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Wichita State and the 10 Best Mid-Major Runs in NCAA Tournament History

Kevin McRaeFeatured Columnist IVOctober 12, 2016

Wichita State and the 10 Best Mid-Major Runs in NCAA Tournament History

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    Remember when mid-major teams weren't supposed to make the Final Four? 

    With increasing parity in college basketball and a corresponding rise in the number of talented players, that idea has exploded in recent years with more and more smaller conference teams making deep runs towards the Holy Grail of college hoops.

    This year both the Wichita State Shockers, Final Four and still going, and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Sweet 16, made deeper runs than expected and upset power conference teams to get there.

    But they are far from the only Cinderella's to upset the apple cart and bust more than a few brackets come tournament time.

    With that we present the 10 greatest mid-major runs in NCAA tournament history.

2010: Butler Bulldogs

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    In 2010 Butler entered the tournament as a No. 5 seed, not bad at all for a small-conference team, but many felt the Bulldogs were untested and likely to not live up to their ranking. 

    Many were wrong. Absolutely dead wrong. 

    This is a team that came within a buzzer-beater against Duke of becoming the national champions.

    While that achievement would've been monumental, the Horizon League wasn't known for producing many championship-caliber teams, but the fact it didn't happen doesn't diminish the Bulldogs' accomplishment. 

    They were led by their star and current Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward and took down heavy hitters in Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State on their way to the finals. 

    You could argue that this was the most impressive small-conference run in tournament history and ironically its main competition might well come from the following year's Bulldogs squad.

2011: Butler Bulldogs

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    If the 2010 version of the Butler Bulldogs shocked the world by making it all the way to the title game, it was the 2011 version that showed the team wasn't just a flash in the pan.

    With Gordon Hayward on to the NBA, most expected Butler to come crashing back down to earth after its stratospheric 2010 run which included a narrow loss to Duke for the national title. 

    But Brad Stevens' bunch once again shocked the world with a tournament run that was arguably even more impressive than the previous year.

    Entering the tournament with a 23-9 record, which included less than impressive defeats by Evansville and Youngstown State, the Bulldogs snagged a No. 8 seed and narrowly defeated Old Dominion to advance to face No. 1 seed Pitt in the round of 32. 

    Another narrow upset win, coupled with defeats of Wisconsin, Florida and VCU in the Final Four sent the Bulldogs to a second consecutive title game, this time against the UConn Huskies who dominated them in a defensive battle. 

    Even with the loss, Butler proved its program was definitely legitimate and used it as a springboard to prominence which includes an invite to join the new Big East Conference next season. Not bad for a school that came all the way from the Horizon.

2013: Wichita State Shockers

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    The Shockers are one of those teams that people slept on coming into the tournament and apparently they did so at their own peril.

    In fact many considered them to be a borderline bubble team heading into selection weekend, most likely in the field but certainly not with any degree of absolute certainty.

    But Wichita State not only made the field of 68, but also became one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the long history of March Madness.

    Out of the highly underrated Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers were seeded ninth and dropped former Big East and future ACC contender Pittsburgh by 18 points in the first round. Then it was No. 1 seed Gonzaga, a team that knows a bit about tournament upsets, that fell by the wayside in the second round.

    Fellow Cinderella team La Salle was no match in the Sweet 16, and the Ohio State Buckeyes, from the best conference in college basketball this season, could not stop the Shockers run in the Elite Eight.

    Wichita State's story is not yet completed as they have a Final Four matchup with overall No. 1 seed Louisville this weekend. And don't put it past the Shockers to continue their surprising run all the way to a national title.

2013: Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

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    Most people in the country didn't even know Florida Gulf Coast existed a few weeks ago, much less had a pretty good basketball team.

    The Eagles, who were only in their second year of tournament eligibility and won just 15 games last year, shocked the world by becoming the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.

    And they did it by beating powerhouse Georgetown, who many had picked a sleeper to win it all, in the first round and then San Diego State in the round of 32. 

    More impressive? They won both of those games by double-digits and became one of America's sweethearts with their aggressive, fun-style of play that emphasized ridiculous dunks. 

    It remains to be seen whether the Eagles were a flash in the pan, as they were handled by in-state Florida in the Sweet 16 after starting on a 15-4 run, and lost their head coach Andy Enfield to USC shortly after. 

    But even if this is a one and done, it was sure fun to watch.

2011: VCU Rams

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    Shaka Smart's 2011 Virginia Commonwealth Rams team was lucky to even get invited to the dance and they nearly won the whole thing.

    As a No. 11 seed, the Rams were forced to win a play-in game, which they did over USC, in order to even qualify for the main bracket. If you wanted to pick them to advance to the Final Four, you would've needed to select VCU/USC or even TBD on many brackets.

    Needless to say that wasn't a problem for most people as the Rams, who received an at-large bid at 23-11 after losing the CAA title game to Old Dominion, were not expected to go deep into March.

    All they did was win their first three tournament games—over USC, Georgetown and Purdue—by 13, 18 and 18 points. They then stopped Florida State in the Sweet 16 and No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight to advance to their first Final Four.

    Unfortunately for Smart and the VCU Rams, the clock struck midnight there at the hands of another Cinderella—the Butler Bulldogs—who defeated them to advance to their second consecutive title game.

2006: George Mason Patriots

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    Before there was Butler or VCU, there was a little team from Virginia that showed how a small-conference team could reach the heights of the college basketball universe. 

    Jim Larannaga, now head coach at the University of Miami, brought his Patriots to the Final Four and did so by knocking off traditional powerhouse after traditional powerhouse.

    As a No. 11 seed, George Mason was first tasked with knocking off the Michigan State Spartans, which it did 75-65 in the opening round.

    That would've been impressive enough if that was all they accomplished. But the little school from Fairfax went out and slayed No. 3 seed North Carolina in the second round and Wichita State in the Sweet 16 to setup a match with No. 1 seed UConn for a trip to the Final Four.

    The Huskies would fall to the Patriots 86-84 and little George Mason was suddenly one of the last four teams standing in the nation.

    A loss in the Final Four to eventual champion Florida does not diminish what a remarkable run this was for a team that didn't even win the CAA tournament but made the most of its dance ticket.

1999: Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Before they were the 'Zags they were just Gonzaga, a small school in Spokane, Washington that had produced NBA career assists and steals leader John Stockton. 

    The 1999 NCAA tournament was where the Bulldogs began to emerge as a nationally prominent program, a more than a decade push that resulted in their first-ever No. 1 seed in the tournament this year.

    As a No. 10 seed in the West, Gonzaga upset Minnesota in the first round. But its real statement came in the round of 32 when it dumped No. 2 seed Stanford. 

    A win over Florida in the Sweet 16 brought the Bulldogs to their first-ever Elite Eight where they were beaten by UConn, 67-62. 

    But there's no shame in that as the Huskies would go on to a 34-2 record and win a national championship. It was the start of something big for Gonzaga that continues to this day.

1990: Loyola Marymount Lions

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    Loyola Marymount is known for a couple of things, the most prominent among them being the tragic death of its star player Hank Gathers during a March 3, 1993 game against conference foe Portland.

    Gathers had just completed a dunk during the West Coast Conference tournament game when he collapsed and shortly after died as the result of a heart defect.

    The team, however, overcame the death of their star player and entered the NCAA tournament less than two weeks later as the No. 11 seed in the West. 

    And the team did him proud putting up huge numbers, 111 points in a first-round win over New Mexico State and 149 in a second-round win over Michigan, advancing to the Elite Eight. 

    There the Lions ran into a juggernaut of a team, the UNLV Rebels, and managed to put up 101 more points despite losing by 30 to the eventual champs.

    But their story is one of legend, especially given the tragic circumstances of their tournament run.

2008: Davidson Wildcats

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    The 2008 Davidson Wildcats had a player on their team who you might have heard of since he's been making waves in the NBA of late. 

    Stephen Curry, of the 22.6 points-per-game this season for the Warriors, was a sophomore on this team and he absolutely took it on his back.

    Curry led Davidson, a small school from the Southern Conference, to a win over former Cinderella Gonzaga in the opening round before ousting Georgetown and Wisconsin to set up a contest with Kansas for a bid to the Final Four.

    In that game Curry scored 25 points, but the Wildcats were unable to hit a three in the final seconds that would've sent them to San Antonio and dropped a heartbreaker, 59-57.

1986: Cleveland State Vikings

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    Until Florida Gulf Coast this year, it was the Cleveland State Vikings who were the lowest-seeded team to make an appearance in the Sweet 16. 

    As a No. 14 seed, the Vikings were expected to see an early exit with a first-round matchup with perennial powerhouse Indiana. But the Hoosiers fell 83-79 to the Summit League champs.

    They would also upset Saint Joseph's en route to a Sweet 16 matchup with a David Robinson led Navy team that upset No. 2 seed Syracuse in their last game.

    The Midshipmen would survive with a 71-70 victory over Cleveland State, but still a No. 14 seed advancing all the way to the Sweet 16 and beating Indiana? 

    Very impressive.

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