NCAA Saturday: Most Unlikely Final 4 Teams
Most Unlikely Final Four Teams
In 1979, the NCAA expanded its field for their championship basketball tournament to 40 teams, but more importantly that year marked the start of seeding, which obviously forever changed the way people would bet in their office pools.
For the most part, in the 34 years since seeding was introduced and in the 28 years since the field included at least 64 teams, the best teams have generally seen the most success in the tournament. In 17 of the last 28 tournaments, for example, a #1 overall seed has won the championship. Only twice in that time has the winner of the whole shebang been lower than a #4 seed.
So in a lot of ways, one would expect the NCAA Final Four tournament to be relatively predictable, however, anybody who has watched the first batch of games this year knows that everything is already completely and utterly insane as far as seeds are concerned. Three of the four #12 seeds upset their #5 counterparts, #11 Minnesota destroyed #6 UCLA, #13 La Salle defeated #4 Kansas State, #14 Harvard toppled #3 New Mexico, and #15 Florida Gulf Coast embarrassed #2 Georgetown.
To say things have not gone as expected would be a massive understatement, but that’s the beauty of this tournament; despite the overall dominance of the top seeds, the road to the Final Four is oftentimes extremely enjoyable, as the following teams have proven in the years since seeding was introduced:
Virginia Commonwealth (11th seed in 2011) – VCU’s awesome run in 2011 is still fresh in a lot of our minds. They were a First Four team, which means they had to play into the field of 64, and from there they went on absolute tear, beating a #6, #3, #,10, and #1 seed on their way to the Final Four. They were only the third 11-seed to ever get there, and while they didn’t win the championship, VCU absolutely personified the one of the craziest tournaments ever.
George Mason (11th seed in 2006) – Before 2006, most people hadn’t even heard of George Mason University, but by the time this particular NCAA tournament was over, it was basically a household name. George Mason defeated #6 Michigan State (a 2005 Final Four team), #3 North Carolina (the defending champions), #7 Wichita State, and #1 UConn (that year’s title favorites) to find themselves in the Final Four. No players from that team ended up in the NBA, but they were definitely one of the most fun Cinderella teams in tournament history.
Wisconsin and North Carolina (both 8th seeds in 2000) – This was the first time that two teams with a seed higher than #6 made it into the Final Four, and the Badgers and Tar Heels got themselves there in eerily similar fashions. Both were 18-13 in the regular season, neither won four games in a row during the regular season, and both played a low seed in their regional finals. Wisconsin knocked off #1 Arizona in their second-round match-up, paving the way for their trip to the Final Four, while North Carolina toppled #1 Stanford to do the same. Most years, we’re happy to get one Cinderalla, but in Y2K we got a couple of them.
Michigan (6th seed in 1992) – This was one of the most memorable seasons of college basketball in the history of the sport thanks to the Michigan’s Fab Five. They were awarded a #6 seed despite the fact that they deserved higher, but this group of freshmen proved they were better than their ranking by blasting their way through the tournament straight into a championship game against Duke, which they lost. Still, along the way they beat a #4, #2, and #1 seed to get that matchup with the Blue Devils, and it was extremely entertaining to watch them get there.
Kansas (6th seed in 1988) – Danny Manning was an absolute monster in 1988, helping his Jayhawks team plow through their regional en route to what would eventually become a national championship. As a #6 seed, that would make them the second-lowest seed to ever win the whole tournament, and to this day “Danny and the Miracles” remain one of the most beloved and shocking NCAA champions of all time.
Providence (6th seed in 1987) – This one had some big names in it that weren’t quite as big of names at the time. Rick Pitino made his first trip to the Final Four as the coach of the ’87 Providence Friars, who were led by scoring guard Billy Donovan. Both would later go onto to win championships as coaches, perhaps fueled by the unexpected run that fell short in the late ‘80s.
LSU (11th seed in 1986) – Perhaps the NCAA’s greatest Cinderella team ever, the 1986 LSU Tigers were the first ever double-digit seed to make the Final Four. While their road to that Final Four was admittedly very challenging (they defeated a #6, #3, #2, and #1 to get there), they also played the first two games of the tournament on their home court in Baton Rouge. That insane homecourt advantage is what spurred the rule that teams can’t play tournament games on their own floor. In any event, LSU finally lost in the Final Four to eventual champions Louisville, led by Pervis Ellison.
Villanova (8th seed in 1985) – Perhaps the most impressive underdogs in the history of the tournament, this group of Wildcats put on a show that resulted in them winning the championship as an 8-seed, which just so happens to be the lowest seed to have ever done so. ‘Nova knocked off two #1’s and two #2’s to win their title, a championship game against Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown team in which Villanova shot 78% from the field. Almost all of their games were close wins, but close wins count the same as blowouts, and the end result was easily the most unbelievable champions in the history of the tournament.
North Carolina State (6th seed in 1983) – This team, led by beloved coach Jim Valvano, stole away one of the most memorable championship games in the history of the sport. We’ve all seen the Lorenzo Charles dunk in the closing seconds of this game, usually in slow motion, and it just never gets old. When you realize this Wolfpack team beat a Houston roster that featured Hakeeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, it becomes all the more incredible that such a thing was done by a 6-seed. This was before the field was expanded to 64 teams (it was 52 teams that year), but still a pretty incredible accomplishment.
So who is it going to be this year? Will Harvard, Florida Gulf Coast, La Salle, one of the 12 seeds that advanced be the first sub-11 seed to sneak into the Final Four? With how unpredictable things have been so far, would that even surprised anybody? Whoever makes it to the semifinals, the tournament already has been a ton of fun, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’d be a good guess that things will only get more fun from here.