Each weekend of the NCAA Tournament brings new questions. The big ones for the opening rounds are: 1) Will Cinderella emerge? and 2) Which team will fill that role this year?
Cinderella teams emerge in each Tournament and grab our attention the farther they make it. However, the term is thrown out too freely these days. If you are a true Cinderella, your carriage turns into a pumpkin at some point, i.e., you are not in a major conference nor do you have much of a college basketball pedigree. For example, Villanova has won two national titles and has been to five Final Fours since 1939 so while its championship run as a No. 8 seed in 1985 was special, I would not call the Wildcats a Cinderella team.
With those parameters in mind, here are the 10 greatest Cinderella teams of all time.
10. 2001-02 Kent State Golden Flashes
Finish: Lost to No. 5 Indiana 81-69 in Elite Eight
The Golden Flashes became the first MAC team to advance to the Elite Eight since 1964. Little did they know their junior forward Antonio Gates would soon become an All-Pro tight end. After his senior year, Gates managed to make the move to the NFL despite having never played football in college.
9. 2013-14 Dayton Flyers
Finish: Lost to No. 1 seed Florida 62-52 in Elite Eight
After barely making it into the Tournament, Dayton saved its best for last, beating Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford before falling to Florida.
8. 1989-90 Loyola Marymount Lions
Finish: Lost to No. 1 seed UNLV 131-101 in Elite Eight
Playing for teammate Hank Gathers, who died of heart failure earlier in the season, the Lions overwhelmed its first three opponents with Paul Westhead’s up-tempo offense. After beating Michigan and Alabama in dramatic fashion, Loyola Marymount was stopped by eventual national champion UNLV.
7. 1998-99 Gonzaga Bulldogs
Finish: Lost 67-62 to No. 1 seed Connecticut in Elite Eight
So one could argue that Gonzaga is no longer a Cinderella team given the program’s success over the last 20 years, but things were a bit different in 1999. The program was only making its second NCAA Tournament appearance and shocked the college basketball world by upsetting Stanford and Florida before falling to eventual national champion Connecticut. The Bulldogs then went from Cinderella to a regular invitee to the Big Dance.
6. 2007-08 Davidson Wildcats
Finish: Lost to No. 1 seed Kansas 59-57 in Elite Eight
Led by All-American Stephen Curry, the Wildcats upset Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin before falling to No. 1 seed and eventual national champion Kansas in the Elite Eight.
5. 2021-22 Saint Peter's Peacocks
Finished: Lost to No. 8 North Carolina 69-49 in Elite Eight
To put this into perspective, the Peacocks had lost to St. Francis Brooklyn, a team that finished the season at 10-20. In fact, they only made NCAA Tournament because they won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference by surprise. Nevertheless, Saint Peter’s became the third 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16 behind a stunning overtime upset of No. 2 Kentucky and victory over No. 7 Murray State. Then, they became the first to make it to the Elite Eight when they beat No. 3 Purdue 67-64.
4. 1978-79 Penn Quakers
Finish: Lost 101-67 to No. 2 seed Michigan State in the Final Four
The last Ivy League team to make the Final Four did so with close wins over North Carolina and Syracuse. There, the Quakers were blown out by Magic Johnson and Michigan State, who went on to win the national title by beating Larry Bird’s Indiana State team.
3. 2010-11 VCU Rams
Finish: Lost to No. 8 seed Butler 70-62 in Final Four
At just 33 years old, Shaka Smart became a household name as he coached the Rams through this epic run. VCU was bracketed in the inaugural First Four round, where it beat USC. The Rams then knocked off Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas to earn a spot in the Final Four. VCU lost to Butler but Smart quickly became one of the most sought-after coaches in the country and Texas snatched him up in 2015.
2. 2012-13 Wichita State Shockers
Finish: Lost to No. 1 seed Louisville 72-68 in the Final Four
Of all the teams on this list, the Shockers came the closest to playing for the national championship. A second-half rally by eventual champion Louisville kept them out of the title game.
1. 2005-06 George Mason Patriots
Finish: Lost to No. 10 seed Florida 73-58 in Final Four
The Patriots have the most impressive resume of any team on this list. Entering the tournament as a No. 11 seed, George Mason beat No. 6 Michigan State, No. 3 (and defending national champion) North Carolina, No. 7 Wichita State and No. 1 Connecticut to make the Final Four. The Patriots lost to Florida, who won the national title, but their run tops this list.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.