9 Craziest Cinderella Stories in March Madness History

The greatest thing about the NCAA men’s basketball tournament: You never know when an upset will occur. And we’ve already witnessed a couple shocking twists this season.

Some of the major programs will fall, and some of the dark horses will make a run. In the end, this might be the only guarantee in a tournament with no guarantees, which is why there is nothing in sports like March Madness. With that in mind, let’s revisit the nine greatest Cinderella stories in tournament history.

9. Syracuse Orange, 2016

Syracuse Orange celebrate a trip to the Final Four.
Syracuse shocks the country. | Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Seed: 10
Finish: Final Four

Many folks believed Syracuse was undeserving of a berth in the 2016 tournament; that name recognition — and not their resume — was the only reason they received a bid that season. While critics might have had a valid argument prior to the start of the tournament, once the Orange took the floor at the Big Dance, the doubters were quickly put in their place.

The 10th-seeded Orange proceeded to storm through the Midwest Region, defeating Dayton, Middle Tennessee, Gonzaga, and Virginia. In doing so, Syracuse punched an improbable ticket to the Final Four. Although Jim Boeheim’s bunch fell to North Carolina in the national semifinal, one thing’s for certain, the Orange’s legendary coach clearly knows what he’s doing.

8. Wichita State Shockers, 2013

Wichita State players celebrate a berth in the Final Four.
No one saw Wichita State coming. | Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Seed: 9
Finish: Final Four

Prior to becoming a regular fixture in the tournament, the Wichita State Shockers were just “some team” with a clever nickname. But that all changed in 2013, when a gritty No. 9 seed went on one of the most unlikely runs in March Madness history.

Under the guidance of head coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers exploded through the West Region. This group knocked out Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, and La Salle, before upending the No. 2-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes for a spot in the Final Four. Unfortunately for Wichita State, the clock struck midnight in the national semifinal, as the Shockers fell to eventual champion Louisville. Still, it’s no wonder the university pays Marshall the big bucks.

7. Davidson Wildcats, 2008

Stephen Curry led Davidson to the Elite Eight. | Youtube

Seed: 10
Finish: Elite Eight

People had heard whispers about Davidson’s lights-out shooter Stephen Curry, but the 2008 NCAA tournament became his official introduction to the world. This kid was totally unguardable, as he helped the Wildcats defeat Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin en route to the Elite Eight. They may have lost that contest to the eventual NCAA champion Kansas Jayhawks, but from that point on everyone knew Curry was a star.

6. Virginia Commonwealth Rams, 2011

Head coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams celebrates after defeating the Kansas Jayhawks.
Head coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams celebrates after defeating the Kansas Jayhawks. | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Seed: 11
Finish: Final Four

The Virginia Commonwealth Rams had to win the play-in game just to make it into the field of 64. No one had given them a second thought when they got a ticket to the dance, and then they started taking out big names like USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas. You better believe that they put the entire field on notice after that. VCU lost to Butler in the Final Four, but they had made a statement in 2011. Shaka Smart and the Rams could play ball.

5. George Mason Patriots, 2006

Lamar Butler of the George Mason Patriots celebrates with Coach Jim Larranaga.
Lamar Butler of the George Mason Patriots celebrates with Coach Jim Larranaga. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Seed: 11
Finish: Final Four

The George Mason Patriots, the lowly 11-seed, made it to the Final Four in 2006. But they didn’t take the easy road to get there. The teams that stood in their path were merely some of the biggest names in the sport: Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut. The Patriots toppled the big dogs and proved that, in 2006, the glass slipper fit.

4. Butler Bulldogs, 2010

Gordon Hayward of the Butler Bulldogs reacts after beating the Michigan State Spartans during the National Semifinal game of the 2010 NCAA Basketball Championship.
The Butler Bulldogs’ Gordon Hayward reacts after beating Michigan State during the 2010 NCAA Basketball Championship. | Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Seed: 5
Finish: National Runner-up

The final shot of the 2010 National Championship game may not have bounced Butler’s way, but this small school from Indiana showed everyone that they could hang with the country’s powerhouses. In one tournament, the Bulldogs vanquished Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State. Not bad for the modern day Hoosiers.

They enjoyed this fairytale run so much that they decided to do it again in 2011.

3. Kansas Jayhawks, 1988

Former University of Kansas Jayhawk Danny Manning stands in center court next to his framed #25 Jayhawk jersey during a Kansas game.
Former Jayhawk Danny Manning is celebrated during a University of Kansas game in honor of leading his 1988 team to a NCAA championship. | Earl Richardson/Getty Images

Seed: 6
Finish: National Champion

The 1988 Kansas Jayhawks were not supposed to make a run in the NCAA tournament. After all, they had 11 losses on the year. But with Larry Brown calling the shots and Danny Manning playing out of this mind, “The Miracles,” took home an unlikely national championship. This just goes to show that even the blue bloods are capable of wearing the Cinderella moniker.

2. North Carolina State Wolfpack, 1983

NC State celebrates winning the 1983 National Championship.
NC State celebrates winning the 1983 National Championship. | Youtube

Seed: 6
Finish: National Champion

There are some moments that last a lifetime. The end of the 1983 National Championship game was one of them. When NC State‘s Dereck Whittenburg launched a prayer with time running out, it was clear that the shot was going to come up short. And then, Lorenzo Charles came out of nowhere to catch the ball in mid-air and slam it home before the clock struck “zero.”

The place erupted, and State’s coach Jimmy Valvano started running around the court like a crazy person, just looking for someone to hug. It was one shining moment.

1. Villanova Wildcats, 1985

The greatest upset in sports history at the hands of the Villanova Wildcats. | Youtube

Seed: 8
Finish: National Champion

When the Villanova Wildcats defeated the Georgetown Hoyas for the 1985 NCAA title, it was one of the greatest upsets in sports history. The eighth-seeded Wildcats were up against a giant in Patrick Ewing, and they needed to be flawless in order to pull this one off. Villanova wasn’t perfect. But by shooting 79% from the field, they were pretty much as close to perfect as you could get. And that’s how David defeated Goliath.

Statistics courtesy of SR/College Basketball.