Top 10 Lowest NCAA Tournament Seeded Teams to Make the Final Four
Much of the thrill of March madness is in the fact that upsets happen. Everybody loves an underdog and regardless of where fan’s loyalties lie, when a low seeded team starts to get ideas above its station, tournament followers get excited. NCAA tournament seeding as we know it today only began in 1979. Since then, a number of low seeded teams have made it to the semi-finals against the odds. Here’s a top 10 list of the most successful tournament upstarts.
#1 Villanova Wildcats
In 1985, eighth-seeded Villanova Wildcats, under Coach Rollie Massimino, created one of the most surprising upsets in NCAA tournament history. After beating Dayton, Michigan, Maryland and North Carolina to become southeast regional champions, Villanova defeated number two seeded Memphis State in the national semi-finals. As if this wasn’t an amazing achievement in itself, the Wildcats went into the final game against Georgetown, to emerge as winners and the new NCAA men’s champions.
The post-John Wooden era UCLA Bruins were seeded eighth in the 1980 NCAA big dance. Under Coach Larry Brown, UCLA defied the odds and went not just to the final four, but all the way to the championship final. Beating Old Dominion in the first round, DePaul in the second and Ohio State in the regional semi-finals, the Bruins then defeated Clemson to take the regional final. Entering the final four, UCLA sealed a victory over fellow underdogs Purdue to face Denny Crum’s Louisville Cardinals. UCLA were beaten in the final 59-54. Sadly, the school had to subsequently vacate the appearance after two players were found to have been ineligible.
Another number eight seed to outperform their ranking was Butler Bulldogs. In 2011 they were seeded eighth. In the round of 64 they scored a 60-58 win over Old Dominion, beat Pittsburgh by a single point in the round of 32 and then hammered Wisconsin in the sweet sixteen. Florida was next to fall to Butler’s 2011 team, and the Bulldogs progressed to the final four. There they beat VCU to face Connecticut in the final. Butler fell short of taking the championship title but put up a credible performance against the number 3 seeded University of Connecticut.
In 1986, the LSU Tigers, led by Coach Dale Brown, spun a Cinderella story that has become legendary in its unlikeliness. After what could only be described as a disastrous season, LSU somehow made it into the big dance seeded eleven. Thanks in part to a unique defensive strategy nicknamed the “freak defense,” the Tigers went on an amazing run to the final four. They were the first ever team to get into the final four from such a low position. Although they went out with an 88-77 loss to Louisville in their semi-final game, they still managed to dominate that game in the first half.
#5 George Mason
George Mason Patriots became the second team only to rise to the final four as an eleventh seed. They did this in a run considered by many journalists to be the best by a mid-major in NCAA history. In the first round of the 2006 tournament, the Patriots beat Michigan Spartans, following this up with a second round win against the Tar Heels. In the sweet sixteen, they started out well against the Wichita State Shockers and won the game 63-55. Having made it to the elite eight, their run continued with a win against championship favorites, the Connecticut Huskies. That game is often recalled as one of the most memorable in the history of March madness. Although they couldn’t get past the Florida Gators in the final four, George Mason Patriots had sealed their place among the tournament’s top surprise successes.
Most recently, Virginia Commonwealth University Rams became the Cinderella of Cinderellas in 2011 when they became the third college team to advance to the final four as an eleventh seed. Under head coach Shaka Smart, the Rams defeated Southern California, Georgetown and Purdue to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. There they won their game against Florida State and similarly beat Kansas on their way to the final four. Finally defeated by the other upsetting underdog of 2011, Butler Bulldogs, VCU nonetheless treated big dance fans to an exhilarating series of games on their meteoric rise through the tournament.
#7 Wichita State
Just last year, the Shockers lived up to their name when they entered the NCAA tournament as number 9 seeds and Shocked their way into the final four by beating Gonzaga (the top seeds) La Salle and Ohio State. Their run was finally ended in the semi-finals by a loss to the eventual champion, Louisville.
Further back in time, 1979 saw the first full seeding of all teams in the NCAA tournament. That year also saw another legendary upset in the tournament’s history. Penn Quakers stunned college basketball fans everywhere as they went from ninth seeded outsiders to play in the final four against Magic Johnson and the rest of the Michigan State team. The Quakers didn’t win that game, but that takes nothing away from the excitement created by their surprise run in the tournament.
In 2000, March madness lived up to its name when two eight seeded college teams ended up in the final four together. Wisconsin Badgers scored wins against Fresno, Arizona (number 1 seeds), LSU and Purdue on a surprise run to the semis. Facing number one seeded Michigan State Spartans resulted in a final four defeat: Wisconsin lost the game 53-41.
#10 North Carolina
The other big upset in 2000 was North Carolina. The Tar Heels were seeded eighth but massively outplayed that ranking to beat Missouri, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulsa to arrive at the Semi-finals. Like Wisconsin, the Tar Heels eventually lost their game in the final four to a higher seeded team, with Florida defeating them, 71-59.