Pain is something sports fans know all too well. Pouring everything you have into rooting for a single team can be exhausting, and when things go sideways, the loss is tough to get over. Yet as much as it hurts, we come back for more because … well, sports.
March Madness? That’s a different form of torture, because we enter with an inflated sense of hope. What could possibly go wrong in a concentrated span of 67 games? (As the fans of the No. 1 seeds can all attest to, a lot, actually.)
Sixty-six teams have now exited the tournament, leaving 66 sports communities in some level of pain. In an attempt to measure that, we’ve brought back our annual ranking of how heartbreaking each team’s departure from the tournament was. We took into account all of the following:
What were the expectations from the team entering the tournament?
Were there missed opportunities or was the loss a result of bad luck in a close game? (ESPN’s peak win probability metric helps here.)
Was history made in the tournament (including upsets, first appearances, magical runs)?
Were there extenuating circumstances, such as bad calls or injuries?
The ranking isn’t perfect; many will disagree whether one factor outweighs another. But misery loves company, so read on if you rooted for any of these teams at one point, and share in your collective pain.
66. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (No. 16 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 1 seed Alabama defeated the Islanders 96-75 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 1.9%. The 25-point favorite Crimson Tide scored the first nine points from tip and never looked back.
How much it hurt: It shouldn’t. Expectations will come with time for this team, and after having won 47 games over the past two seasons, that time might be sooner than later. But advancing past the play-in stage only to fall to the No. 1 overall seed is still an accomplishment.
65. Howard Bison (No. 16 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 1 Kansas defeated the Bison 96-68 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 1.3%. With five minutes left in the first half, this was a tie game, but our win probability metrics weren’t buying the Bisons. Despite the close score, Howard’s odds never improved.
How much it hurt: For the first time since 1992, Howard punched its dance card. That far outweighs any disappointment in its effort against the 1-seeded Jayhawks.
64. UNC Asheville Bulldogs (No. 15 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 2 UCLA blew out the Bulldogs 86-53 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 3.2%. The 17-point underdogs were never favored.
How much it hurt: The Bulldogs didn’t factor into the madness of March, despite having a sharpshooter in Drew Pember. Their first tournament appearance in seven years is still a success.
63. Northern Kentucky Norse (No. 16 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 1 seed Houston defeated the Norse 63-52 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 22.1%. Northern Kentucky drew even with under 15 minutes to play, before the Cougars regained control.
How much it hurt: Three appearances in six tournaments is a badge of honor for the Norse. Competing with a tournament favorite for the majority of the game is an acceptable way to bow out. In winning 12 of 16 games entering the NCAA tournament, the Norse gave their fans an exciting final two months.
62. Montana State Bobcats (No. 14 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 3 seed Kansas State defeated the Bobcats 77-65 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 22.5%. Montana State lost both halves by six points and was never truly a threat to pull off the upset.
How much it hurt: From 1952 to 2021, the Bobcats had zero 25-win seasons and zero NCAA tournament appearances. They’ve broken both those streaks in each of the past two campaigns. And they were competitive in the first round one against a team poised to do serious damage. That’s really all you can ask for.
61. Colgate Raiders (No. 15 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 2 seed Texas defeated the Raiders 81-61 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 14%. Colgate scored the first two buckets before Texas imposed its will and took total control.
How much it hurt: Four straight tournament appearances after consecutive decades without a single dance invite still makes this a successful season for the Raiders.
60. Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (No. 16 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi defeated the Redhawks 75-71 in the First Four.
Peak win probability: 46.1%. With three minutes to go, Chris Harris made a free throw to tie the game — and give Southeast Missouri State hope.
How much it hurt: This was the Ohio Valley Conference tournament champions’ second-ever NCAA tournament berth — even if it was for a First Four matchup. SEMO ran into foul trouble — 31! — and was outrebounded by TAMU-CC. An admirable effort, but nothing to shed multiple tears about.
59. Texas Southern Tigers (No. 16 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson defeated the Tigers 84-61 in the First Four.
Peak win probability: 50.7%, at the tip. FDU would take the lead and keep it the rest of the way.
How much it hurt: A third consecutive tournament appearance for the Tigers, and a third consecutive loss in a game that was predicted to go either way. No one, including Texas Southern, predicted the Knights’ 3-point shooting. The Tigers indeed had their name called on Selection Sunday, but their nonconference schedule results also hinted they wouldn’t last long in March.
58. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (No. 13 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 4 seed Tennessee defeated the Ragin Cajuns 58-55 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 14.1%. Even with a short-lived early lead, Louisiana never had a chance.
How much it hurt: Qualifying for the tournament for the first time since 2014, winning 10 more games than a season ago and hanging within a single possession of arguably the best defensive team in the country for much of the first half — not one thing to hang your head about.
57. Kent State Golden Flashes (No. 13 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 4 Indiana defeated the Golden Flashes 71-60 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 30.6%. After five minutes, Kent State had a one-point lead — and a brief chance to pull off the upset.
How much it hurt: One-and-done in the tournament is never the dream, but it was a good cap to a good season. The Golden Flashes lost just seven games, three of which came by a total of 23 points to top-30 KenPom teams. Their 28 wins were second most in program history. Expect them to try again next season to earn their first tournament win since 2002.
56. UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (No. 14 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 3 seed Baylor defeated the Gauchos 74-56 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 32.9%. The Gauchos held a halftime lead as a 10.5-point underdog, and the last time they would be up in the game was at the 17:19 mark.
How much it hurt: It’s always a tease when a big underdog leads at the half before the cream rises, but the Gauchos proved they could keep up, at least for a good while, with a Baylor team many thought had deep run potential. This is a program that has participated in two of the past three NCAA tournaments and had a sophomore (Ajay Mitchell) lead it in scoring this season. The Gauchos should be back.
55. VCU Rams (No. 12 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 5 Saint Mary’s defeated the Rams 63-51 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 49.8%. An early lead from the 4.5-point underdogs didn’t stick for long.
How much it hurt: The Rams won nine games in the lead-up to the dance — their 10th appearance in 12 tournaments — but they simply couldn’t pull off the upset. For everything that makes VCU a successful program, the Rams haven’t won a tournament game since 2016.
54. Vermont Catamounts (No. 15 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 2 seed Marquette defeated the Catamounts 78-61 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 18.7%. Vermont got back within five points of Marquette with 14:30 to go in the second half but couldn’t capitalize on the momentum.
How much it hurt: The upside of this team is limited, but the Catamounts have been invited to the dance in four of the past six tournaments. They’re winless in those four tournaments (as a 13-seed or worse), but as long as they continue to see their name called on Selection Sunday, these first-round losses aren’t so painful.
53. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (No. 12 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 5 seed Duke defeated the Golden Eagles 74-51 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 22.1%. Until the first points were scored, there was hope for the Golden Eagles.
How much it hurt: A fourth straight season of increasing its win total is a success for ORU. Two tournament trips in three seasons isn’t too shabby, either. The team simply ran into a blue blood that was peaking at the right time. Don’t be sad it’s over; be glad it happened.
52. Furman Paladins (No. 13 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 5 seed San Diego State defeated the Paladins in the second round.
Peak win probability: 39.6%. At no point were the Paladins projected to win this game, but they did jump out to a brief lead at 16-12.
How much it hurt: After a first-round upset win delivered a highlight reel that will live forever, nothing could have happened in the round of 32 to sour Paladin fans on the 2023 tournament. The only pain in this defeat was that it ended a season with a program-best 28 wins and Furman’s first NCAA tournament win in nearly 50 years.
51. Nevada Wolf Pack (No. 11 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 11 seed Arizona State defeated the Wolf Pack 98-73 in the First Four.
Peak win probability: 57.1%. Nevada hit a trey on the first possession — but wouldn’t score again for three minutes. That was enough for Arizona State to jump ahead and never look back.
How much it hurt: Early fouls for Kenan Blackshear coupled with Arizona State’s outstanding defense never gave the Wolf Pack a chance. This was Nevada’s first tournament appearance since 2019, and it was an accomplishment for the Mountain West Conference, as a whole, to have four teams called on Selection Sunday. But there were, and are, better league programs (see: San Diego State’s Final Four run) with better résumés.
50. Grand Canyon Lopes (No. 14 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 3 Gonzaga defeated the Lopes 82-70 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 41.6%. No small accomplishment for a 15.5-point underdog, which led by seven with six minutes remaining in the first half.
How much it hurt: Two tournament appearances and winning over 70% of their games in three seasons under Bryce Drew is a success. Fact. No pain here. The Lopes committed just seven turnovers against a powerhouse squad.
49. Charleston Cougars (No. 12 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 5 seed San Diego State defeated the Cougars 63-57 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 61.6%. With six minutes to go in the first half, the Cougars led 24-17. Less than 60 seconds later, the chances of a 12-5 upset plummeted.
How much it hurt: Was this the Cougars’ best chance to make some noise? A program-record 31-win season (plus-14 from a year ago) is an impressive feat, and there’s no shame in bowing out to an Aztecs team everyone underestimated. Charleston battled with a strong team and was competitive throughout; this was a growing experience, not a sad result.
48. Northwestern Wildcats (No. 7 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 2 UCLA defeated the Wildcats 68-63 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 37%. This game was tied midway through the second half, giving the 7.5-point underdogs a (slim) chance at another upset.
How much it hurt: While the Wildcats stumbled into tournament play (1-4 in their last five games), they won a tournament game for the second time in program history, and made a title contender sweat in the second round. A poorly timed scoring drought ended the second-best season in school history, but Chris Collins will see another year (at least) in Evanston.
47. Kennesaw State Owls (No. 14 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 3 seed Xavier defeated the Owls 72-67 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 93.6%. Something happened in the locker room at halftime, because the Owls came out swinging and ready to bust some brackets — until they didn’t.
How much it hurt: This is a team that won a single game four seasons ago. During this campaign, the Owls finished above .500 for the first time and entered the tournament having won 16 of 18 contests. The 11.5-point underdogs were comfortably and inexplicably ahead before a sudden 15-0 spurt from Xavier. They fought ’til the end, bouncing back for the lead with under two minutes left, but couldn’t overcome that Jack Nunge block. This was still a great showing for their first Division I tournament appearance.
46. Princeton Tigers (No. 15 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 6 seed Creighton defeated the Tigers 86-75 in the Sweet 16.
Peak win probability: 31.2%. Late in the first half, the Tigers were able to claw their way to a three-point lead (38-35) before the Bluejays made their move.
How much it hurt: Winning outright as a 16-point underdog in the first round against 2-seed Arizona made this season as successful as any in the history of this program. Brackets were busted — and Saint Peter’s was remembered — as Princeton beat Missouri to advance to the Sweet 16. Could this Mitch Henderson-coached program surpass its best finish (Sweet 16, 1967) with an Elite Eight run? Remember, though: All but one team in the tournament sees its season end with a loss. Bowing out the way the Tigers did — as a 15-seed, while dropping 75 points on a strong Creighton defense — is a fine way to end your campaign.
45. Pittsburgh Panthers (No. 11 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 3 seed Xavier defeated the Panthers 84-73 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 38.9%. The game was a coin flip for the first 10 minutes.
How much it hurt: The Panthers were playing with house money against Xavier, so the loss didn’t really register on this pain scale. This year also marked Pitt’s first tournament appearance since 2016 and its first tournament win since 2014. Not bad for a team that started the season losing three of four games and being blown out twice.
44. Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (No. 16 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 9 seed FAU defeated the Knights 78-70 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 49.7%. This one went back and forth toward the end, but being up five points with eight minutes left was as close as the Knights would get to extending their Cinderella run.
How much it hurt: FDU set the upset tone for the entire tournament, changed the financial future of its coach and carved a legacy in 40 minutes that will never be forgotten. The Knights were never meant to be on this big stage — they didn’t win either the regular season or their conference championship — but pulled off the greatest upset in the history of the sport, becoming just the second 16-seed to upset a 1-seed. There’s no outcome in the second round that was going to overshadow the slaying of Goliath.
43. Providence Friars (No. 11 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 6 seed Kentucky defeated the Friars 61-53 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 47.1%. An early lead was extinguished via an 11-3 Wildcats run over a 4½-minute span.
How much it hurt: We saw what this team could do in the few highlights of the season — wins over Marquette, UConn and Creighton — but the Friars were a 4.5-point underdog to Kentucky for a reason. Entering the tournament with three straight losses kept expectations low too.
42. Illinois Fighting Illini (No. 9 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 8 seed Arkansas defeated the Illini 73-63 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 49.8%. Illinois scored the first bucket, hence the near-50% probability. But the Illini were never favored to win, and they fell behind in short order.
How much it hurt: Three straight seasons as a preseason top-25 team and a total of two tournament game wins to show in that span. Not ideal. This team lost a lot of talent from the 2022 squad, and while defeating UCLA and Texas in November allowed this fan base to dream, the season as a whole was painful, with plenty of inconsistencies. This loss doesn’t even count among the worst.
41. Maryland Terrapins (No. 8 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 1 seed Alabama defeated the Terrapins 73-51 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 37.1%. Maryland caught Alabama by surprise, perhaps, scoring nine of the first 11 points of the game.
How much it hurt: After competing hard in the first half, a 14-0 run by the Tide early after intermission took the excitement out of this one, lessening the pain. For the third time in four tournaments, Maryland won exactly one game, making this season something of the expectation. Consider this, though: Kevin Willard has built some expectations around this program in his first year. Losing to the top overall seed as an 8.5-point underdog isn’t as shocking.
40. Utah State Aggies (No. 10 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 7 seed Missouri defeated the Aggies 76-65 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 63.6%. This was a battle for the Aggies, who could never get more than two points ahead of the Tigers.
How much it hurt: For the third time in four tournaments, the Aggies failed to win a game. While the lack of success isn’t ideal, consistently getting invites to the dance remains impressive for a mid-major team. With 20-plus wins in four of the past five seasons, this program is trending in the right direction.
39. Iona Gaels (No. 13 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 4 UConn defeated the Gaels 87-63 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 44.4%. A big step up from 16.7% with which they opened the game, thanks to a halftime lead against the Huskies.
How much it hurt: For the sixth time in seven tournaments the Gaels went dancing and for the sixth time in seven tournaments, they didn’t have to worry about doing their laundry. Iona has made a habit of qualifying for the tournament, and that’s great, but when you enter the tournament with 14 straight wins, the hope is to not completely collapse in the second half. This is a loss that hurt in the moment, but when Iona fans look back on it, they will remember a great season under Rick Pitino, not a poor ending.
38. Auburn Tigers (No. 9 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 1 seed Houston defeated the Tigers 81-64 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 71.1%. The Tigers finished the first half with a 10-point lead but couldn’t hold it in the second.
How much it hurt: The Tigers are a bracket staple — at least one win in four of the past five tournaments. This one hurts more than your typical 17-point loss to a 1-seed, but not as much when you consider Auburn entered the tournament having lost nine of 13 games.
37. Iowa State Cyclones (No. 6 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 11 Pittsburgh defeated the Cyclones 59-41 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 68%. The first possession stop netted the Cyclones their highest win probability. But the Panthers scored 13 of the first 14 points and never looked back.
How much it hurt: After making a run as an 11-seed a season ago, it was an 11-seed that ended the Cyclones’ season. This team flirted with the top 10 in the AP poll in February, so the end result wasn’t pleasant. Then again, given it was 5-9 in its last 14 games leading into the tournament, it’s not as if expectations were especially high.
36. Boise State Broncos (No. 10 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 7 Northwestern defeated the Broncos 75-67 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 52.1%. Fifteen seconds in, the coin-flip game barely favored Boise State. Northwestern led the whole way through.
How much it hurt: This team has won over 60% of its games in 10 of 11 seasons and went dancing in consecutive seasons for the first time since the early ’90s. They’re clearly building up to their first tournament win in program history.
35. Mississippi State Bulldogs (No. 11 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 11 seed Pittsburgh defeated the Bulldogs 60-59 in the First Four.
Peak win probability: 71.4%. While the Bulldogs’ best chance came five minutes in, they remained contenders for the majority of the game.
How much it hurt: Mississippi State not only missed a wide-open 3 to win it in the final seconds but also missed the ensuing tip-in attempt at the buzzer, which was heartbreaking. This game featured 21 lead changes — the most in NCAA tournament history — and the Bulldogs were in it down to the wire. The one-point loss will sting, but perhaps more so will be the fact that they had to play for a chance to make the bracket.
34. Iowa Hawkeyes (No. 8 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 9 seed Auburn defeated the Hawkeyes 83-75 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 51.7%. An early 6-4 lead offered a brief glimpse at a competitive game.
How much it hurt: Iowa teased its ceiling late in the season, but ultimately lost five of seven games to round out the season. In and of itself, this tournament loss wasn’t that bad, but the Hawkeyes have now suffered a loss to a lower seed in three straight tournaments.
33. NC State Wolfpack (No. 11 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 6 seed Creighton defeated the Wolfpack 72-63 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 66.8%. With just under 17 minutes left in the game, the Wolfpack held a seven-point advantage over the Bluejays.
How much it hurt: The pain here doesn’t come from failing to meet expectations — it’s from not taking advantage of a game in which the Wolfpack outrebounded their opponent and forced them to miss 17 of 20 3-point attempts. A win would have been great for projected second-round NBA draft pick Terquavion Smith, but this season (23 wins) was a significant step forward for the program (24 wins total in the previous two seasons).
32. Texas A&M Aggies (No. 7 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 10 seed Penn State defeated the Aggies 76-59 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 73.4%. The Aggies ultimately couldn’t compete against Penn State’s hot shooting.
How much it hurt: Any time you’re a favorite in the first round, you’re penciling in at least two games. The Aggies just weren’t expecting to run into the buzzsaw that was Andrew Funk & Co. (13-of-22 from 3). Texas A&M matched a program best for wins in a two-season stretch (52), however. This March result shouldn’t be discouraging.
31. Arkansas Razorbacks (No. 8 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 4 UConn defeated the Razorbacks 88-65 in the Sweet 16.
Peak win probability: 34.8%. That was on the first possession, when the Razorbacks forced a turnover.
How much it hurt: This would have been ranked higher had the regular season not been played. Arkansas came up short of preseason expectations, but after an up-and-down season, a trip to the Sweet 16 should be viewed as a net win. The upset of top-seeded Kansas in the second round allowed the Razorbacks’ fan base to be seduced by this team’s raw talent, and in hindsight, losing to a dominant Final Four UConn team isn’t the most painful way to close out the season.
30. Missouri Tigers (No. 7 seed)
How they lost: No. 15 seed Princeton defeated the Tigers 78-63 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 75.3%. Missouri was a 6.5-point favorite whose win probability peaked less than 2½ minutes into the game before steadily dropping through the final 30.
How much it hurt: Can Mizzou fans really be disappointed in this season as a whole? The Tigers more than doubled their season win total from a year ago, and also got their first tournament win in a decade. New coach Dennis Gates did nothing but impress in his first season … even if Missouri was the inferior Tigers team when it counted most.
29. West Virginia Mountaineers (No. 9 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 8 seed Maryland defeated the Mountaineers 67-65 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 83.9%. Nearly halfway through the first half, the Mountaineers had a 13-point lead. They squandered it, recovered and went back up by nine, then squandered that lead as well.
How much it hurt: The loser of any 8-9-seed game is always going to feel like it could have advanced, but this one’s sting will last a while because the Mountaineers were the better team for the first 28 minutes.
28. USC Trojans (No. 10 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 7 seed Michigan State defeated the Trojans 72-62 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 52.8%. A triple late in the first half tipped the scales in the Trojans’ favor for a single possession.
How much it hurt: This marks back-to-back seasons in which USC has lost the 7-10 first-round game, only this time it was with a team that was never ranked and had limited expectations. Another 20-plus-win season (USC’s fourth consecutive and seventh in eight seasons) is more encouraging than the early exit is discouraging. Still, this is a program thirsty for some tournament success after getting a taste of it in 2021 (its first tourney wins in two decades).
27. Penn State Nittany Lions (No. 10 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 2 seed Texas defeated the Nittany Lions 71-66 in the second round
Peak win probability: 63.5%. With just under five minutes remaining, PSU briefly held the lead.
How much it hurt: If you watched Penn State this season, you learned about the word “variance,” and were properly prepared for any tournament result. Getting invited to the dance was a success, as was winning in the first round as a 3-point underdog. But the poorly kept secret of a coaching change heading into next season may not have helped with this team’s focus. Plus, the roller coaster of a regular season kept expectations very much in check.
26. Xavier Musketeers (No. 3 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 2 seed Texas defeated the Musketeers 83-71 in the Sweet 16.
Peak win probability: 29.4%. That was at the tip.
How much it hurt: Zach Freemantle‘s injury tempered expectations for a Xavier team that had the statistical profile of a future NCAA champion. This program was also left off the bracket in three consecutive tournaments, so it’s hard to label two victories without a starter as a disappointment. Xavier has seen its win percentage increase in four straight seasons, and despite playing its worst game in the Sweet 16, the arrow for Sean Miller’s team is pointing up.
25. Saint Mary’s Gaels (No. 5 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 4 UConn defeated the Gaels 70-55 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 59.5%. A hot start in the first eight minutes had the Gaels a brief favorite before UConn’s deep ball accuracy (10-of-22 from 3) doomed any chances of a win.
How much it hurt: The WCC regular season co-champions struggled against the elite teams on their schedule this season. They also haven’t advanced past the second round since 2010, despite seven AP Top 25 appearances in that stretch. This one isn’t as painful as it could have been.
24. Arizona State Sun Devils (No. 11 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 6 TCU defeated the Sun Devils 72-70 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 88.8%. The Sun Devils were looking good, up eight with under five minutes to go. Then a 17-5 closing run did them in.
How much it hurt: After a 15-3 start to the season, Arizona State struggled in Pac-12 play, barely hanging on to earn a play-in invite (beating Arizona on a buzzer beater helped there). A definitive victory over Nevada in the First Four raised hopes, but blowing this first-round game extends ASU’s tournament win drought to a decade.
23. Baylor Bears (No. 3 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 6 seed Creighton defeated the Bears 85-76 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 59.2%. A brief lead over the Bluejays (10-7) never lasted.
How much it hurt: Baylor was a 2-point underdog in this game despite the seeding difference, but this loss still hurt. The 2021 title run was a thing of beauty, but following that up with back-to-back seasons in which the Bears opened as an AP top-10 team then failed to reach the Sweet 16 is tough to swallow.
22. Kentucky Wildcats (No. 6 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 3 seed Kansas State won the battle of the Wildcats 75-69 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 83.8%. The game mostly favored Kentucky, whose largest lead was eight.
How much it hurt: This season as a whole was a test in patience for a fan base that expects success in the form of national championships. The No. 4 team in the preseason fell out of the AP poll for two straight months and managed only one tournament win. Better than last year’s defeat to a 15-seed, but the Wildcats did blow an opportunity here.
21. Duke Blue Devils (No. 5 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 4 seed Tennessee defeated the Blue Devils 65-52 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 50.8%. A Kyle Filipowski layup extended Duke’s lead to six, before a 3-pointer from Santiago Vescovi put the Vols back in control.
How much it hurt: This one’s complicated. On the one hand, we’re talking about Duke. A preseason top-10 team for the 15th straight season that was actually playing like one in the postseason. Tennessee, meanwhile, was without its starting point guard, and top-seeded Purdue was eliminated in the first round … so Duke fans had every right to start booking hotels for the Final Four. On the other hand, this was Duke’s worst tournament seed since 2007. Could a squad of top freshmen really go up against experience? And there was no Coach K on the sidelines for the first time in over four decades. Jon Scheyer is to be commended for his first season at the helm, but we always expect better from Duke.
20. Indiana Hoosiers (No. 4 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 5 Miami defeated the Hoosiers 85-69 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 66.1%. The Hoosiers had a three-point lead early in the second half.
How much it hurt: After an impressive 7-0 start to the season, IU largely struggled with consistency. You could argue they had the two best players on the court against Miami in a game in which they were favored. But there wasn’t much on this résumé that pointed to an extended run.
19. Drake Bulldogs (No. 12 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 5 Miami defeated the Bulldogs 63-56 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 90.5%. Drake held an eight-point lead with five minutes to go.
How much it hurt: Two tournament appearances in three seasons after getting to the dance just once in 47 years is an impressive accomplishment by itself — let alone pushing a Final Four team to the brink. Does scoring a single point over the final 339 seconds of this game hurt? Of course. It’s easy to get sucked into the “what would have happened if we closed” vortex, but this program is moving in the right direction.
18. Marquette Golden Eagles (No. 2 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 7 seed Michigan State defeated the Golden Eagles 69-60 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 68.5%. Despite shooting struggles, Marquette had a three-point lead with over 16 minutes remaining before MSU ran away with it.
How much it hurt: The Big East champs entered this tournament with their highest seed in program history, and the expectations to match. Their first-round win over Vermont was their first in a decade, which is comforting — but for arguably the best team this school has produced, not the goal. We’ll expect Shaka Smart back next year.
17. Memphis Tigers (No. 8 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 9 seed FAU defeated the Tigers 66-65 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 89%. With five seconds to go, Memphis was up one.
How much it hurt: The Tigers experienced a late unraveling after leading for most of the second half. To come so close against a Final Four team stings even more considering Memphis could have taken on — perhaps successfully — the higher seeds in its path.
16. Tennessee Volunteers (No. 4 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 9 seed FAU defeated the Vols 62-55 in the Sweet 16.
Peak win probability: 92%. For just over 30 minutes, the Vols remained the favorites.
How much it hurt: Zakai Zeigler‘s late-season injury adjusted expectations for this team, but fans were still expecting more from the No. 1 defense in the country (and a 4.5-point favorite in this game). The Vols have been seeded No. 5 or better in five straight tournaments without an Elite Eight appearance to show for it.
15. Gonzaga Bulldogs (No. 3 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 4 UConn blew out the Bulldogs 82-54 in the Elite Eight.
Peak win probability: 47.1%. But it was never really a contest, even if the Zags tied things up five minutes before halftime.
How much it hurt: When one of the most successful programs over the past decade gets run off the court, it cuts deep. This wasn’t the best Zags team in recent memory, but their narrow victory in the Sweet 16 over UCLA had them believing they could return to the Final Four and finally win a national title. A 13-2 run to open the second half dashed those hopes pretty quick, and the drought continues.
14. Texas Longhorns (No. 2 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 5 seed Miami defeated the Longhorns 88-81 in the Elite Eight.
Peak win probability: 95.8%. They were up 13 points with 13 minutes left.
How much it hurt: From a big second-half lead to the way the tournament played out (Texas was the betting favorite to cut down the nets entering the Elite Eight), Longhorns Nation had everything right where it wanted it. At halftime of the Miami game, fans were booking tickets to Houston to see their program chase its first title. It wasn’t to be. An impressive 29 wins and a 2-seed doesn’t fully make up for the second-half collapse, but it does put a positive spin on a season overshadowed by the firing of coach Chris Beard.
13. Miami Hurricanes (No. 5 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 4 seed UConn defeated the Hurricanes 72-59 in the Final Four.
Peak win probability: 29.4%. In a wire-to-wire UConn effort, the Hurricanes thought about a run at the 8:23 mark in the first half. It didn’t come to fruition.
How much it hurt: The Hurricanes’ first and only Final Four game didn’t go the way they wanted. But UConn proved its sheer dominance, and Miami, in all honesty, never really had a chance. South Florida can take heart that this was one of the best teams in the ACC, it pulled off some unlikely upsets and it made history for the school. Still, coming within a game of the national title game hurts a lot.
12. TCU Horned Frogs (No. 6 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 3 seed Gonzaga defeated the Horned Frogs 84-81 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 69.7%. With 7:30 left in the first half, the Horned Frogs were up 10. The lead held into the second half, and the game remained close but quickly trended down, especially after Drew Timme‘s unexpected trey.
How much it hurt: Damion Baugh’s 3-pointer at the buzzer came a minute too late for the Horned Frogs, which all game long had looked like one of the best teams in the country. Foul trouble, and a resurgence from the Zags, kept them in check. TCU will have to wait another year to win two games in the same tournament for the first time in program history.
11. Houston Cougars (No. 1 seed, Midwest)
How they lost: No. 5 seed Miami defeated the Cougars 89-75 in the Sweet 16.
Peak win probability: 90%. That was two minutes into the game.
How much it hurt: Four straight Sweet 16s for the Cougars is impressive, but this team had higher goals with just the second 1-seed in program history (the first was in 1983). While the result hurts, it wasn’t fluky: This sort of risk exists in a game in which 48.4% of your shots come from downtown. It’s a make-or-miss sport, and on a night in which you shoot 29%, you’re going to lose.
10. Michigan State Spartans (No. 7 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 3 seed Kansas State defeated the Spartans 98-93 (OT) in the Sweet 16.
Peak win probability: 67.8%. The Spartans’ highest probability came 90 seconds into overtime with a three-point advantage.
How much it hurt: MSU was 7-8 over its final 15 games before the tournament, and entered with lower expectations than the uniform warrants. Tom Izzo himself acknowledged this wasn’t his best team. So the fact that the Spartans won a pair of games, including upsetting a Marquette team multiple experts had winning this region, salvaged the season. An overtime loss will always hurt, though.
9. Alabama Crimson Tide (No. 1 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 5 seed San Diego State defeated the Tide 71-64 in the Sweet 16.
Peak win probability: 89.8%. Bama was ahead with under 12 minutes to play and was covering the 6.5-point closing line. Within three minutes, the momentum swung in San Diego State’s favor, and it stayed there.
How much it hurt: The top overall seed was the most-picked champion across brackets. Any year that the Tide don’t win a national championship on the gridiron has the fans on tilt, so after the hoops team teased them with elite expectations, bowing out before the final week of the tournament cuts deep.
8. Kansas State Wildcats (No. 3 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 9 seed FAU defeated the Wildcats 79-76 in the Elite Eight.
Peak win probability: 84%. For a 10-minute stretch in the second half, KSU still had a chance.
How much it hurt: We all wanted the Markquis Nowell show to continue. What he did in four games (94 points and 54 assists) was tracking to be a Kemba Walker-type tournament run, and it will instead be a footnote. The Wildcats left six points on the free throw line in a three-point loss. But let’s not forget that this team won more games this season (26) than its previous two combined (23), was picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll and was an AP top-five squad for the first time in more than a decade. After the appropriate time of mourning, expect future success.
7. Virginia Cavaliers (No. 4 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 13 seed Furman defeated the Cavaliers 68-67 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 96.1% — which felt low. Then Virginia blew a 12-point lead halfway into the second half. It took the lead back and was at 88% with seven seconds left — until the unexpected turnover.
How much it hurt: Kihei Clark has 161 fantastic games on his collegiate résumé, but his legacy will be one careless pass that cost Virginia this game. The Cavs have not won a tournament game since winning it all in 2019, which is disappointing given they were a top-five team in the AP poll in three of those four seasons. Banners hang forever, but the patience of this fan base is getting thin.
6. Florida Atlantic Owls (No. 9 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 5 seed San Diego State defeated the Owls 71-70 in the Final Four.
Peak win probability: 94.8%. The Owls had a 14-point lead entering the second half, but the Aztecs battled back and eventually won on an incredible buzzer-beater.
How much it hurt: The buzzer-beater in the semifinal game wasn’t supposed to happen. That’s the only reason we’ve put them up this high, because otherwise the Owls have no reason to be heartbroken. To go from zero tournament wins in program history to the Final Four in the space of three weeks is the run dreams are made of. Nothing can top this.
5. Kansas Jayhawks (No. 1 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 8 seed Arkansas defeated the Jayhawks 72-71 in the second round.
Peak win probability: 91%. As a 1-seed, there weren’t any expectations otherwise — until the final minute, when the Jayhawks couldn’t close out the close game.
How much it hurt: It had been 41 days since anyone not named Texas had beaten Kansas. Arkansas, a sub-.500 team in conference play that lost had six of nine games before the NCAA tournament, cracked the code. It didn’t help that Jayhawks coach Bill Self was absent, recovering from heart surgery. Their 2022 banner will hang forever, but we haven’t seen a repeat champion since 2006. History suggested KU’s luck was going to run out sooner or later, but for a blue blood, this one is tough.
4. Creighton Bluejays (No. 6 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 5 seed SDSU defeated the Bluejays 57-56 in the closing seconds of the Elite Eight.
Peak win probability: 84.1%. With 13 minutes to go in regulation, the Bluejays were cruising. Just over seven minutes later, it was a different story.
How much it hurt: We went back and forth on this one. This is a team that entered the season pegged as a true threat, fell short of those expectations through Christmas and ran hot during the tournament. The early-season slump was injury-related, and there was never any doubt of the talent on this roster, so the idea of losing to a 5-seed — with a 9-seed waiting in the Final Four — is painful. A decisive ticky-tack foul on the final possession makes it even worse. The Bluejays might have been just a 6-seed, but this loss checks plenty of pain boxes: expectations, promise and heartbreak. This isn’t a game their fans will soon forget.
3. UCLA Bruins (No. 2 seed, West)
How they lost: No. 3 Gonzaga defeated the Bruins 79-76 in the Sweet 16.
Peak win probability: 93.3%. More interesting is seeing the Bruins’ probability swing from 4.4% to 69.7% to 12.6% within the final 1:15.
How much it hurt: A UCLA-Gonzaga matchup is always an instant classic. That said, this UCLA loss hurts. A lot. The Bruins did something no one had done against Gonzaga in the tournament: control the first half. A clutch play with 13 seconds left seemed to bring them back. Nope. Julian Strawther‘s completely unexpected dagger from way downtown stung in the moment, it stung in the days following and it will sting in the future as it enters the annals of greatest March Madness moments. And so the West Coast tournament title drought continues.
2. Arizona Wildcats (No. 2 seed, South)
How they lost: No. 15 seed Princeton (16-point underdog) defeated the Wildcats 59-55 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 96.3%. For about 38 minutes, Arizona had everything to lose. Then in the final two minutes, they unexpectedly did.
How much it hurt: One of the most potent offenses in the nation lost a game to a team that failed to reach 60 points. Let that sink in a moment. This is the same Arizona team that, in late January, hung 57 points on the board in a single half. And now, with all the chips on the line, the Wildcats finish with 55 points against a fringe top-100 defense that was a modest 13-6 in the Ivy League since the middle of December? This is a storied program that had a chance to do big things (seventh-most picked team to cut down the nets across brackets), but Arizona has yet to reach a Final Four in two decades and counting.
1. Purdue Boilermakers (No. 1 seed, East)
How they lost: No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson (23.5-point underdog) defeated the Boilermakers 63-58 in the first round.
Peak win probability: 98.7%, at the tip. Still, Purdue was heavily favored even as FDU led at times in the first half.
How much it hurt: Over the past three seasons, Purdue has racked up 76 wins, spent two months atop the AP poll, produced a top-five NBA draft pick (Jaden Ivey), rostered the presumptive player of the year (Zach Edey) — and won a total of two tournament games. That’s one fewer than Saint Peter’s, a team that landed Purdue on this list a season ago. This is a program that always looks good getting off the bus and in spreadsheets but isn’t putting fear into anybody once the regular season ends.
After his Knights won the play-in game against Texas Southern (as an underdog), then-coach Tobin Anderson foretold arguably the greatest upset in the history of the game: “The more I see Purdue, the more I think we can beat them.” That’s right. This is the coach of an underdog in the play-in game for a 16-seed talking about one of the elite teams from this regular season that won a power conference tournament.