Nobody thought these teams had a chance until they put their stamp on the NCAA tournament:


Best March Madness Cinderella Runs

Kent State, 2002
 

Kent State, 2002

One year removed from the program's first NCAA tournament win, Kent State upped the ante. Behind coach Stan Heath and forward Antonio Gates, the Golden Flashes won their first MAC regular-season title and carried the momentum all the way to the South Regional final. "When Kent State began that year, their first under Stan Heath, the players hated the thick playbook he'd brought along from Michigan State," says Mike DeCourcy, college hoops writer for The Sporting News.

Kent State, 2002
 

Kent State, 2002

"They were accustomed to the motion offense Gary Waters preferred and hated the shift," DeCourcy says. "The whole thing could have blown up, but Heath brokered a compromise: They'd run motion for the first 20 seconds, and if that didn't produce a quality shot the players would run a quick-hitting set. Most of the time, they shot early."

Kent State, 2002
 

Kent State, 2002

Kent State ripped off wins against three ranked opponents, including No. 2 seed and SEC champ Alabama and No. 3 seed Pitt to become the first MAC team to reach the Elite Eight since 1964.

LSU, 1986
 

LSU, 1986

True Cinderella? No. Historic Final Four crasher? You bet. The Tigers rewrote the record books that year becoming the lowest seeded team (11) to reach college basketball's biggest stage thanks to some incredibly close wins -- and home court advantage. Playing its first two games at the Assembly Center in Baton Rouge -- a "neutral site" -- the run began with a double OT victory over Purdue and was followed by a buzzer-beating win against Memphis State.

LSU, 1986
 

LSU, 1986

It climaxed in the regional final where the Tigers upset a Kentucky team that had beat them in their three previous meetings that season. "This was hardly Cinderella, with John Williams, Ricky Blanton and Don Redden," says Jay Bilas, college basketball analyst for ESPN. "It was an upset because Kentucky was a great team, but LSU was no 'little guy.'"

LSU, 1986
 

LSU, 1986

It would be 20 years before another No. 11 seed made it as far as the Tigers. (Fans always love rooting for the underdog. These are the 16 Greatest March Madness Upsets that busted brackets across the country.)

Davidson, 2008
 

Davidson, 2008

March Madness was hijacked by the Stephen Curry Show in 2008. The diminutive sophomore guard's sharp shooting captivated the nation and carried Davidson -- a school of less than 2,000 in North Carolina -- to the brink of the Final Four. Curry exploded for 40 points in the Wildcats' opening-round win over Gonzaga before he dropped 30 against Georgetown and 33 against Wisconsin to set up a showdown with top seed Kansas in the regional final.

Davidson, 2008
 

Davidson, 2008

"Stephen Curry's 3-point shooting and overall offensive display proved how one player can carry a team," says Andy Katz, senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com. "Curry ultimately would earn himself plenty of money by getting a high draft selection based largely on this tourney run. Make one more shot and Kansas probably doesn't win a national title that year."

Davidson, 2008
 

Davidson, 2008

Curry ran out of gas in the second half against the Jayhawks, missing a 3-pointer with under a minute left that would have given Davidson the lead. But he still earned Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Region after his 25-point performance. (Find out how these NCAA game-changers rank in the 16 Greatest Players in March Madness History.)

Loyola Marymount, 1990
 

Loyola Marymount, 1990

From unimaginable grief came one of the NCAA tournament's most memorable -- and inspirational -- runs. Loyola Marymount was a formidable team featuring the dynamic duo of Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble that season. But Gathers' tragic death from a heart condition during a conference tournament game changed everything. Without its best player, Marymount entered the dance as a No. 11 seed playing in nearby Long Beach.

Loyola Marymount, 1990
 

Loyola Marymount, 1990

It honored Gathers' memory by blowing out New Mexico State and defending champ Michigan to reach the Sweet 16. "The entire arena was wearing maroon and had No. 44s up [to honor Gathers] and when Bo Kimble was fouled in the first half, he shot his first free throw left handed as Gathers used to," remembers Doug Gottlieb, CBS Sports college basketball analyst.

Loyola Marymount, 1990
 

Loyola Marymount, 1990

"Gathers was right handed but was a terrible shooter and used to shoot them lefty, and Kimble made it. Everyone was crying in the arena as the emotion was so palatable." UNLV ended the storybook run in the Elite Eight, but the images of Kimble shooting left-handed --he made all three of his attempts -- are among the tournament's most indelible. (Be strong, energetic, and healthy like you were at 25!!)

Virginia, 1984
 

Virginia, 1984

The Cavaliers were an afterthought entering the NCAA Tournament. In their first season without Ralph Sampson, Virginia struggled down the stretch, finishing with a paltry 6-8 record in ACC play. It was enough to sneak in as a No. 7 seed in the last tournament before it expanded to 64 teams. But they made the most of the invite. The Cavs earned their surprise trip to the Final Four thanks to clutch late-game shooting.

Virginia, 1984
 

Virginia, 1984

Wins over Iona and Arkansas came on Virginia's final shots, including one by future NBA head coach Rick Carlisle, whose baseline jumper with 4 seconds left in overtime catapulted Virginia to the Sweet 16. Indiana was no match for the Cavs in the Elite Eight as Virginia earned a ticket to the school's second Final Four.

Virginia, 1984
 

Virginia, 1984

"Thirty years later, the Cinderella run by Terry Holland's group represents the last time Mr. Jefferson's University played on the final weekend," says Randy McClure, executive editor of Rush the Court. (Try these drills from the NCAA's elite strength and conditioning coaches .)

Wisconsin, 2000
 

Wisconsin, 2000

Wisconsin has become one of the Big Ten's premier programs and a consistent winner over the past decade. But that wasn't always the case, and the 2000 Badgers are the ones who kicked off the school's run of excellence with a surprise run to the game's biggest stage.

Wisconsin, 2000
 

Wisconsin, 2000

"After finishing the regular season at 22-14, little was expected from the Badgers as an 8 seed," says Jeff Gelb, senior manager and historian at the College Basketball Experience in Kansas City. "Coach Tony Bennett and his star guard Mike Kelley went on a magical run beating 1 seed Arizona, 4 seed LSU, and then 6 seed Purdue to advance to the Final Four for the second time in school history."

Wisconsin, 2000
 

Wisconsin, 2000

While Kelley's steady hand at the point steered the ship, it was Jon Bryant who powered the Badgers to their upset victories. Only averaging 8.4 points during the season, Bryant poured in 16.7 on his way to earning Most Outstanding Player of the West Region and pushing Wisconsin to its first Final Four since 1941. (Check that out in the Best Buzzer Beaters for more on that.)

Gonzaga, 1999
 

Gonzaga, 1999

This was the year Gonzaga became "Gonzaga." Before the 1999 NCAA Tournament, the Zags had made one appearance in the dance, and its biggest claim to fame was that NBA legend John Stockton played his college ball there. But Gonzaga transformed from no name to national darling with a legendary run to the Elite Eight.

Gonzaga, 1999
 

Gonzaga, 1999

In the Sweet 16, Casey Calvary's tip-in with 4.4 seconds left boosted the 10th-seeded Bulldogs past Florida and to regional final where they lost a nail biter to eventual champ UConn. "The Zags had multiple late-game wins that would propel the former Cinderella into stardom," says Andy Katz, senior college basketball writer for ESPN.com. "Gonzaga did what most programs off the grid haven't been able to and that's sustain the success."

Gonzaga, 1999
 

Gonzaga, 1999

While Gonzaga hasn't reached a regional final since, its streak of 15 straight NCAA Tournament appearances is tied for the seventh longest in history.

Providence, 1987
 

Providence, 1987

Rick Pitino's rise to becoming one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history jump started the year Billy "The Kid" Donovan and the rest of the Friars shocked the country with the program's second Final Four appearance.

Providence, 1987
 

Providence, 1987

"Nobody would have had them in the Final Four before the year started. This was signature Rick Pitino though," says Bill Raftery, Fox Sports lead college basketball analyst. "They had pretty good players when you look back on it."

Providence, 1987
 

Providence, 1987

Pitino encouraged the No. 6 seed Friars to shoot with abandon from beyond the brand new 3-point line, push the tempo, and give him everything they had. In return, they rewarded him with a run for the ages, blowing by No. 2 seed Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen and upsetting conference foe and No. 1 seed Georgetown in the regional final.

Pennsylvania, 1979
 

Pennsylvania, 1979

Seniors are about as rare as a hook shot in today's game, but 34 years ago Penn's veteran squad crashed the Final Four. The Quakers featured four seniors that scored at least 600 career points, and it didn't take long for the upperclassmen to turn the tournament on its head with a shocking second-round win over North Carolina.

Pennsylvania, 1979
 

Pennsylvania, 1979

"Seeding was introduced to the NCAA tournament in 1979 and Ivy League Champion Quakers drew a No. 9 seed," Gelb says. "Penn squeaked past Jim Valvano's Iona team in the first round and dispatched No. 1 seed North Carolina in a monumental upset. Behind guard Tony Price and his 21 points, Penn beat St. John's to advance to its only Final Four in school history where they lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State."

Pennsylvania, 1979
 

Pennsylvania, 1979

The closest an Ivy League team has come to matching Penn's run was Cornell's Sweet 16 appearance in 2010.

George Mason, 2006
 

George Mason, 2006

George Mason. Trendsetters. "It doesn't really seem like a big deal anymore when a Butler or a VCU or a Wichita State makes the Final Four because it's happened so often in recent years," says Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com college basketball columnist, "but it was a really big deal when George Mason did it in 2006 because the whole thing came completely out of nowhere."

George Mason, 2006
 

George Mason, 2006

The Patriots, out of the CAA, earned a controversial at-large bid to the tournament but used the backlash over their selection as motivation for the historic run. Knocking off blue bloods Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn -- a team that had five players selected in that June's NBA draft -- George Mason become the second No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four.

George Mason, 2006
 

George Mason, 2006

"It was bananas, and, in hindsight, a glimpse of what was to come from other schools outside of the so-called power structure," says Parrish.

VCU, 2011
 

VCU, 2011

VCU was lucky it even had the chance to make history. On Selection Sunday, the Rams were hoping and praying to make the newly expanded field of 68. VCU had lost five of its last eight games and looked destined for the NIT, not the NCAA tournament.

VCU, 2011
 

VCU, 2011

But VCU snuck in as one the "First Four" and quickly unleashed "havoc" on the field, knocking off USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas to reach its first of consecutive Final Fours. "A very cool piece of trivia: Shaka Smart won more games in the 2011 tournament than John Wooden did on the way to any of his 10 NCAA championships," says DeCourcy. "Shaka's a humble guy, but he should brag about that some."

VCU, 2011
 

VCU, 2011

The Rams were the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four and first team to win five games to get there.

Butler, 2010
 

Butler, 2010

Indianapolis hosted the Final Four that year, and while the hometown Bulldogs had a dangerous team, almost no one expected them to fall one dramatic shot short of the title. "They were good, but you never thought they'd make it to the national championship game -- let alone two in a row," says Gus Johnson, Fox Sports lead college basketball play-by-play announcer. "They had a great coach and played well together."

Butler, 2010
 

Butler, 2010

Under Brad Stevens tutelage, the No. 5 seeded Bulldogs -- who play their home games in legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse -- transformed into modern day "Hoosiers" by ripping off dramatic wins over Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State to earn a meeting with Duke in the national championship game.

Butler, 2010
 

Butler, 2010

Gordon Hayward's heave at the buzzer rimmed out, preventing the small school from having what could have been the best ending to a college game ever.

Texas Western, 1966
 

Texas Western, 1966

Texas Western wasn't so much a Cinderella as it was a champion for social change. Its head coach Don Haskins had done the unthinkable earlier in the season -- run out a starting five featuring all black players -- and behind a stingy defense and a deliberate offense the Hall of Famer led the No. 3 Miners to the NCAA championship game.

Texas Western, 1966
 

Texas Western, 1966

As luck would have it, Adolph Rupp's top-ranked Kentucky would be the opponent, bringing his run-and gun style of basketball and notorious prejudices to the matchup.

Texas Western, 1966
 

Texas Western, 1966

Haskins' squad would frustrate Rupp's all-white team, capture the crown, and help kick off the integration of college sports. "No game has ever had the social impact of the '66 title game," says Bilas.

Kansas, 1988
 

Kansas, 1988

Expectations were high -- as they usually are for a Kansas team -- that year. But injuries and inexplicable losses as the regular season closed cast a doubt on the Jayhawks' postseason prospects. "The Jayhawks had lost five of six games, and unless something changed soon, they would fail to even land a spot in the NIT," says Tom Hager, author of The Ultimate Book of March Madness. "What they needed was a miracle. Luckily for them, that's exactly what they got."

Kansas, 1988
 

Kansas, 1988

Kansas earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and, on the back of senior Danny Manning, strung together four wins to reach the Final Four. Manning's 25 point, 10 rebound performance against Duke in the national semifinal set up a showdown with mighty Oklahoma -- a team that had beaten the Jayhawks twice that season -- for the title.

Kansas, 1988
 

Kansas, 1988

Manning saved his best for last, scoring 31 points and grabbing 18 boards. "Danny and the Miracles" were national champions.

Villanova, 1985
 

Villanova, 1985

If Villanova was going to do the unthinkable the year the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams, it was going to take a performance for the ages. Or two. After knocking off Michigan in the second round, the lightly regarded Wildcats advanced to the Final Four thanks to a scorching 76 percent shooting from the field in the second half of the Southeast Region final against North Carolina. A win over Memphis State in the Final Four set up a David vs. Goliath matchup for the title.

Villanova, 1985
 

Villanova, 1985

"My wife and I were visiting friends in Dallas on the night of the final against Georgetown. They asked if I wanted to watch the game or go out for dinner. I opted for dinner, thus missing one of the great championship games ever," says Verne Lundquist, CBS Sports play-by-play announcer. "The waiter did provide periodic updates of the score, each time eliciting from me an exclamation along the lines of 'certainly, you are kidding!'"

Villanova, 1985
 

Villanova, 1985

Against its Big East rival and the nation's best defense, Villanova played a nearly perfect game, shooting 78 percent from the field to cut down the nets.

North Carolina State, 1983
 

North Carolina State, 1983

Everyone remembers Jim Valvano frantically looking for someone to hug. But many forget how miraculous N.C. State's run to the title truly was. A trip to NCAA Tournament and a No. 6 seed was assured only after a surprise ACC Tournament championship. In the big dance, the "Cardiac Pack" survived multiple games in dramatic fashion to meet mighty Houston for the national championship.

North Carolina State, 1983
 

North Carolina State, 1983

And against the dynamic duo of Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, the Wolfpack saved their best miracle for last. With 3 seconds left and the score tied at 52, Dereck Whittenburg's heave missed everything -- except Lorenzo Charles's hands. His dunk at the buzzer stunned Houston, sent Valvano off to the races, and cemented the Wolfpack's as the ultimate Cinderella.

North Carolina State, 1983
 

North Carolina State, 1983

"N.C. State was a team of destiny -- it was truly a fairytale story," says Seth Greenberg, college basketball analyst for ESPN and former Virginia Tech head coach. "There is no other way to describe how State beat Phi Slamma Jamma, one of the most gifted teams to every play college basketball."

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Greatest Upsets
Marques And Kris Johnson Make Basketball History At UCLA
Best Players In March Madness History