March Madness 2012: 11 Greatest Cinderella Stories in NCAA Tournament History

Dan Renfro@danrenfroCorrespondent IIIMarch 12, 2012

March Madness 2012: 11 Greatest Cinderella Stories in NCAA Tournament History

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    Everyone loves a March Madness Cinderella.

    Even though these teams probably destroyed your bracket, you couldn't help but hope they would keep winning. America loves the darlings, and college basketball provides one nearly every single year.

    There are tons and tons of teams that could count as Cinderellas so I made a few criteria to limit the teams:

    1. A small conference school (no ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 or SEC), unless it was a double-digit Final Four team.

    2. At least made it to the Elite Eight. Every year, there are double-digit seeds in the Sweet Sixteen, but those teams aren't quite Cinderellas.

    3. After 1985. Villanova is the poster child for Cinderellas after its incredible upset of Georgetown in the 1985 National Championship (the first year the tournament was 64 teams). I'm only including teams that came after those Wildcats.

    There have been some great tournament runs by underrated teams. They have busted your brackets and still gotten you to cheer for them. Here is my list for the 11 greatest Cinderella stories in NCAA Tournament history, with the tournament's current structure.

11. 1991 Temple, 10 Seed

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    In 1991, John Cheney led Temple to the second of five Elite Eights.

    Temple upset Purdue in the first round before eliminating No. 15 Richmond (who had beaten second-seeded Syracuse) to get to the Sweet Sixteen. Temple pulled off its biggest upset of the year by beating third-ranked Oklahoma State.

    The Owls eventually lost to North Carolina by three points. Even though the Owls only beat one top seed, they were only a few baskets away from the Final Four.

    Cheney was a great coach at Temple, and he had them in the Elite Eight a few times, even with low seeds. He was a great coach in the tournament, and once everyone realized that, they tried to stay far away from Temple in March.

10. 1998 Rhode Island, 8 Seed

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    Before he was married to a Kardashian, Lamar Odom was leading Rhode Island to the Elite Eight.

    The Rams rolled Murray State in the first round. Then they upset No. 1 seed Kansas, led by Paul Pierce, before beating upstart Valparaiso in the Sweet Sixteen.

    With a Final Four bid on the line, Rhode Island faced off against third-seeded Stanford. The Cardinal proved too much for Odom & Co., as they won by two points.

    Rhode Island beat a big-time school and two small-time schools. Unfortunately, the Rams couldn't get the elusive fourth win to make it to the Final Four.

9. 2010 Butler, 5 Seed

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    The 2010 Butler Bulldogs were the loveable underdogs.

    They were from the Horizon League and they were playing in their backyard. With the Final Four being in Indianapolis, this seemed like the new-age Hoosiers story.

    Unfortunately, Gordon Hayward's shot was about six inches off, and big, bad Duke won. What's lost in translation, however, is that this Butler team was actually really good in an extremely competitive tournament.

    Duke was the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four. Butler only had to beat a fifth seed (Michigan State, mind you) in the Final Four, and they were one of the best defensive teams in college basketball.

    While it's easy to paint these Bulldogs as the classic underdogs, they were actually a very good team with NBA talent. Still, they captured the hearts of many as they tried to win a title for all Cinderellas.

8. 2008 Davidson, 10 Seed

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    With the baby-faced Steph Curry leading the way, Davidson took the college basketball world by storm in 2008.

    Davidson upset Gonzaga (No. 7), Georgetown (No. 2) and Wisconsin (No. 3) before taking on the Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite Eight. Curry was the tournament favorite, as he scored at will, despite looking like someone's kid brother.

    Davidson looked like it would pull off the impossible, escaping its bracket after playing the toughest schedule it could, but Curry & Co. fell just short.

    The eventual-champion Jayhawks took down Davidson 59-57, eliminating one of the most fun college basketball players in this millennium.

    Curry has had a pretty good NBA career, but he will always be remembered for those 10 days in March 2008.

7. 1999 Gonzaga, 10 Seed

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    Nowadays, Gonzaga is a household name.

    In 1999, that wasn't the case.

    The 'Zags had only been to one NCAA tournament in their history, and they lost in the first round. In 1999, however, they nearly made it to the Final Four.

    Led by coach Dan Monson, the Bulldogs upset Minnesota (No. 7), Stanford (No. 2) and Florida (No. 6) before meeting UConn in the Elite Eight.

    With Richard Hamilton leading the way, the Huskies proved to be too much for Gonzaga (or anyone else, for that matter) en route to Jim Calhoun's first National Title.

    Nevertheless, this was the first year Gonzaga put its name on the map. Now, big schools want no part of the Bulldogs in March.

6. 2002 Kent State, 10 Seed

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    In arguably the toughest bracket in the 2002 NCAA tournament, Kent State nearly emerged as the Regional Champion.

    After upsetting Oklahoma State (No. 7), Alabama (No. 2) and Pittsburgh (No. 3), Kent State faced the Indiana Hoosiers. Both teams had incredible momentum, as the Hoosiers had just beaten Duke and the Golden Flashes were coming off a big overtime win over Pitt.

    As fate would have it, Kent State ran out of steam, and they simply couldn't keep up Jared Jeffries and the Hoosiers. The Golden Flashes nearly pulled off another upset, but they didn't quite have enough to get it done.

5. 2011 Butler, 8 Seed

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    For the second year in a row, Butler lost in the National Championship.

    Even though they were back in the National Title game, no one thought this Butler team could do it.

    They had lost their best player and only true scorer from the year before. They had struggled throughout the year. They were only an eight seed, and they needed to beat a very tough Old Dominion team, just to get a chance to play Pittsburgh.

    Well, Butler beat both of those teams in the final seconds. Then they handled Wisconsin before beating Florida in overtime. In the Final Four, they matched up against another Cinderalla, VCU. Butler took care of business once again.

    And once again, Butler faced another powerhouse in the National Championship: Connecticut. Unfortunately, Butler ran out of steam once again, and they fell to a determined Kemba Walker & Co.

    We should've seen Butler's second run coming. However, everyone seemed to write them off. Then, Brad Stevens reminded us why we should never forget out Butler if they're in the tournament.

4. 1986 LSU, 11 Seed

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    The 1986 LSU Tigers went through the toughest possible schedule to get to the 1986 Final Four.

    Led by coach Dale Brown (pictured in 1996), the Tigers beat Purdue (No. 6), Memphis State (No. 3), Georgia Tech (No. 2) and Kentucky (No. 1) on their way to the Final Four.

    Even though they are from a major conference, LSU was certainly a Cinderella in '86. The Tigers finished fifth in the SEC, and they were one of the last teams in the tournament.

    Regardless, they were able to string together four wins, before falling to the eventual-champion Louisville. Coach Brown never quite recreated the success of 1986, but as the Cinderella story, LSU still made some magic.

3. 1990 Loyola Marymount, 11 Seed

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    In one of the most emotional runs in NCAA tournament history, Loyola Marymount made it to the Elite Eight despite losing star Hank Gathers just a few weeks earlier.

    Gathers died from a heart condition, and no one would've blamed Loyola for quitting. If they would've ended their season abruptly, everyone would've understood.

    Instead, the Lions dedicated the rest of the season to Gathers, and they ended up winning three tournament games, as an eleventh seed.

    Bo Kimble's left-handed free throw was a tribute to his friend Gathers, and it still gives me goosebumps. Loyola ended up getting blown out by a very good UNLV team, who ended up winning the title, but Marymount still went on one of the most inspiring runs in NCAA history.

2. 2006 George Mason, 11 Seed

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    George Mason pulled off one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history.

    After navigating through a brutal schedule (Michigan State, North Carolina and Wichita State), the Patriots faced one of the most talented teams in the 2006: Connecticut.

    Led by Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone, the UConn Huskies had only lost three games all season. They were the second overall seed, and with Duke out, they were the new favorite.

    George Mason, however, did not back down. After blowing a lead in the second half, the Patriots responded by winning in overtime. They not only outplayed the Huskies, but they outlasted them.

    George Mason pulled off one of the greatest runs in NCAA history. Their road to the Final Four went through three historic programs and a very good mid-major. They lost to the eventual-champion Florida, but they reminded everyone than eleventh seeds do have the ability to make the Final Four.

1. 2011 VCU, 11 Seed

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    Not many people thought Virginia Commonwealth should be in the 2011 NCAA tournament.

    Coach Shaka Smart didn't let his team listen to those people.

    He took his team past USC (in the play-in game), Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. In every game, pundits expected VCU to fold. Yet, in every game, the Rams were more composed and prepared than their opponents.

    They played hard, smart and efficiently, which is why they were able to make it to the Final Four. They eventually fell to Butler, but that doesn't take away the great feat the Rams accomplished.

    A lot of people were against the idea of extra play-in games. Many thought it was unnecessary (myself included), and these teams were essentially throwaways anyway. Well, VCU proved all the haters wrong.

    VCU proved that magic can strike anywhere in March. Any team can beat any other team. There are Cinderella stories just waiting to be written.

    You just have to believe.