Most Unlikely Final Four Runs
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In March Madness, it's often said that the upsets take place on the first weekend of the tournament, while the cream tends to rise to the top in the second. But in some years, the upsets don't stop after the first two rounds of the tournament are completed, with Cinderella stories lasting far beyond the Sweet 16. These teams, in particular, shocked the world not just by winning a couple of games in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, but by getting all the way to the Final Four.
1. VCU - 2011
Shaka Smart's Virginia Commonwealth team was barely even admitted into the NCAA Tournament in 2011. As one of the final at-large teams in the dance, VCU was put into the First Four, where they had to defeat USC out of the Pac-12 just to get into the field of 64. From there, the Rams defeated Georgetown and Purdue to advance out of the first weekend, before knocking off Florida State and Kansas to get to the Final Four.
The Kansas upset was the biggest of VCU's wins, as they took down the one-seed in the Southwest Regional. That Jayhawks team had Marcus and Markief Morris on it, twins who both went on to have successful careers in the NBA. But 48% shooting from three-point range lifted the Rams in that game and put them into the semifinals, where they were eventually upended by fellow Cinderellas Butler.
2. Butler - 2011
The year of the upset in March Madness was clearly 2011, where two teams made completely unexpected runs to the Final Four. Brad Stevens' Butler team was a higher seed than the VCU squad that made it from the First Four to the Final Four, but they arguably had a harder road to get there. Butler had to knock out three of the top four seeds in the Southeast Regional, including top-seeded Pittsburgh, second-seeded Florida, and fourth-seeded Wisconsin.
Butler met up with VCU in the Final Four, in a game that guaranteed that one of the two shocking Final Four entrants would end up in the national championship game. The Bulldogs got the better of the Rams in that match-up, with Shelvin Mack scoring a game-high 24 points to propel Butler to the championship game in Houston.
3. Wichita State - 2013
When Wichita State was drawn as a nine-seed in the West Region in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the reaction was mixed. On one hand, having to take on a one-seed in the second round was a tough assignment. But that one-seed being Gonzaga was something of a relief. Gonzaga ripped through the West Coast Conference that season en route to a top seed in their region, but the Bulldogs weren't as battle-tested as the Shockers, who had to go through a gauntlet of a season in the Missouri Valley. When they faced off in the second round, the Shockers won a tight game, setting up a chance for a deep run.
In the tournament's second weekend, Wichita State benefited from some favorable upsets around them, as they got to face 13-seed La Salle in the Sweet 16. But an Elite Eight matchup with Ohio State was expected to be where their story ended. Instead, the Shockers held on to win that game 70-66 and earn one of the more improbable trips to the Final Four in the history of the Big Dance.
4. Loyola-Chicago - 2018
The South Regional of the 2018 NCAA Tournament may have been the most upset-laden section of a bracket in the history of the tournament. With 16-seed UMBC knocking off top-seed Virginia, two-seed Cincinnati falling in the second round, and four-seed Arizona going down to 13-seed Buffalo, the road to the Final Four was a bumpy one for everyone in the region. Loyola-Chicago was able to weather the storm, getting to the Final Four as an 11-seed.
Loyola's Sister Jean became the darling of the tournament for her support of the team, but it was the squad's first-weekend performance that deserves all of the attention. The Ramblers knocked out ACC six-seed Miami in round one and SEC three-seed Tennessee in the second round. Those two wins came by a combined three points, before they defeated Nevada and Kansas State to get to the Final Four.
5. Syracuse - 2016
There is no reason that a Cinderella run to the Final Four can't come from a power conference, and Syracuse proved that with their run in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Outrage came when the Orange were selected into the tournament field over teams like Monmouth who many felt were more deserving. But the Orange turned that scrutiny into results, winning the four games they needed to win to get to the Final Four.
Some favorable conditions around them helped them to get there, as they got to take on 15-seed Middle Tennessee and 11-seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 rather than facing two-seed Michigan State and three-seed Utah. But there was nothing favorable about their Elite Eight matchup against Virginia, where the top-seeded Cavaliers were unable to breach the zone defense of Jim Boeheim and the Orange. While Syracuse is usually a favorite in March, seeing them succeed as the underdog was something to behold.