When March rolls around, the entire sports world focuses on the NCAA Tournament just waiting for the next great Cinderella story. Eventually, the Final Four gives us epic games between powerhouse programs. But in the meantime, we crave an underdog rising to the occasion, winning hearts and busting brackets in the process. With that in mind, let’s take a stroll down memory lane at the greatest Cinderella stories in NCAA Tournament history.
Not only were the Ramblers a no. 11 seed, but much of the excitement of Loyola’s amazing run comes from pulling out close games. Their first three wins of the tournament came by a combined four points.
Somehow, someway, the Ramblers kept coming out on top in those tight games. For what it’s worth, Loyola benefited from upsets that prevented them from playing the no. 1 or 2 seeds in their region on their way to the Final Four. But it was an incredible Cinderella story nonetheless.
Shaka Smart’s Rams had to win one extra game to reach the Final Four in 2011, as they had to play in the First Four. Most pundits criticized the Selection Committee for even putting VCU in the play-in game.
But the Rams made it to the field of 64 and then crushed Georgetown and Purdue to reach the Sweet 16. Smart’s “Havoc” style of play continued to work against Florida State and top-seeded Kansas, taking VCU to the Final Four in a run nobody could have foreseen on Selection Sunday.
George Mason, 2006
This run was almost unfathomable. For starters, George Mason didn’t have anyone in their rotation taller than 6’7’’. The Patriots also beat three blue-blood programs in Michigan State, North Carolina, and UConn on their way to the Final Four.
Keep in mind that year’s UNC team had Tyler Hansbrough while the UConn team was loaded with talent and a popular pick to win it all. None of that mattered because the only team that could stop Jim Larrañaga and George Mason was a Florida team winning its first of two back-to-back titles.
Of course, this will always be remembered as Stephen Curry’s coming-out party. Curry scored 40 points in the First Round to beat Gonzaga, 30 points to beat no. 2 seed Georgetown in the next round, and 33 points against no. 3 Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.
It was an unbelievable Cinderella run by a player who could barely get a scholarship offer out of high school but has turned into arguably the greatest shooter of all-time. Even when the Wildcats went out in the Elite Eight, it was a tight 59-57 loss to eventual champion Kansas.
Florida Gulf Coast, 2013
Two words: Dunk City! While they only made it to the Sweet 16, the Cinderella run by Florida Gulf Coast as a no. 15 seed was something magical. Beating Georgetown in the First Round will forever be remembered as one of the most entertaining upsets in tournament history. Of course, it couldn’t have been any more humiliating for the Hoyas.
The Eagles put together a highlight reel of dunks against Georgetown that made the Hoyas look like a YMCA rec league team. Florida Gulf Coast then doubled down two days later by beating San Diego State, becoming the first no. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.