Once a team gets a spot in the NCAA tournament, March has proven that sometimes seemingly anything can happen. That includes wins by teams that have records that hover around .500 — or worse. Those are the teams that add the Madness to March. So let’s take a look at the teams with the worst records to win an NCAA tournament game, listing teams by win percentage.
To help keep comparisons as fair as possible throughout the decades and tournament expansions, we limited ourselves to teams in the 64-team bracket (so not including play-in wins) post-1985 and didn’t include teams that lost in preliminary rounds in other years, when teams of the same seed played before competing in the main bracket. We also didn’t count teams that lost their first game but then won a regional third-place game.
1954-55 Bradley (7-19, 26.92 percent); reached the regional final (Elite Eight)
Bradley reached the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2019 and made the Sweet 16 in 2006. But the Braves found their best NCAA tournament success in the 1950s. In the 1949-50 season, Bradley reached the national championship game, where it lost to CCNY. The Braves returned to the final game in 1954 despite only a 19-13 record, but La Salle took home the title.
However, that run in a 19-13 season was nothing like what happened the following year.
Bradley went only 7-19 in the 1954-55 regular season. Not only was Bradley 7-19 when it started the NCAA tournament, it picked up an at-large bid to the tournament.
As reported by the Albuquerque Journal, it was predetermined that two independents from Region 5 would get at-large bids. In an oddity, all five eligible teams had a losing record, meaning 9-17 Oklahoma City also received a bid.
While in the tournament, Bradley took advantage of the opportunity. The Braves defeated that 9-17 Oklahoma City team and then beat SMU prior to losing to Colorado in the Elite Eight.
1990-91 Villanova (16-14, 53.3 percent); Reached the second round (round of 32)
If we’re looking at records since the tournament expanded to 64 (now 68) teams, 1990-91 Villanova holds the mark. The Wildcats were 16-14 and reached the Big East semifinals as they earned a No. 8 seed in the bracket. Villanova then topped a nationally ranked Princeton team seeded No. 9 before losing to No. 1 North Carolina, 84-69, in the second round.
Though Villanova had those 14 losses, the Wildcats also beat ranked LSU, Georgetown, Syracuse and other ranked teams during the season.
1977-78 Western Kentucky (15-13, 53.57 percent); Reached the regional semifinals (Sweet 16)
In the final year of the short-lived 32-team era — and the last before the committee seeded all teams — WKU defeated Syracuse 87-86 in overtime and lost to Michigan State and then-freshman Magic Johnson.
The Hilltoppers went 9-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference, finishing third, but they beat East Tennessee State and Austin Peay to clinch the automatic bid.
1949-50 Baylor (13-11, 54.17 percent); Reached the national semifinals (Final Four)
Back when the NCAA tournament had only eight teams, it took one win to reach the semifinals. The Bears did just that, knocking out BYU 56-55 but then going down to No. 1 Bradley, 68-66. Baylor also lost the third-place game, losing to NC State.
Baylor secured the Southwest Conference’s automatic bid at 8-4 by winning its last four games.
1982-83 Utah (16-13, 55.17 percent); Reached the regional semifinals (Sweet 16)
The Utes started 7-10 before regrouping to end in a three-way tie for the WAC title at 11-5. Getting a No. 10 seed, Utah eliminated No. 7 Illinois before shocking No. 2 UCLA to reach the Sweet 16.
But the Cinderella run stopped there — but only because of another surprising team: No. 6 seed NC State. The Wolfpack eventually stunned Houston on Lorenzo Charles’ dunk after a missed long jumper.
Here are teams that posted NCAA tournament wins with win percentages less than 58 percent:
|NCAA tournament finish|
|1954-55 Bradley||7-19 (26.92)||W, Oklahoma City, 69-65
W, SMU, 81-79
L, Colorado, 93-81
|1990-91 Villanova||16-14 (53.33)||No. 9 seed
W, No. 8 Princeton, 50-48
L, No. 1 North Carolina, 84-69
|1977-78 Western Kentucky||15-13 (53.57)||W, Syracuse, 87-86 (OT)
L, Michigan State, 90-69
|1949-50 Baylor||13-11 (54.17)||W, BYU, 56-55
L, Bradley, 68-66
|1982-83 Utah||16-13 (55.17)||No. 10 seed
W, No. 7 Illinois, 52-49
W, No. 2 UCLA, 67-61
L, No. 6 NC State, 75-56
|1953-54 Bradley||15-12 (55.56)||W, Oklahoma City, 61-55
W, Colorado, 76-64
W, Oklahoma A&M, 71-57
W, USC, 74-72
L, La Salle, 92-76
|2018-19 Florida||19-15 (55.89)||No. 10 seed
W, No. 7 Nevada, 70-61
L, No. 2 Michigan, 64-49
|2017-18 Alabama||19-15 (55.89)||No. 9 seed
W, No. 8 Virginia Tech, 86-83
L, No. 1 Villanova, 81-58
|2014-15 UAB||19-15 (55.89)||No. 14 seed
W, No. 3 Iowa State, 60-59
L, No. 11 UCLA, 92-75
|1997-98 Florida State||17-13 (56.67)||No. 12 seed
W, No. 5 TCU, 96-87
L, No. 13 Valparaiso, 83-77 (OT)
|1990-91 Georgia Tech||16-12 (57.14)||No. 8 seed
W, No. 9 DePaul, 87-70
L, No. 1 Ohio State, 65-61
|1989-90 Ohio State||16-12 (57.14)||No. 8 seed
W, No. 9 Providence, 84-83 (OT)
L, No. 1 UNLV, 76-65
|1985-86 DePaul*||16-12 (57.14)||No. 12 seed
W, No. 5 Virginia, 72-68
W, No. 4 Oklahoma, 74-69
L, No. 1 Duke, 74-67
|1958-59 DePaul||12-9 (57.14)||W, Portland, 57-56
L, Kansas State, 102-70
L, TCU, 71-65
|1938-39 Oklahoma||11-8 (57.89)||W, Utah State, 50-39
L, Oregon, 55-37
*Participation vacated by NCAA