Best NCAA March Madness Tournament Underdog Moments

February 23, 2016

It’s almost that time of year again - winter is coming to an end, spring break is on the horizon, and March Madness about to begin. The best part about the NCAA Tournament isn’t the powerhouse teams bulldozing their way to the Final Four, or watching the top NBA prospects play their final games before heading to the league. But rather, the true magic of the tournament lies in the players we’ve never heard of, the colleges we didn’t even know existed until they pulled off that miraculous first round win and continued to shock and surprise the nation. Let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable Cinderella teams throughout tournament history:

Villanova 1985 (8-Seed National Champions)

Considered one of the greatest underdog stories in March Madness history, the Villanova Wildcats defeated the Georgetown Hoyas for the 1985 National Championship. Hall of Famer and dominant center Patrick Ewing led Georgetown to the championship that year, and no one thought Nova stood a chance. But Nova shot a ridiculous 79% from the field to stun the Hoyas in a seemingly real life David and Goliath showdown.

George Mason 2006 (11-Seed, Lost in Final Four)

In 2011, the George Mason Patriots became the first team from the Colonial Athletic Association to make it to the Final Four. After grabbing an at-large bid, the Patriots wasted no time in taking out big name teams, as they won their first round against Michigan State. Next came No. 3 seed North Carolina, and the Patriots established their run with a signature victory over the ACC powerhouse with four future NBA players on the roster. After beating Wichita State, the Patriots were set to take on top seed UConn led by star Rudy Gay. After a buzzer beating layup by UConn to send the game to overtime, the Patriots stood tall and waltzed their way to the Final Four. The magic ended against a star-studded Florida team, but even then, George Mason had made history.

North Carolina State 1983 (6-Seed National Champions)

What’s March Madness without a little Jimmy V action? This is the game that practically began the Cinderella stories, the original one shining moment. With time ticking off the clock, NC State’s Dereck Whittenburg heaved up a prayer that was bound to fall short. But out of nowhere came Lorenzo Charles to snatch the would-be air ball in midair and jam it home as the clock ran out. Coach Jimmy Valvano, who would die years later of cancer, ran onto the court in hysteria looking for someone to hug. The images of him running onto the court are still seen every March Madness, and his legacy is helped kept alive by this one shining moment.

VCU 2011 (11-Seed, Lost in Final Four)

The Virginia Commonwealth Rams became only the third 11-seed in tournament history to make it to the Final Four, and took the long route by winning the play-in game just to make it to the Round of 64. With first and second round 18-point wins over No. 6 Georgetown and No. 3 Purdue, the Rams earned their way into the Sweet Sixteen and started turning heads. Next came victories over Florida State and No. 1 seed Kansas to make an improbable Final Four run reminiscent of George Mason in 2006. Although their Cinderella run came to a halt against Butler in the Final Four, VCU provided the country with an amazing underdog story that quickly gathered a large fan base, and it was exciting for everyone.

Florida Gulf Coast University 2013 (Lost in Sweet Sixteen)

One of the more memorable teams in the last few years was the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. They entered the NCAA Tournament as a #15 seed, a virtual unknown team that a majority of even the most ardent college basketball fans had never heard of. They faced off against a very good Georgetown team in the first round, and the Eagles promptly earned their nickname of “Dunk City”. Dunks and alley-oops got the crowd in Philadelphia on their feet, as FGCU stormed through No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State. Though they lost in the Sweet Sixteen to a top seeded Florida team, FGCU entertained and played spoilers to two of the best teams in the tournament.

Cornell University 2010 (Lost in Sweet Sixteen)

Teams from the Ivy League usually don’t fare too well in the NCAA Tournament (with great exception to the 1979 Penn Quakers team), which is why the surprise run from the No. 12 Cornell Big Red team. After winning the Ivy League, Cornell squashed No. 5 Temple in the first round, only to move on and demolish No. 4 Wisconsin in the second round. Their run came to an end in the third round, as they lost to No. 1 Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. But the shockwaves they sent to the rest of the tournament field made an impact, and plenty of neutral fans found themselves cheering for the Big Red to win it all.

Did we miss one? Let us know in the comments below. 

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AdmitSee Staff
AdmitSee Staff

​We remember our frustration with applying to college and the lack of information surrounding it. So we created AdmitSee to bring much-needed transparency to the application process! Read more about the team here.

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