March Madness: The 20 Greatest Cinderella Stories in Tournament History

Mark MillerCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2011

March Madness: The 20 Greatest Cinderella Stories in Tournament History

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    Year in and year out we see top seeds make their way through the tournament field and towards the Final Four.

    These top teams are often the ones that end up cutting down the nets as we listen to CBS air its annual rendition of "One Shining Moment."

    But while these teams are oftentimes remembered for years, it's the underdogs that fans flock to. Cinderella teams make the tournament what it is and give even the smallest of mid-major programs hope for their time to shine.

    As bracketologists everywhere prepare to analyze this year's diamonds in the rough, here is a list of some Cinderella programs of seasons past.

No. 20: 1986 Navy Midshipmen

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    Tournament Seed: No. 7

    Finish: Elite Eight

    Led by 1986 CAA Player of the Year David Robinson, the Navy Midshipmen surprised many as they continued to defeat competition and plow through the brackets.

    The team's first victory came in convincing fashion, as Navy defeated Tulsa 87-68. It was after this that the team shocked No. 2 seed Syracuse 97-85.

    The next game showcased another tournament Cinderella in No. 14 Cleveland State with a trip to the regional final at stake. The Midshipmen would prevail but would fall just shy of the Final Four in losing to the No. 1-seeded Duke Blue Devils.

No. 19: 1996 Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Tournament Seed: No. 5

    Finish: Final Four

    The Mississippi State Bulldogs came in under the radar more so than other seeds in the 1996 NCAA tournament.

    After defeating No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth in the opening round and No. 13 Princeton in the second round, the team had yet to face a highly seeded opponent and real test.

    When they did, they rose to the challenge. The Bulldogs defeated No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Cincinnati en route to a trip to the Final Four at the Meadowlands.

No. 18: 2002 Missouri Tigers

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    Tournament Seed: No. 12

    Finish: Elite Eight

    Missouri guard Kareem Rush certainly didn't take any prisoners as he led his Tigers to the Elite Eight in the 2002 NCAA tournament.

    The team defeated No. 5 Miami, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 8 UCLA before falling to conference foe Oklahoma 81-75 in the West Region final.

No. 17: 2001 Temple Owls

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    Tournament Seed: No. 11

    Finish: Elite Eight

    Maybe the Temple Owls had a chip on their shoulder after being placed in a No. 11 slot. If not, they certainly played like it.

    Led by head coach John Chaney, the Owls beat No. 6 seed Texas 79-65 in the opening round.

    They weren't done handing out the hurt, as they defeated No. 3 Florida 75-54 and No. 7 Penn State 84-72 before ultimately falling to No. 1 seed Michigan State.

No. 16: 2006 Bradley Braves

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    Tournament Seed: No. 13

    Finish: Sweet 16

    Despite coming from the mid-major Missouri Valley Conference, the Bradley Braves played like a national contender as they entered tournament play.

    The team defeated the No. 4 Kansas Jayhawks and No. 5 Pitt Panthers en route to a Sweet 16 loss to top seed Memphis.

No. 15: 2008 Davidson Wildcats

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    Tournament Seed: No. 10

    Finish: Elite Eight

    The 2008 NCAA tournament proved to be a sort of a coming-out party for Stephen Curry.

    The Davidson guard led his squad to victories over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before narrowly falling to No. 1 Kansas in the Midwest Region final.

No. 14: 1986 Cleveland State Vikings

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    Tournament Seed: No. 14

    Finish: Sweet 16

    In their first trip to the NCAA tournament, the Cleveland State Vikings would turn heads as they became the first No. 14 seed to advance to the Sweet 16.

    The team defeated Bobby Knight's No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers and No. 6 St. John's before ultimately making its exit.

No. 13: 1998 Valparaiso Crusaders

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    Tournament Seed: No. 13

    Finish: Sweet 16

    The No. 13-seeded Valparaiso Crusaders made their mark in NCAA tournament memory in defeating No. 4 Ole Miss on a last-second three-pointer that is still played back to this date.

    The Crusaders would knock off Florida State in the next round before falling to No. 8 Rhode Island in the Sweet 16.

No. 12: 1997 Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs

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    Tournament Seed: No. 14

    Finish: Sweet 16

    After being seeded in a position where virtually nothing is expected of a team, the Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs had little to live up to.

    By the end of the tournament the Mocs would join Cleveland State as the only No. 14 seeds to advance to the Sweet 16.

    The Mocs defeated No. 3 Georgia and No. 6 Illinois before falling to No. 10 Providence.

No. 11: 1990 Loyola-Marymount Lions

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    Tournament Seed: No. 11

    Finish: Elite Eight

    The Loyola-Marymount Lions received an automatic bid for the tournament in unconventional and tragic fashion.

    After the death of forward Hank Gathers during a WCC conference tournament game, the remainder of the tournament was cancelled, and the Lions were given the conference automatic bid based on their regular season record.

    During the tournament, the team did an admirable job in playing for the memory of their fallen teammate. The Lions defeated New Mexico State, Michigan and Alabama before falling to UNLV in the West Region final.

No. 10: 1984 Virginia Cavaliers

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    Tournament Seed: No. 7

    Finish: Final Four

    Throughout a series of close calls, the Virginia Cavaliers were able to maneuver their way to a Final Four berth in Seattle, Washington.

    The team beat No. 10 seed Iona in the opening round before knocking off No. 2 Arkansas, No. 3 Syracuse and No. 4 Indiana to earn a trip to the Final Four.

    It was there that the Cavaliers would ultimately fall 49-47 to the highly touted Houston Cougars in the national semifinal.

No. 9: 1987 Providence Friars

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    Tournament Seed: No. 6

    Finish: Final Four

    Led by head coach Rick Pitino, the Providence Friars made the best of their No. 6 seed as they handily defeated UAB in the tournament's opening round.

    After that the road got a little tougher for the Friars. No. 14 seed Austin Peay gave the team all it could handle, as Providence narrowly escaped with a 90-87 victory.

    It was after that win that the Friars would go on a tear in throttling No. 2 seed Alabama and No. 1 seed Georgetown on their way to the Final Four, where they would fall at the hands of No. 2 seed Syracuse.

No. 8: 1979 Penn Quakers

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    Tournament Seed: No. 9

    Finish: Final Four

    During the 1979 NCAA Tournament the Penn Quakers strung together one of the most impressive performances of any Ivy League team in the history of the tournament.

    The No. 9-seeded Quakers were overmatched every step of the way but managed to beat teams such as Syracuse, North Carolina and St. John's on the way to the school's first and only Final Four appearance.

No. 7: 1986 LSU Tigers

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    Tournament Seed: No. 11

    Finish: Final Four

    Led by head coach Dale Brown, the LSU Tigers became the first double-digit seed to advance to the Final Four in NCAA tournament history.

    The team punched its Final Four tickets by defeating No. 6 Purdue, No. 3 Memphis State, No. 2 Georgia Tech and No. 1 Kentucky.

No. 6: 1999 Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Tournament Seed: No. 10

    Finish: Elite Eight

    In what would be their first of many runs in the NCAA tournament, the Gonzaga Bulldogs captured the attention of basketball fans all over the nation as they made their way through the 1999 tournament field.

    Their run began with a 12-point victory over No. 7 seed Minnesota in the first round.

    After that, head coach Dan Monson would lead his team in knocking off No. 2 Stanford and No. 6 Florida before ultimately falling to No. 1 Connecticut in the West Region final.

No. 5: 2000 Wisconsin Badgers

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    Tournament Seed: No. 8

    Finish: Final Four

    After failing to win 20 games during the regular season and finishing in the middle of the Big Ten conference standings, it was almost a surprise that the Wisconsin Badgers managed to earn a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    As it would turn out, the Badgers were worthy of much more. Beating teams like No. 1 Arizona, No. 4 LSU, No. 6 Purdue and No. 9 Fresno State to advance to the Final Four showed just how much talent head coach Dick Bennett had on his squad.

    In what would turn out to be Bennett's last full season at the helm of the Badgers, the team would ultimately fall to conference rival Michigan State in the national semifinals.

No. 4: 1988 Kansas Jayhawks

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    Tournament Seed: No. 6

    Finish: national champion

    The Kansas Jayhawks ended the 1988 regular season outside of the national rankings but wouldn't be deterred as they ran the course of the NCAA tournament.

    Led by the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 1988 NBA draft, Danny Manning, the Jayhawks managed to reach the Final Four without having to face a top three tournament seed.

    Once the team reached the Final Four, there was no looking back. The Jayhawks beat the Duke Blue Devils in the semifinal before toppling conference rival Oklahoma in the national championship game.

No. 3: 2006 George Mason Patriots

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    Tournament Seed: No. 11

    Finish: Final Four

    After winning 23 games during the regular season, the George Mason Patriots were granted a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    After beating No. 6 Michigan State in the first round of the tournament, the Patriots went on to defeat defending national champion North Carolina to advance to the Sweet Sixteen before beating Wichita State to advance to the Washington D.C. Region Final.

    It was then that the team defeated the No. 1-seeded Connecticut Huskies to advance to the Final Four, where they would ultimately fall to the Florida Gators.

No. 2: 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    Tournament Seed: No. 6

    Finish: national champion

    Perhaps one of the more famous stories in NCAA tournament history is the North Carolina State Wolfpack's run to the national championship.

    The Wolfpack narrowly defeated Pepperdine and UNLV before defeating Utah in convincing fashion, giving the team the opportunity to face No. 1 Virginia for a shot at the Final Four.

    The team would escape with a 63-62 victory over the Cavaliers and head to the Final Four, where they defeated No. 4 Georgia for a shot at the national title.

    In a play that will forever live on among the great finishes in championship game history, Lorenzo Charles' dunk at the buzzer gave head coach Jim Valvano his only national title over a heavily favored Houston Cougars squad.

No. 1: 1985 Villanova Wildcats

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    Tournament Seed: No. 8

    Finish: national champion

    After finishing the regular season outside of the NCAA polls, the Villanova Wildcats made their mark by mounting one of the most impressive runs in tournament history.

    The No. 8-seeded Wildcats beat top talent in Michigan, Maryland and North Carolina before ultimately meeting Georgetown in the national championship game.

    It was there that forward Ed Pinckney led the Wildcats to a national title in defeating the Georgetown Hoyas, becoming the first NCAA champion in a 64-team field.