- March Madness is back!
- Each year, one team emerges as the “Cinderella” story of the tournament.
- Below we go through the Cinderella teams from every year since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
- Check out the rest of our March Madness coverage here.
March Madness is back, meaning sports fans around the country are building their brackets, hoping to pick this year’s Cinderella team.
Every year, at least one team comes from seemingly out of nowhere to make a deeper-than-expected run through the tournament. While most Cinderella runs fade out around the Elite Eight or Final Four, there have been a few underdogs that rode the momentum to a national championship.
Take a look below at the Cinderella teams from every year since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
1985 — No. 8 Villanova
- Villanova University/Collegiate Images/Getty Images
The first Cinderella in the era of the 64-team bracket may be the greatest in history. The 8-seed Villanova Wildcats went on a magical run through the tournament, taking down the likes of Michigan, Maryland, and North Carolina before defeating Georgetown in the final.
Oddly enough, the Cinderella run was almost over before it started – their closest game of the tournament was a first-round matchup against Dayton, which Villanova won 51-49. No win would be that close until their 66-64 championship victory over the Hoyas.
To this day, no team ranked lower than an 8-seed has gone on to win the tournament.
1986 — No. 11 LSU
- Louisiana State University/Getty Images
The 1986 LSU Tigers also had a compelling run through the tournament, reaching the Final Four as an 11-seed.
It was another run that almost didn’t survive the first round – the Tigers needed double-overtime to defeat Purdue in their opening game. From there, LSU went on a tear, taking down Memphis State, Georgia Tech, and No. 1 Kentucky before falling to eventual champion Louisville in the Final Four.
1987 — No. 10 LSU
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LSU put together another Cinderella run the very next season, this time as a 10-seed.
The Tigers defeated Georgia Tech in their opening game and then going on to take down No. 2 Temple and No. 3 DePaul in impressive upsets. In the Elite Eight, they lost to the Indiana Hoosiers 77-76, falling just short of repeating their impressive Final Four run from the previous year.
The Hoosiers would go on to win the tournament.
1988 — No. 13 Richmond
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The Richmond Spiders made it to the Sweet 16 in 1988 as a 13-seed, with their most impressive victory coming in the first round – a 72-69 win over the defending champion Indiana Hoosiers.
Richmond would lose to No. 1 Temple in the Sweet 16 but was a captivating story through the first weekend of the tournament.
1988 also saw No. 6 Kansas win the entire championship, but their Cinderella run was somewhat odd – due to a series of upsets surrounding them, the Jayhawks didn’t play an opponent ranked higher than them until the Elite Eight.
Kansas were the champions in 1988, but Richmond was the Cinderella.
1989 — No. 11 Minnesota
1989 was a rough year for underdogs.
No. 11 Minnesota was the only team lower than a 5-seed to make the Sweet 16 in the tournament, and while that would normally qualify them for Cinderella status, they were helped along by the fact that their second-round game came against 14-seed Siena, who had a first-round upset of their own.
No. 3 Michigan would win the tournament with an 80-79 overtime victory against Seton Hall in the championship game.
1990 — No. 10 Texas, No. 11 Loyola Marymount
- Mike Powell /Allsport
As if to make up for the previous year, 1990 was full of chaos, with two double-digit seeds making the Elite Eight.
No. 10 Texas took down Georgia, Purdue, and Xavier before falling to Arkansas in the Midwest regional final, while No. 11 Loyola Marymount passed 100 points in three of the four games they played, their most impressive win being a 149-115 shellacking of No. 3 Michigan. Senior guard Jeff Fryer hit an astounding 11-of-15 three-point attempts in the game.
1991 — No. 10 Temple
- Doug Pensinger / Allsport
The 1991 Temple Owls made it to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed, falling in a 75-72 nail-biter to the North Carolina Tar Heels in the East regional final. The Owls had defeated Purdue and Oklahoma State before getting eliminated.
1992 — No. 12 New Mexico State
Another tough year for spoilers, 12-seed New Mexico State was the only double-digit seed to reach the Sweet 16 in 1992. The Aggies beat No. 5 DePaul and No. 13 Southwest Louisiana before falling to the top-ranked UCLA Bruins 85-78.
1993 — No. 12 George Washington
George Washington made the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed in 1993, beating New Mexico and Southern University before losing to Michigan, who would go on to play in the championship game.
While George Washington was the Cinderella team to make it to the tournament’s second weekend, the biggest March Madness upset of the year came from No. 15 Santa Clara, who defeated No. 2 Arizona in the first round.
1994 — No. 9 Boston College
Boston College reached the Elite Eight as a 9-seed in 1994, with their biggest win coming over the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round of the tournament.
They would eventually lose to No. 3 Florida 74-66 in the regional final.
1995 — No. 14 Weber State
Weber State only got one win in the 1995 NCAA tournament, but it was a good one. The 14-seed Wildcats stunned the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans in the first round with a 79-72 win.
They would fall short of the Sweet 16, but put up an impressive fight against No. 6 Georgetown, eventually losing 53-51.
1996 — No. 12 Arkansas
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Arkansas reached the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed in 1996, defeating Penn State and Marquette in the tournament’s opening weekend. They lost to top-ranked UMass 79-63 to end their run.
The tournament was eventually won by No. 1 Kentucky out of the Midwest region.
1997 — No. 14 Chattanooga, No. 10 Providence
Chattanooga was the surprise of the year in the 1997 tournament, upsetting No. 3 Georgia and No. 6 Illinois to make the Sweet 16 as a 14-seed.
There, they met No. 10 Providence, who were on an impressive run of their own, having taken down No. 7 Marquette and No. 2 Duke to reach the second weekend.
Providence would win the head-to-head Cinderella matchup before falling No. 4 Arizona 96-92 in overtime in the Elite Eight.
1998 — No. 8 Rhode Island, No. 13 Valparaiso
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Again, in 1998, two Cinderella teams were forced to face each other in the Sweet 16.
No. 13 Valparaiso upset No. 4 Ole Miss in the first round and took down 12-seed Florida State in overtime to make it to the second weekend of the tournament.
Meanwhile, No. 8 Rhode Island beat No. 9 Murray State in the opening round before shocking the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks to make the Sweet 16.
When the two faced off, Rhode Island would escape with a 74-68 win, but fall in the Elite Eight to No. 3 Stanford.
1999 — No. 10 Gonzaga
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Before Gonzaga was known as a perennial powerhouse, the Bulldogs were just another mid-major shocking the basketball world.
In 1999, the Bulldogs made it to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed, defeating No. 7 Minnesota, No. 2 Stanford, and No. 6 Florida before losing to top-ranked Connecticut, who would go on to win the tournament.
2000 — No. 8 North Carolina, No. 8 Wisconsin
- Jed Jacobsohn/ALLSPORT
In 2000, two 8-seeds, North Carolina and Wisconsin, would reach the Final Four, both defeating 1-seeds en route to the third weekend of the tournament.
Both would fail to reach the championship game, which was won by Michigan State.
2001 — No. 11 Temple
The Temple Owls reached the Elite Eight as an 11-seed in the 2001 NCAA tournament, defeating No. 6 Texas, No. 3 Florida, and in-state rival Penn State before losing to top-ranked Michigan State in the regional final.
2002 — No. 10 Kent State
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No. 10 Kent State won three games in the 2002 NCAA tournament to reach the Elite Eight, defeating 7-seed Oklahoma State, 2-seed Alabama, and 3-seed Pittsburgh during their impressive run. They lost to the No. 5 Indiana in the regional final.
2003 — No. 12 Butler
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Before Brad Stevens turned Butler into a mid-major powerhouse, they had a few impressive runs through March Madness, making the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed in 2003.
The Bulldogs knocked off No. 5 Mississippi State and No. 4 Louisville before falling to No. 1 Oklahoma.
2004 — No. 7 Xavier
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Xavier made it to the Elite Eight in 2004 as a 7-seed, defeating No. 10 Louisville, No. 2 Mississippi State, and No. 3 Texas.
They were eliminated in an extremely close game to Duke, losing 66-63 with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
2005 — No. 7 West Virginia
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West Virginia was another 7-seed that made it to the Elite Eight but stand out from the crowd because they did it thrillingly.
The Mountaineers began their run with a 63-61 win over No. 10 Creighton, then followed that up with a double-overtime victory against No. 2 Wake Forest. They’d beat No. 5 Texas Tech by five before falling in overtime to Louisville in the regional final.
2006 — No. 11 George Mason
George Mason seemed to expand the possibilities of what a modern Cinderella team was capable of, winning their region to make it to the Final Four as an 11-seed.
The Patriots went through a true gauntlet of opponents to get there, first taking down Tom Izzo and the No. 6 Michigan State Spartans, and then defeating No. 3 North Carolina to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.
Two more victories over No. 7 Wichita State and No. 1 UConn got George Mason through to the Final Four, where they would lose to eventual champion Florida.
2007 — No. 6 Vanderbilt
2007 was another tough year for underdogs – No. 6 Vanderbilt was the lowest-seeded team to reach the Sweet 16 but did so in thrilling fashion with a double-overtime win against No. 3 Washington State in the second round. A 66-65 loss to Georgetown would end their season.
2008 — No. 10 Davidson
Basketball fans likely remember No. 10 Davidson’s Cinderella run as Stephen Curry’s audition for the NBA draft.
Curry led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight, taking down No. 7 Gonzaga, No. 2 Georgetown, and No. 3 Wisconsin, before losing a stunner to No. 1 Kansas.
2009 — No. 12 Arizona
Upsets were hard to come by in 2009, with 12-seed Arizona the only team lower than a 5-seed to reach the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats were walloped in the second weekend, losing to No. 1 Louisville 103-64.
2010 — No. 9 Northern Iowa, No. 5 Butler
The 2010 NCAA tournament was defined by two Cinderellas.
First, No. 9 UNI shocked the world in the opening weekend, winning a thrilling opening game against No. 8 UNLV before stunning top-ranked Kansas 69-67 to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.
The Panthers Cinderella run would be taken up by the No. 5 Butler Bulldogs in another quadrant of the bracket. While Butler was favored in their first two games of the tournament, the Bulldogs found a way to win three straight close games over No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State, and No. 5 Michigan State to reach the national championship game.
Facing off against Duke, Butler would come just inches away from lifting the trophy, with future NBA star Gordon Hayward barely missing the game-winning half-court heave.
2011 — No. 11 VCU, No. 8 Butler
No. 11 VCU made a magnificent run to the Final Four behind the “Havoc” defense of head coach Shaka Smart – a wildly paced defensive press that forced opponents into turnovers at an impressive rate.
In the Final Four, they were defeated by No. 8 Butler, who reached the championship game in back-to-back years despite facing a daunting path both seasons.
2012 — No. 13 Ohio
No. 13 Ohio busted brackets in 2012, defeating No. 4 Michigan in their opening game and making it to the Sweet 16 with a win over No. 12 South Florida two days later.
There, an overtime loss to No. 1 North Carolina ended their run.
2013 — No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast
No. 9 Wichita State made an impressive run to the Final Four, but No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast were the true Cinderellas of the tournament in 2013.
The Eagles shocked the world with their first-round upset of No. 2 Georgetown, playing with a high-flying intensity that got the team dubbed “Dunk City” during their miraculous run. In the second round, FGCU would defeat No. 7 San Diego State, setting up a game against in-state rival No. 3 Florida.
The Eagles would lose to the Gators, but not before making quite an impression on college basketball fans and busting plenty of brackets across the country.
2014 — No. 7 UConn
2014 was full of upsets – No. 11 Dayton made the Elite Eight, No. 8 Kentucky made the championship game, but the true Cinderella story was the No. 7 UConn Huskies, who kept the magic of the glass slipper going all the way to a title.
The Huskies defeated Kentucky in the final 60-54.
2015 — No. 7 Michigan State
It’s tough to call any Tom Izzo Michigan State team a Cinderella story, but the Spartans run to the Final Four as a 7-seed in 2015 was as impressive as they come.
2016 — No. 10 Syracuse
Similar to Michigan State before them, no Syracuse team led by Jim Boeheim is truly an underdog, and the team’s wily zone defense has always been known to cause chaos during March Madness.
Still, the Orange’s run to the Final Four as a 10-seed was an impressive feat, highlighted by their Elite Eight win over No. 1 Virginia.
2017 — No. 11 Xavier
In the 2017-18 season Xavier would run through their schedule as one of the best teams in the country, but at the 2017 tournament, the 11-seed Musketeers were another Cinderella team, making it to the Elite Eight before losing to No. 1 Gonzaga.
2018 — No. 11 Loyola-Chicago
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No. 11 Loyola-Chicago was an easy Cinderella team to get behind in 2018. Led by the holy powers of the adorable Sister Jean, the Ramblers looked to be playing with the support of a higher power, winning their first three games by four points combined.
Wins over No. 7 Nevada and No. 9 Kansas State got the Ramblers through to the Final Four, where they fell to eventual champion Villanova.
2019 — ???
In 2019, the role of Cinderella could be filled by any number of teams.
Experts are high on No. 11 Belmont after their First Four win over Temple to make the field of 64.
No. 12 Murray State has future NBA draft pick Ja Morant who could potentially take over any game.
The No. 7 Wofford Terriers haven’t lost a game since December – can they keep it going for six more games?
Regardless of which team eventually emerges as the Cinderella story of the tournament, one thing is for certain – March will be mad.
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