Tampa was just the beginning. I finally decided to compile the numbers a couple weeks ago, and even I was kind of stunned at the scope of the Fagan Jinx. I wrote a column on it right after Selection Sunday. Honestly, I was worried that, by talking about this publicly, I might jinx the jinx, if something like that’s even possible. I was worried that nothing exciting would happen in Charlotte, where I was covering the opening weekend.

Clearly, I didn’t jinx the jinx. If anything, speaking it into existence gave the jinx even more power, though I didn’t think that was possible. The #FaganJinx made history on Friday. Sorry about that, Virginia.

Today, I’m ranking the best of the #FaganJinx games.

1. UMBC does the impossible, 2018

What happened: 16-seed UMBC beat 1-seed Virginia, 74-54.
My lasting memory: I wish I had a dollar for every time I thought, Is this really happening? from my spot on press row during the second half of this unforgettable game. Virginia, a team that spent the entire season frustrating opposing teams, looked helpless as UMBC point guard K.J. Maura knifed through its defense and as Jarius Lyles torched the Cavaliers for 23 points after halftime. The Retrievers’ energy, confidence and fearlessness was, in a word, intoxicating.

The cynic would say I should be used to seeing amazing things by now. Well, I hope that never happens. I hope I never reach the point in my sportswriting career — or my life, really — where I am not amazed by amazing moments. Yeah, I had a big smile on my face for much of that second half. I have no allegiances or ties to UMBC. As reporters, we don’t root for teams. We root for stories, and the Retrievers were giving us an amazing story. The day I’m not excited about something like the honor of watching a 16 seed knock off a 1 seed for the first time in men’s NCAA Tournament history is the day I find something else to do (Spoiler alert: I don’t ever see that happening.)

2. Crowd favorite Lehigh stuns Duke, 2012

What happened: 15-seed Lehigh beats 2-seed Duke, 75-70.
My lasting memory: Anytime an underdog even shows a hint of possibly pulling off an upset, every fan in the building not rooting for the higher seed becomes a fan of the underdog. Everybody loves an underdog. This one, though? This one was special. See, North Carolina was also in Greensboro that weekend, as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, and there were a lot of Tar Heels fans in the crowd. That meant Lehigh had a lot of newbie fans in the stands.

As is the case with most rivalries, UNC fans looooooooove to see the Blue Devils lose. And seeing the Blue Devils lose as a No. 2 seed in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament? That’s pretty much the dream scenario. Every time Lehigh scored or grabbed a rebound or any time Duke missed a shot or made a turnover, the UNC fans went crazy. It’s safe to say that was the largest pro-Lehigh crowd the Mountain Hawks had seen all season, and they didn’t disappoint. Behind 30 points from CJ McCollum — who has played in front of plenty of big NBA crowds since 2012 — Lehigh pulled off the stunner, just hours after another No. 15 seed, Norfolk State, upended No. 2 seed Mizzou.

3. Ty Rogers enters March lore, 2008

What happened: 12-seed Western Kentucky beats 5-seed Drake, 101-99 (OT).
My lasting memory: You never forget your first NCAA Tournament buzzer beater. This was the first game of that incredible day in Tampa, and it was everything you’d want from a March Madness contest — lots of scoring, the red-hot underdogs, the confident comeback and then, yeah, that ending. Rogers launched his game-winner from the other end of the court — from my angle, it definitely looked good the whole way — and then raced around the court like a maniac. It was awesome.

I spoke with Rogers a couple weeks ago for a look back at that day in Tampa. Click the link now, bookmark the story and read it after you’re done here. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the stories from Rogers and the other players who were part of that magic day. Another spoiler alert: Two more games from that day appear on this list.

4. Blue Raiders stop Sparty, 2016

What happened: 15-seed Middle Tennessee beats 2-seed Michigan State, 90-81.
My lasting memory: After watching the Lehigh game in person, I figured that would be it for my 15-over-2 experiences. I mean, who gets to see that happen twice? Heading into this one, only seven 15 seeds had ever won an opening-round game. Middle Tennessee decided to give me that gift, though. At least three or four friends texted me in the second half with things like, “You’re at this one, aren’t you?”

My reply, always: “You know I am.”

5. Winthrop offers peak behind curtain, 2007

What happened: 11-seed Winthrop over 6-seed Notre Dame, 74-64.
My lasting memory: This weekend will always be special to me. I was in Spokane for a behind-the-scenes story on Winthrop, attempting to chronicle the Eagles’ attempt to finally win an NCAA Tournament game. They were regular visitors out of the Big South Conference, but hadn’t broken through behind coach Gregg Marshall. I sat in on their film sessions, watched their practices and walk-throughs, and listened as assistant coach Randy Peele broke down Notre Dame’s tendencies and tactics.

This was my first real behind-the-scenes reporting experience. I was already appreciative of the opportunity — at the time, I was an editor at Sporting News, trying to prove myself worthy as a writer — and Winthrop’s win didn’t hurt my cause. After the Eagles knocked off the Fighting Irish, the SN editors decided to put my story on the cover. You never forget your first magazine cover story. No kidding, I probably still have at least 50 copies of that issue.

6. Shockers, well, shock Zags, 2013

What happened: 9-seed Wichita State beats 1-seed Gonzaga, 76-70.
My lasting memory: The truth is, my favorite game from Salt Lake City that weekend was Gonzaga’s opening game, against 16-seed Southern. I truly thought I might see upset history that day. The Jaguars were as fearless as they were relentless; the game was tied at 54-54 after big man Brandon Moore tried to dunk over future NBA first-round pick Kelly Olynyk (he was fouled and made the free throws to tie the contest). That audacity, that “we belong” belief, was one of the most stunning moments I’ve ever witnessed live. Gonzaga escaped with a 64-58 win.

As for the actual game on this list … After his Shockers dispatched Pitt in the opening round, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall — he left Winthrop for Wichita State after that 2007 season, the seventh time in nine years he took the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament — came out to press row and watched some of the Gonzaga game, sitting next to a couple of us writers. Maybe I should have known big things were ahead when Marshall sat down there, six years after the Sporting News cover story. And clearly, Marshall saw important things from press row that helped in the second round.

That Wichita State team was so very good. It didn’t win because of a fluky shooting day or anything like that. The Shockers were a better team than Gonzaga, and that was a damn good Gonzaga team. Freshmen Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet and sophomore Tekele Cotton were clearly stars on the rise. Cleanthony Early, a juco transfer, was a stud. Seniors Malcolm Armstead and Carl Hall were the ideal leaders. Let’s just say, after watching that group take care of Gonzaga, I wasn’t even remotely surprised the Shockers made the Final Four.

7. Final Four teams, second-round game, 2014

What happened: 8-seed Kentucky beats 1-seed Wichita State, 78-76.
My lasting memory: The Fagan Jinx plays no favorites, folks. This game involves Gregg Marshall, too, but it’s not one of his favorite memories, I’d imagine. Wichita State had an amazing season, rolling into the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated 34-0 record and No. 1 seed. Somehow, it got matched up in the second round against a criminally under-seeded Kentucky team packed with future NBA players.

Honestly, this is probably the greatest NCAA Tournament game I’ve ever seen. Both teams played at an incredibly high level and I never wanted it to end. I didn’t want to see the heartbreak one team would experience when the final buzzer sounded. Cleanthony Early was brilliant for the Shockers, pouring in 30 points, and Ron Baker added 20. For Kentucky, the Harrison twins combined for 39 points and Julius Randle added 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. This should have been, at worst, a Final Four matchup (Kentucky went all the way to the title game). I’m still mad these teams were forced to play in the second damn round.

8. Jayhawks can’t handle Havoc, 2011

What happened: 11-seed VCU beats 1-seed Kansas, 71-61.
My lasting memory: The opening weekend of the 2011 tournament is the only weekend I’ve ever covered without watching an upset. All chalk, though 2-seed San Diego State needed double overtime to get by 7-seed Temple in the second round (that remains the only No. 2 seed I’ve ever covered that survived the first weekend). The second weekend more than made up for the first. Three double-digits seeds were waiting for me in San Antonio: No. 12 Richmond, No. 11 VCU and No. 10 Florida State.

Kansas, which had only two losses all year and was a very deserving No. 1 seed, dispatched Richmond by 20 points. VCU, which was a controversial at-large team placed in the First Four, nipped Florida State by a single point, setting up what most thought would be another easy win for Kansas. That didn’t happen, as you know. That VCU team was playing with an incredible amount of confidence, an unshakable belief that its “Havoc” defense installed by charismatic coach Shaka Smart could shake up any team in the country. I’ve seen bigger upsets, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team that was more stunned at the end of a loss than those Jayhawks. I remember walking back to my hotel along the RiverWalk after the game and passing a restaurant with blue and red streamers and a sign that said something along the lines of “Kansas postgame victory party here!” The restaurant was empty.

9. Trey sinks KU, 2013

What happened: 4-seed Michigan beats 1-seed Kansas, 87-85 OT.
My lasting memory: There were two big storylines heading into the second weekend in Arlington. First, the games were held at Cowboys Stadium, the behemoth of a building better known as Jerry World, for the Cowboys owner who had the stadium built. Like most reporters and fans in attendance, I went up to the very top row and took a picture. The court looked like a postage stamp. The other story: Florida Gulf Coast was there, the first 15-seed ever to make the Sweet 16. And, yes, I took video of their practice-day dunk session.

But this weekend belonged to Trey Burke and his Michigan Wolverines. The top-seeded Jayhawks were loaded, as always, but Michigan pulled off a stunning comeback — down 14 points with about seven minutes left — in that Sweet 16 contest. Burke’s “no-way-he-made-that” 3-pointer late in regulation sent the game to overtime, where the Wolverines knocked out Kansas. And then Michigan went on to beat Florida — which had dispatched Dunk City — to reach the Final Four.

10. Buzzer-beater sinks Commodores, 2010

What happened: 13-seed Murray State beats 4-seed Vandy, 66-65.
My lasting memory: I want to make an observation first: You know the Fagan Jinx is crazy when a true buzzer-beater, game-winner from a 13 seed knocking out a 4 seed barely makes the top 10. Just crazy. Murray State entered the tournament as a 30-win team, and the Racers were a popular upset pick heading into the opening round.
Vandy held a one-point lead with 4.2 seconds left. Murray State was inbounding the ball under its own basket. The ball came in to Isaac Miles, who drove and kicked back to Danero Thomas. Thomas took a couple dribbles, pulled up and knocked down the long jumper, the ball swishing through the net a moment after the “time’s up” red light went off behind the backboard.

11. Toreroes upend Huskies, 2008

What happened: 13-seed San Diego beats 4-seed UConn, 70-69 (OT).
My lasting memory: This was part of the unforgettable day in Tampa, when the four seeds 12 and higher all pulled off upsets on the same day in the same city. This game was part of the “Upset City” feature I did. Instead of rehashing here, take a couple minutes to read Gyno Pomare’s memories of that day. Pomare scored 22 points and San Diego upended Connecticut in overtime when De’Jon Jackson’s jumper with 1.2 seconds left gave the Toreroes the lead.

12. Bronson KO’s Xavier, 2016

What happened: 7-seed Wisconsin beats 2-seed Xavier, 66-63.
My lasting memory: Yep, another 2 seed bites the dust on opening weekend. And, yep, with another buzzer-beating game-winner. This time, Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig did the honors, drilling a corner 3-pointer to give the Badgers the victory over an outstanding Xavier squad. The Jinx works in strange ways, and the Musketeers are a prime example.

I've seen Xavier three times on the opening weekend. The Musketeers have made the Sweet 16 both times I saw them as double-digit seeds (as a 10 seed in 2012 and as an 11 seed in 2017), but they were upended as a 2 seed in this game vs. Wisconsin. Xavier made it to the Elite Eight as the 11 seed last year, though I wasn’t there for the Sweet 16 win. I don't know, either, folks. I can't control this thing.

13. Bulldogs’ march continues, 2010

What happened: 5-seed Butler beats 1-seed Syracuse, 63-59.
My lasting memory: The only time I’ve ever picked an opening-weekend site because of a team was 2007, when I was doing that Winthrop behind-the-scenes story. Most years, it’s convenience, or what city offers the cheapest flights. It’s not complicated. In 2010, I just happened to be in San Jose for the opening weekend, then Salt Lake City for the second weekend and Indianapolis for the Final Four. That meant I was there for all six of Butler’s games on the fifth-seeded Bulldogs’ wild ride to the title game.

This one’s here because the Bulldogs knocked off a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16 — Syracuse was damn good — but honestly, it wasn’t the most exciting of their run. The best game was against Murray State in the second round; instead of a buzzer-beater, Butler’s Gordon Hayward came up with a game-saving steal on the last possession as the Racers were trying to win with a buzzer-beater of their own (this was two days after No. 10 on this list). And I was there for Hayward’s memorable half-court heave in the title game against Duke—from the angle from my seat on press row, I remember thinking, I’m watching the greatest shot in NCAA Tournament history — as it hurtled toward the hoop. But since Butler didn’t actually win, I can’t chalk that up to the Jinx. But that run had to find a place somewhere, so the Bulldogs’ win over the top-seeded Orange gets the nod.

14. Ivy upset special, 2013

What happened: 14-seed Harvard over 3-seed New Mexico, 68-62.
My lasting memory: Nobody wants to play an Ivy League school in the tournament. Those kids have a nice history of pulling off big upsets (or nearly doing so). Princeton is the most well-known (hi, UCLA), Penn made a Final Four run in 1979, Cornell had a Sweet 16 run in 2010 and Harvard did the league proud against the Lobos on this day. This is the only time I’ve seen an Ivy team in person in the NCAA Tournament, so of course Harvard won.

Siyani Chambers, Harvard’s freshman point guard, is who stands out from this game for me. He was far from the biggest guy on the court, but he was absolutely the toughest. He only scored five points, but his seven assists were huge. Harvard shot 52.8 percent in the game and made 16 of its 20 free throws and won the game behind 18 points from Wesley Saunders.

15. Aggies make Heels feel small, 2018

What happened: 7-seed Texas A&M beats 2-seed North Carolina, 86-65.
My lasting memory: After Tyler Davis scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a victory over the No. 2 seed Tar Heels, I asked the A&M big man this in the locker room: “How do you approach a game when you know you guys have the size advantage on paper?” His response will probably always stick with me. "You've got to go at them, make them pay, do what you can to make them feel small.”

You’ve got to make them feel small. That’s a big-time quote. And, of course, that’s exactly what Davis and his A&M teammates did on the court. They dominated inside, hassled the UNC shooters outside and cruised into the Sweet 16 with a shockingly easy win against a team lots of people expected to reach the Final Four.

16. Siena smothers Vandy, 2008

What happened: 13-seed Siena over 4-seed Vanderbilt, 83-61.
My lasting memory: You know how Vanderbilt became everybody’s favorite team to pick as an upset victim in March? That might be my fault. I’ve seen Vanderbilt in person twice in the NCAA Tournament, both times as a No. 4 seed. The Commodores are 0-2 in those games. We talked about the buzzer-beater in 2010 already. This one was different. This one was domination. Kenny Hasbrouck had 30 points, Tay Fisher went 6-for-6 from 3-point range and Siena won going away, by 21 points.

I spoke with Fisher for the “Upset City” feature. If you ever get the chance to talk with him, at a Globetrotter’s game (he’s in his ninth year) or at one of his camps, do that. He’ll tell you stories that make you feel like you’re there. This quote, about March, stuck with me: "That's what March is all about. I love it because you get to see those teams that you don't get to see all the time. This was our time to show the world what we're able to do. We're not Duke or North Carolina or one of those kind of teams, but we always felt like we could play with them. That's how all college teams should feel. This is your time to shine."

Top-seed #FaganJinx update

After the craziness of this year's opening weekend in Charlotte, I felt the need to update a couple of statistics. I’ve now seen five No. 1 seeds on opening weekend and only two have survived. Here are the final opening-weekend games for those No. 1 seeds.

2012: 1 UNC over 8 Creighton, 87-73
2013: 9 Wichita State over 1 Gonzaga, 76-70
2014: 8 Kentucky over 1 Wichita State, 78-76
2015: 1 Duke over 8 San Diego State, 68-49
2018: 16 UMBC over 1 Virginia, 74-54



And now, the No. 2 seeds. I’ve seen seven No. 2 seeds on opening weekend, and SIX have been knocked out — two by 15 seeds, one by a 10 seed, three by a 7 seed. Think about this: I’ve seen more 15 seeds reach the second round than I have seen 2 seeds reach the Sweet 16.

2011: 2 San Diego State over 7 Temple, 71-64 (2OT)
2012: 15 Lehigh over 2 Duke, 75-70
2014: 10 Stanford over 2 Kansas, 60-57
2015: 7 Michigan State over 2 Virginia, 60-54
2016: 15 Middle Tennessee over 2 Michigan State, 90-81
2016: 7 Wisconsin over 2 Xavier, 66-63
2018: 7 Texas A&M over 2 North Carolina, 86-65