Greatest All-Time NCAA Tournament Cinderella for Each Round

Per Wikipedia, a sports Cinderella refers to a situation in which a competitor or team achieves far greater success than would reasonably have been best expected. No place in sports embodies and embraces this Cinderella concept more than the NCAA men’s basketball tournament where he see small schools, underdogs, and afterthoughts pull off March Madness upsets on an annual basis. Not all Cinderellas are created equal though. Some of these teams just win a game or two and then go home; while, others make it all the way to the Final Four and beyond. That is why I decided to write this analysis on the greatest of Cinderella to reach each round of NCAA tournament. Feel free to comment or debate.

Greatest Round of 32 Cinderella: Fairleigh Dickinson (16 seed, 2023)- Many people say that in order to truly become a Cinderella you have to pull off multiple upsets, not just win a single game. Using this logic, this year’s FDU squad is the only 16 seed that meets this criteria as the pulled off an upset over Texas Southern in the First Four and then stunned Purdue in the First Round two days later. And even though UMBC was the first team to pull off the 16 over 1 feat, FDU’s upset was definitively more impressive when you consider Purdue wasn’t missing a star player like Virginia in 2018 was, FDU had a NET ranking of 300 vs. UMBC”s ranking of 131, and FDU was mathematically the shortest team in the country that was matched up against basketball’s tallest superstar Zach Edey. Yeah, this was definitely an upset for the ages.


Greatest Sweet 16 Cinderella: Florida Gulf Coast (15 seed, 2013)- We have now seen three straight 15 seeds reach the Sweet 16, but long before this amazing streak began, FGCU’s “Dunk City” became the first to accomplish this feat. The Eagles’ eclectic group of high flyers led by coach Andy Enfield pulled off upsets over Georgetown and San Diego State in the 2013 Big Dance.


Greatest Elite 8 Cinderella: Saint Peter’s (15 seed, 2022)- As discussed above, four different 15 seeds have made it to the Sweet 16, but last year’s Peacock squad was the only one to keep on Dancing in to the Elite 8. This feat was even more impressive when you consider they beat perennial powerhouses Kentucky and Purdue to get there.


Greatest Final Four Cinderella: Loyola-Chicago (11 seed, 2018)– Five different 11 seeds have made to the Final Four, but only one of these five was a mid-major that got there without receiving an at-large bid. In fact, the Ramblers would not likely have been invited to the 2018 dance had they not won the Missouri Valley Tournament that season. Once they earned their bid though, Porter Moser’s squad went on a magical run alongside a 97 year old nun named Sister Jean (pictured below).


Greatest National Title Game Cinderella: Butler (8 seed, 2011)- If Florida Atlantic pulls off another upset next Saturday, then they will take this title from the Bulldogs, but until then, Butler can lay claim to being the greatest Cinderella team to play in a national title game. Three different 8 seeds have made it to the national championship game before, but only one was a mid-major from a non-power conference.


Greatest Cinderella National Champion: Villanova (8 seed, 1985)- There’s no debate here. Of the three number eight seeds to make it to the national title game, only one was able to seal the deal and win it all. The Wildcats did it by playing a near perfect game (78.6% field goal percentage) in an upset win over heavily favored Georgetown. Not to mention this amazing event happened just a few miles from my house in Lexington, Kentucky, while I was in utero, just a few months before birth. And you wonder why I was born obsessed with this tournament?


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