10 Most Memorable Final Four Runs
The format of the NCAA Tournament has changed over the years, but the goal for each team has remained the same: get to the Final Four and, ultimately, win a national championship.
In 1985, the tournament expanded to 64 teams, creating more "March Madness" than ever before. While there have been additional minor changes since then, including the opening game and the First Four, 1985 marks the beginning of the modern NCAA Tournament.
This upcoming season will bring us the 30th addition of the NCAA Tournament since it grew to 64 teams. But before it all unfolds, let's look back at most exciting tournaments of the past 29 years. Here are ten of the most memorable runs to the Final Four since 1985, listed in chronological order.
It didn't take long for the new format to produce some whacky results, as eighth-seeded Villanova reached the Final Four in 1985.
After barely getting by Dayton, 51-49, the Wildcats upset top-seeded Michigan in the round of 32, 59-55. They survived another nail biter in the Sweet Sixteen, squeezing past Maryland, the No. 5 seed, with a score of 46-43.
Ironically, Villanova's easiest game on its path to the Final Four was its final one, a 56-44 win over second-seeded North Carolina.
The NCAA Tournament saw even stranger results the following year, when LSU made the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.
The Tigers needed double-overtime to upset No. 6 seed Purdue in the first round. From there, they played the highest possible seed in each game, knocking out the No.'s 3, 2 and 1 seeds in order. Wins over Memphis State, Georgia Tech and Kentucky—by a combined 10 points—earned the Tigers a trip to Dallas for the Final Four.
To date LSU's No. 11 seed remains the lowest ever for a Final Four participant.
On their path to defending and ultimately repeating their title, the Duke Blue Devils began with three convincing wins by double-digit margins. But the regional final alone was more than enough to make their run memorable.
In what Gene Wojciechowski refers to as "The Last Great Game," top-seeded Duke beat second-seeded Kentucky 104-103 in overtime. Grant Hill threw a three-quarter court pass to Christian Laettner for the game-winning buzzer beater. The shot capped a perfect shooting night for Laettner in which he hit all 10 of his attempts from the field and all 10 of his free throws for 31 points.
Unlike Duke in 1992, the 1995 Arkansas was unable to defend its national championship from the previous year. But the Razorbacks didn't go down without a fight and they had plenty on their way to the Final Four.
They narrowly avoided an embarrassing 2 vs. 15 upset, edging Texas Southern by one. The Razorbacks then needed overtime in each of their next two games, beating Syracuse and Memphis.
In comparison, Arkansas' 68-61 win over Virginia in the Elite Eight must've felt like a walk in the park.
The 1996 Kentucky Wildcats destroyed everyone in their path on their way to the Final Four.
Their closest game, over Tim Duncan and second-seeded Wake Forest, saw them double up the Demon Deacons 38-19 at the half before going on to win 83-63. Of the four opponents the Wildcats faced in their region, none came closer than Wake Forest's 20-point margin—in fact, their average margin of victory in those games was just over 28 points.
Duke didn't win the national championship in 1999, but they were statistically more dominant on their way to the Final Four than the 1996 Wildcats.
The Blue Devils won each of the first two games by 41 points, finishing with a 30-point margin of victory in their four regional games. A 78-61 win over No. 12 seed Missouri State proved to be Duke's closest game on their way to the tournament's final weekend.
2006: George Mason
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The 2006 NCAA Tournament was the second tournament ever that didn't feature any No. 1 seeds in the Final Four and the first since the expansion to 64 teams. The poster team for all of the upsets and madness was George Mason.
The No. 11 seed first defeated two of the country's most storied programs in Michigan State and North Carolina. The Patriots defeated a fellow mid-major, No. 7 seed Wichita State, to set up a regional final with top-seeded Connecticut.
Playing a quasi-home game in Washington D.C., the Patriots fought back when the Huskies forced overtime and George Mason won 86-84, tying the 1986 LSU Tigers as the lowest seed to ever make the Final Four.
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Today's average college basketball fan knows about Butler because of what the Bulldogs did in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, making the first of two consecutive title game appearances.
As a No. 5 seed, Butler was considered by experts and office co-workers alike looking for the typical 5 vs. 12 upset. Instead, then little-known head coach Brad Stevens navigated the Bulldogs past No. 12 seed UTEP and all the way through the region.
Butler overcame a four point halftime deficit to beat No. 13 seed Murray State 54-52 and then held on late against the top two seeds in the region, Syracuse and Kansas State, to make the Final Four.
The third No. 11 seed to make the Final Four, VCU's run may have been the most impressive of the three considering they had to win an extra game to get there.
The Rams defeated USC 59-46 as part of the brand new First Four, earning a spot in the main field of 64. They followed that up with consecutive 18-point wins over Georgetown and Purdue.
VCU faced another double-digit seed in No. 10 Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen, getting by only on a Bradford Burgess layup with six seconds left in overtime for a 72-71 win. In the regional final, the Rams jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead against top-seeded Kansas, holding on for a 71-61 win.
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Kentucky's 2012 edition doesn't look as dominant on paper as the 1996 squad, but by watching them you could tell that they too were destined for the Final Four (and more).
The Wildcats easily dispatched Western Kentucky, 81-66, and Iowa State, 87-71, in their first two games. The next two games were 12-point victories over Indiana and Baylor to clinch a spot in the Final Four. While those margins may be somewhat modest for such a dominant team, KenPom (subscription required) shows that the Hoosiers and Bears never really got close.