College Basketball's Greatest Cinderella Teams (or Stories) of All Time
Every year there is at least one team that shakes up the world of college basketball and makes an unexpected run. The term "Cinderella" has come to affectionately describe these teams and their improbable runs through the NCAA tournament.
With March still a ways off and the basketball season yet to officially start, it is never too early to take a walk down memory lane and revisit some of college basketball's top Cinderella stories. Some of the greatest stories in college basketball did not end in a national championship, yet some of them did. What was the greatest Cinderella team of all-time? Was it the 1985 Villanova squad, the 1990 Loyola Marymount team, or the more recent 2010 Butler team.
Let's take a look at the top six Cinderella stories of all-time.
Here are a few teams that were great Cinderella squads in their own right but just missed out on making the cut.
Texas Western 1966
City College of New York 1950
No. 8: 1986 LSU
Coming into the tournament as a No. 11 seed, the '86 Tigers' improbable run to the Final Four made them the lowest seed at the time (tied later by 2006 George Mason) to reach the Final Four. The Tigers benefited from playing their first two games on their home court, but no one could have predicted the run they would make.
LSU knocked off sixth-seeded Purdue, third-seeded Memphis State, as well as second-seeded Georgia Tech before losing in the semifinals to No. 1 seed Kentucky. Anthony Wilson's game-winning shot against Memphis State will forever live in the mind of Tiger basketball fans as one of the greatest moments in their school's history.
No. 7: Loyola Marymount 1990
The 1990 Loyola Marymount team was one that suffered one of the most tragic moments in the history of college basketball when star player Hank Gathers collapsed on the court and passed away during one of the team's WCC tournament games. The game was halted right away, and the rest of the tournament was cancelled. The Lions received the league's auto-bid into the NCAA tournament because they had the league's best record during the regular season.
On their road to the Elite Eight, the 11th seeded Lions defeated New Mexico State, Michigan and Alabama, before losing to the Running Rebels of UNLV.
The inspired play of the 1990 Lions pushed them to the Elite Eight and into the hearts of Cinderella fans everywhere.
No. 6: 2011 VCU
During the 2011 NCAA Tournament, the nation quickly became captured by head coach Shaka Smart and the VCU Rams. Only the third ever 11th-seeded team to reach the Final Four, the Rams reached the Final Four in fashion by defeating No. 1 seed Kansas by 10 points in the Southwest regional championship game, 71-61.
After a disappointing end to the regular season, Smart doubted his team would even be invited to the tournament. When the bracket came out, a majority of Smart's players were off doing something else and had no idea that they were going to the NCAA tournament. Once the bracket was announced, Smart had to quickly bring his troops together and begin to prepare them for one of the best Cinderella stories in college basketball.
No. 5: 1988 Kansas
While the Kansas Jayhawks hardly seem like a team that should appear on a Cinderella list, the 1988 Jayhawks' unlikely run to becoming national champions has landed them in the No. 5 slot on this list.
The Jayhawks' 11-loss season is still the most losses in a regular season by a national champion. Those 11 losses did not deter the Jayhawks from rolling all the way to the national championship game. A six seed at the start of the tournament, the Jayhawks had a tough road in front of them that included No. 1 seed Oklahoma. Oklahoma had given the Jayhawks trouble already that season, defeating them twice.
The Jayhawks were not going to be denied though as star Danny Manning led the Jayhawks past Duke in the semifinals and then past Oklahoma in the national championship game
No. 4: NC State 1983
The 1983 Wolfpack came into the tournament as a sixth-seeded team. After each of their first few games it seemed inevitable that the team would see its run ended. The Wolfpack barely squeaked out wins in the first two rounds, but won never the less.
The "Cardiac Pack" as the team became known was infamous for winning games after trailing in the last minute, something they did seven times in their last nine games. After defeating No. 1 Virginia, the Pack advanced to the national title game where the Houston Cougars awaited them.
The ending to the game is perhaps more famous than the Wolfpack team itself as Lorenzo Charles' last-second dunk helped the Wolfpack defeat Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Cougars in one of college basketball's greatest upsets to this day.
No. 3 Butler 2010
Only the second "mid-major" to ever advance to a Final Four, the Bulldogs came seconds away from winning the national championship in their own backyard. A fifth-seeded team coming into the tournament, the Bulldogs' road the the national championship game was not an easy one as they had to take down giants Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State on their way to the national title game.
Led by head coach Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs captured the attention of the nation with their never say die attitude and perseverance throughout the tournament. The small school from Indianapolis, a yearly power in the Horizon League, had been known to make a little bit of noise occasionally in the tournament, but its improbable run in 2010 launched a Butler-mania that would last into its run back to the national championship game in 2011.
The Bulldogs eventually fell to Duke in the national championship game, but they were one shot away from doing the unthinkable and walking home with a championship
No. 2: 2006 George Mason
The George Mason Patriots were another small school that worked their way into the hearts of basketball fans as they knocked off bigger opponents on their way to the 2006 Final Four. The Patriots had a tougher road than lots of teams as they were given an 11th seed coming into the tournament.
The Patriots knocked off Michigan State, North Carolina (defending champion), fellow Cinderella Wichita State and UConn before finally being defeated in the Final Four by Florida. The Patriots' victory over UConn is considered one of the top upsets in recent college basketball history and was one that truly shocked everyone.
The 2006 George Mason team was ousted in the Final Four, but its unlikely run and the strength of opponents it faced was what placed it in the No. 2 slot on this list.
No. 1: Villanova 1985
The 1985 Villanova Wildcats were the lowest seed to ever win the national championship, an eight seed, and still hold that title. In the last season without a shot clock, the Wildcats took advantage of that at times in the first half of the title game, stalling against Georgetown, trying to propel themselves to victory.
To say the Wildcats were underdogs when they faced off against John Thompson's Hoyas in the national championship game would be an understatement, as nearly no one predicted that the Wildcats would come away with a victory. But a close-knit group of hard-working players got the job done and finished their unpredictable run to a national title that year.
No one could have predicted that the first year the NCAA Tournament included 64 teams would give us one of the greatest stories that college basketball has seen to this day.