With March Madness in full swing, I figured it was the perfect time to bust out this Pick-Six idea of the top Cinderella stories in NCAA tournament history. Everyone’s picking their brackets, and the Swing of Things staff has already made their picks, so what better time to make everyone paranoid and get everyone thinking about the upsets. Here are the top six Cinderella teams in March Madness history:
6. 1979 Penn Quakers
I wasn’t alive for this one, but, looking at the teams this 1979 Penn team beat, the Quakers make it as the first Cinderella story on this week’s Pick-Six. They entered the tournament as a No. 9 seed, and made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to the No. 2 Michigan State. However, Penn knocked off No. 8 Iona, No. 1 North Carolina, No. 4 Syracuse. The Quakers then beat No. 10 St. John’s, who had previously knocked off No. 2 Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, in the Elite Eight to wrap up their streak. Penn wasn’t done just yet, as they made it back to the third-place game, where they lost to No. 2 DePaul to finish their month up. It was an impressive run to the Final Four, and a fitting way to start the top Cinderella stories of all-time.
5. 2006 George Mason Patriots
The 2006 George Mason squad is the lowest seed on this list, and the Patriots were one of my favorite Cinderella stories back when I was younger and rooting for every underdog and not worrying about my bracket getting busted. The No. 11 Patriots pulled off upsets in every game they played in, starting with a win over my favorite team, the No. 6 Michigan State Spartans to start their run. George Mason didn’t stop there, as they won big games against No. 3 North Carolina, No. 7 Wichita State, and finishing it by knocking off the No. 1 Connecticut in the Elite Eight. Their run ended at the hands of No. 3 Florida, which came out of the tournament on top over UCLA in the final. It was a fun Cinderella team to watch, and their improbable run is worthy of a top five spot on this list.
4. 2008 Davidson Wildcats
Before Steph Curry was tearing it up in the NBA, he was putting up insane results at Davidson and making a name for himself in March. Davidson entered the 2008 tournament as a No. 10 seed, and pulled off some massive upsets over No. 7 Gonzaga, No. 2 Georgetown, and No. 3 Wisconsin, before losing in the Elite Eight to the No. 1 and eventual National Champion Kansas. Curry scored 40 points in the win over Gonzaga, 30 against Georgetown and 33 against Wisconsin, eventually missing a game-winning shot against Kansas and getting knocked out of the tournament. Not to mention he did all of this as a sophomore. The team has yet to reach that same success since then, but they were a fun story to follow for that one year.
3. 2013 Wichita State Shockers
Their mascot name is all you need to know about this Cinderella story: the Shockers. Wichita State entered the 2013 as a No. 9 seed, and pulled off an impressive run to the Final Four, where they lost to No. 2 Louisville, who went on to win the tournament. The Shockers pulled off a win over No. 8 Pittsburgh, and then defeated No. 1 Gonzaga in a back-and-forth game that saw them up 13 points in the first half, and then down eight points with 12 minutes left. Wichita State launched a rally of its own, hitting five straight threes from four different players to pull back ahead and keep the lead for the huge upset. The Shockers then beat No. 13 La Salle and pulled off another big upset of No. 2 Ohio State before their Final Four loss, but the damage had already been done by this Cinderella story.
2. 1990 Loyola Maramount
This Cinderella story didn’t go as far in the tournament as the others on this list, but it is the most heart-wrenching out of all six stories. The 1990 Loyola Maramount squad was averaging 122 points per game (as ridiculous as that sounds for a collegiate team) and its best player, Hank Gathers, was leading the nation in scoring for the second straight year and also a leader in rebounding in 1990, and the team was ready to make a run in the NCAA tournament with him leading the way. However, Gathers collapsed on the court during the second round of their conference tournament and passed away from heart failure. Gathers’ best friend Bo scored 45 points in an opening round 111-92 win over No. 6 New Mexico State, and shot his first free throw of each game lefthanded in honor of Gathers. In the second round, the Lions routed defending champion No. 3 Michigan 149-115, and then beat #7 Alabama before losing a tough one to No. 1 UNLV in the Elite Eight, but the Lions had already proven that they belonged in the tournament, and were the true and original Cinderella story.
1. 2011 Butler Bulldogs
As special as the 2010 Butler run was, the 2011 team’s success was even more unbelievable. The Bulldogs entered the 2011 tournament as a No. 8 seed, and pulled off the impossible to make it to their second straight National Championship. I do think they were a bigger underdog in the 2010 season, but they were given a No. 5 seed in that tournament, which I can’t consider a true Cinderella story. The 2011 team, however, pulled off wins over No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 4 Wisconsin, and No. 2 Florida before losing in the national championship for the second year in a row. The wins were more impressive as a No. 8 seed, and put Butler down in NCAA history as one of the true Cinderella’s March has ever seen.