NCAA Tournament: 10 Best Cinderellas of the Last 20 Years
Every year there are unexpected results and upsets in the NCAA Tournament. Its arguably the biggest headline that drives interest during March Madness. Nearly everyone who has filled out a bracket at one time or another has experienced a bracket-busting loss.
While pulling off an upset is memorable, some teams from the past two decades extended their impressive runs well past the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
1994 Boston College (8th seed):
After surviving against Washington State (67-64) in the first round, the Golden Eagles knocked off the defending national champion-Tar Heels in the second round. This set up a matchup with Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen. After a win over the Hoosiers, BC’s unexpected season was ended by Lon Kruger’s Florida Gators.
1998 Rhode Island (8th Seed):
The 1998 NCAA Tournament will always be remembered for the run 13-seed Valparaiso made after their last-second shot against Ole Miss in the opening round. Homer Drew’s Crusaders would meet their match in the Sweet Sixteen against another underdog. Coming off a win over Kansas, Jim Harrick’s Rams beat Valparaiso by six points in the Sweet Sixteen, before falling just short of the Final Four against Stanford (79-77) in their next game.
1999 Gonzaga (10th seed):
The Zags rise as a mid-major power began with their trip to the Elite Eight in 1999. Along the way a team then only known as John Stockton’s alma mater; knocked off Minnesota, second-seeded Stanford, and Florida. The run did not continue to the national semifinals, after a five point loss to eventual-national champion UConn.
After the season head coach Dan Monson was hired by Minnesota (a school the Zags beat during the tournament), which led to a promotion for his assistant coach Mark Few. Monson is now the head coach at Long Beach State.
2002 Kent State (10th Seed) & Missouri (12th Seed):
Although the Cincinnati Bearcats were one of the top four seeds in the Big Dance, the school from the Buckeye State that went the furthest in March was located a little bit further north. Antonio Gates (the future tight end of the San Diego Chargers) helped MAC-champion Kent State upset second-seeded Alabama and third-seeded Pittsburgh on their way to the Elite Eight, where their season ended against Indiana.
Missouri advanced to the Sweet Sixteen after beating a fourth-seeded Ohio State squad and avoided a matchup with another Buckeye State team, after UCLA beat Cincinnati 105-101 in the second round. The Tigers beat UCLA in their next game, but the run ended just short of the Final Four, when they were eliminated by Oklahoma.
2006 George Mason (11th Seed):
Current-Miami coach Jim Larranaga presided over a squad that may have redefined the term mid-major and bracket buster with their success. George Mason almost missed the tournament all together, after losing in the semifinals of the CAA tournament, becoming the first team from that conference to receive an at-large bid in 20 years. Their selection for the tournament was questioned by many and few expected them to have such a historic run.
The Patriots knocked off Michigan State and North Carolina on their way to the Sweet Sixteen and made it to the halfway point of the Big Dance with a win over fellow-bracket buster, 7-seed Wichita State. George Mason’s winning ways continued with a overtime victory over the heavily favored-UConn Huskies, that put them within two games of cutting down the nets.
Their unforgettable year came up just short of a championship banner against the Florida, 73-58. While the Gators would finish that season (and the following year) as champions, the George Mason Patriots season has not been forgotten.
2008 Davidson (10th Seed):
2008 was far from the year of the upset. It was the year of the chalk, when all top four seeds advanced to the Final Four for the first time in the 70-year history of the NCAA Tournament. However, a few brackets were busted by the stellar play of Stephen Curry who led Davidson to the Elite Eight.
The All-Chalk Final Four was almost denied by the Davidson Wildcats who gave the Kansas Jayhawks all they could handle, 59-57, coming up just short of the Final Four and a matchup with Tyler Hansbrough and the Tar Heels.
2010 Butler (5th Seed):
Although what Butler did in the tournament was unexpected by many outside of the Hoosier State, making it to the title game as a fifth-seed is far from improbable.
What remains improbable is what would have been the arguably the greatest championship-winning play for any sport.
2011 Butler (8th Seed) & VCU (11th Seed):
Even more surprising than Butler advancing to the National Championship Game the prior season, was Brad Steven’s squad returning the following year sans Gordon Hayward and as a lower seed. Butler advanced to the national semifinals after beating top-seeded Pittsburgh in round two and second-seeded Florida in round four.
Butler’s matchup in the Final Four was against another bracket buster, VCU, a team coming off a dominating 71-61 win over Kansas the previous week. The other side of the bracket featured a battle of blue bloods between UConn and Kentucky.
The Bulldogs national title hopes came up just short against Kemba Walker and the Huskies, in a low scoring affair, 53-41. Butler became the first school to lose back-to-back national title games since the Fab Five at Michigan.
2000 Elite Eight – Hard to pick just one or two teams from this tournament when five of the last eight teams standing where lower than a fourth-seed.
5th Seed – Florida (national runner-ups)
6th Seed – Purdue
7th Seed – Tulsa
8th Seed – North Carolina
8th Seed – Wisconsin