College basketball's most popular underdogs

Top tournament Cinderellas

POSTED: 4:20 PM Dec 29 2011   UPDATED: 8:54 AM Mar 26 2013
NCAA Tourney Florida Gulf Coast_sized

By Eric Fleming, Contributing Writer

Florida Gulf Coast University has made history in this year's NCAA Tournament, becoming the first No. 15 seed to ever advance to the Sweet 16. Take a look back at other Cinderella teams who made improbable runs in the tournament.

2010 Butler Bulldogs

Despite officially being the host of the 2010 NCAA tournament, along with the Horizon League, there were few expectations for the private school of 4,400 students located seven miles from downtown Indianapolis going into the tourney. The No. 5-seeded Bulldogs (33-5) defied all expectations, making their way not only to the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium, but also the championship game. Butler came back to defeat No. 1 seed Syracuse 63-59 to advance to the Elite Eight and followed that up with a 63-56 victory over No. 2 Kansas State, the Horizon League Tournament champion's 24th straight victory. They would win one more, 52-50 over Michigan State, to advance to the championship game against Duke, before their run came to an end. Down one point to the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils with 3.6 seconds remaining, Butler fouled to put Duke center Brian Zoubek at the line. Zoubek made the first foul shot and then intentionally missed the second, knowing Butler had no timeouts remaining. Butler guard Gordon Hayward was forced to throw up a desperation shot from half court. The ball bounced off the backboard and then the rim, giving Duke the championship.

2006 George Mason Patriots

The Patriots had an excellent 2006 regular season, but playing in a smaller conference had them seeded No. 12 going into the tournament. In spite of this, they made it all the way to the national semifinal before losing to the eventual champion Florida Gators in the Final Four, 73-58. The George Mason team had no future NBA players, but they still managed to defeat North Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan State on their way to the Final Four. Those three teams had combined to win four of the previous seven national championships. But the senior-laden George Mason team pulled together, and became the lowest seed to ever make the Final Four.

1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack

This is the team that really gives a face to the idea of an underdog winning it big. The Wolfpack, coached by icon Jim Valvano, lost 10 games during the regular season, and would have been left out of the NCAA tournament except for winning the ACC conference tournament and earning the automatic bid. In the national finals, the sixth-seeded Wolfpack went up against a team many considered to be the most dominant of its time: No. 1 Houston. The Cougars boasted future NBA stars Akeem (later Hakeem) Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, and played a brand of up-tempo, playground-inspired basketball that earned them the nickname "Phi Slamma Jamma." In spite of the apparent defeat looming before them, the Wolfpack prevailed. In fact, in the finals, the only dunk of the game was by North Carolina State's Lorenzo Charles, who slammed down a 30-foot airball miss by teammate Dereck Whittenburg with only seconds left in the game.

1985 Villanova Wildcats

This is possibly the least likely of all of the upsets on this list. The Villanova squad, despite twice losing to top-seeded Georgetown during the regular season, managed to defeat the Hoyas in the national finals. The defending champions, the Hoyas starred Patrick Ewing among others, and had been the favorite all season to go back-to-back. But in the finals, the Wildcats outplayed the Hoyas. They led at halftime, then came out of the halftime break on fire. They shot 78 percent from the field (22-27 overall and 9-10 in the second half), and won their first, and only, national championship.

1990 Loyola Marymount Lions

Hank Gathers, the Loyola Marymount team leader, collapsed and died during a West Coast Conference game, leading to the cancellation of the conference championship. The team received a bid to the NCAA tournament, but were seeded only No. 11 in their bracket. Bo Kimble, Hank Gathers' best friend, paid tribute to his fallen teammate by shooting the first free throw of each game left-handed. The Lions defeated No. 6 New Mexico State 111-92 in the first round, then shellacked defending national champion Michigan by the astounding score of 149-115 in the next round. A close, two-point victory over Alabama set up an Elite 8 game (and loss) against eventual champ UNLV, a game that in no way diminished an impressive run for the big-hearted Lions.

1993 Santa Clara Broncos

The 1993 Broncos became only the second No. 15 seed to win a first-round game. In the upset, the Broncos, led by current NBA star Steve Nash, took out the second-seeded Arizona Wildcats in the first round. The Arizona team boasted such stars as Chris Mills, Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves, but Santa Clara, behind six straight free throws from Nash in the final stage of the game, held a slim lead. And when Stoudamire missed a 25-foot three-pointer as time expired, the Broncos were into the next round.