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How Saint Peter’s underdog run ranks in NCAA History

Saint Peter's (from left) KC Ndefo, Hassan Drame and Daryl Banks III

Saint Peter's 

One-off underdog victories are nothing new in sport and take place all the time. Something far rarer are those underdog victories that then turn into stunning, deep tournament runs. Such was the case with the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, who strutted from nowhere to down the Kentucky Wildcats, only to go and show the win was no fluke by also trouncing Murray State and Purdue. Only in the Elite 8 were they finally given a harsh reality check by North Carolina.

With NCAA fans still buzzing from having watched the Peacocks upset the odds all the way to the business end of March Madness, we compare their run to some of the other major shock results that have sprung up in the NCAA. 

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Underdog stories are the lifeblood of any sports league, and the NCAA always has some surprises in store for its loyal fans.

NC State – The Wolfpack Runs Wild in 1983

It wasn’t so much an underdog story as one of the biggest hype jobs in college basketball that actually delivered when it mattered the most. The driving force behind NC State’s success in 1983 was their head coach Jim Valvano, who was famous for whipping Wolfpack’s fans into a frenzy to such a degree that even the most impartial sports bettors and observers got swept up in the emotion of it all. 

Despite being ranked 6 in the NCAA, they defied the college basketball predictions and media pundits to beat a Houston team packed with playing talent like Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, who were bound for the NBA draft. In the history of NCAA championship games, this still ranks as being one of the biggest upsets, with bookmakers having heavily favored Houston – underestimating the momentum that Jimmy V and the Wolfpack had brewed up.

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Loyola Marymount – No One Could Handle the Pace in 1990

Ranked 11th by the time March Madness came calling, Loyola Marymount surpassed expectations to reach the Elite 8. However, it was the manner in which they did, so that still has tongues wagging to this day.

Their head coach Paul Westhead was heavily inspired by soccer and believed that a high pressing and high-intensity style of play borrowed from the sport could prosper in college basketball. Sure enough, they delivered some of the highest-scoring games ever seen in the NCAA, including a 149-point standout thrashing of number 1 seed Michigan in the 2nd round.

Unfortunately, their non-stop approach to balling came with a cost, as star player Hank Gathers collapsed in their conference semi-final game. Tragically, Gathers did not recover, and LMU still mourns his loss to this day.

Westhead went on to become the head coach of the LA Lakers, as he further wrote his name into the basketball history books. But LMU fans will always remember him as the man who took their team to places they had previously only ever dreamed about.

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Villanova – Lowest Ranked Team Ever to Win in 1985

To this day, no team has managed to upset the odds during March Madness quite as the Villanova Wildcats did in 1985, coming from being ranked 8th to win the whole thing. It was a year in which teams from the Big East dominated their Western rivals, but Villanova were never supposed to be the team that would emerge from the East to conquer all comers.

In the championship game, they came up against none other than the reigning champions, Georgetown, who, in the form of Patrick Ewing, had one of the best players to grace NCAA parquet. Unperturbed by all this, the Wildcats went about their task with relish, shooting at a 78.6% clip as well as turning the ball over an incredible 17 times. Georgetown didn’t know what had hit them, and the Villanova faithful went bananas when the final buzzer sounded.

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