Ranking Florida Atlantic’s Final Four run among greatest NCAA Tournament Cinderellas

March Madness is one of the greatest events in all of sports for several reasons. The process of filling out brackets, the buzzer beaters, the sheer amount of compelling matchups and more all contribute to this event being so great. However, arguably the biggest part of the madness is the Cinderella runs, and we have a special one this year in Florida Atlantic University.

Prior to this season, the Owls had only made one NCAA tournament appearance and had never won a game in it. Now, they’re one of the four teams left standing in a tournament full of chaos. No matter what happens in the Final Four, FAU has already put together one of the greatest Cinderella runs of all time.

But where does it rank among the greatest Cinderella runs of all time? Today, we’re going to attempt to answer that question by ranking those runs. Before we get to the list itself, though, we’d be remiss if we didn’t hand out some honorable mentions.

2018 Loyola Chicago Ramblers: Sister Jean, a then-98-year-old nun, captivated fans when her Ramblers went on a run in 2018. Loyola Chicago made it all the way to the Final Four before falling to Michigan.
2011 Butler Bulldogs: 2011 marked Butler’s second-straight year playing in the national championship. Unlike the 2010 team which earned a five seed and had future NBA All-Star Gordon Hayward, the 2011 Bulldogs were an eight seed and underdogs the entire way. Brad Stevens’ team made it to the final game before falling to UConn.
1985 Villanova Wildcats: Butler was the second eight seed to ever play for a national championship. The first was Villanova in 1985, whose upset of Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the National Championship Game is one of the biggest in the sport’s history. To this day, the Wildcats are still the lowest-seeded team to win a title. Even back then, though, the Wildcats were no stranger to the tournament, so it doesn’t hold quite as much impact as some other runs.

With those out of the way, let’s get into the list itself.

5. 2022 Saint Peter’s Peacocks

Saint Peter’s stands out on this list as the only team to not make the Final Four, even including the honorable mentions. However, that should not take away from the truly special run the Peacocks went on.

As a 15-seed out of the Metro American Athletic Conference, no one expected much from the Peacocks in the first-round matchup against National Player of the Year Oscar Tshibwe and No. 2 Kentucky. However, they shocked the world when they beat the Wildcats 85-79 in overtime. They then continued dancing with a 70-60 win over No. 7 Murray State, who entered the game at 31-2.

However, what truly cemented the Peacocks’ run among the all-time greats was their 67-64 win over No. 3 Purdue in the Sweet 16. With this win, they became the first 15 seed to ever make it to the Elite Eight. The clock sadly struck midnight with a 69-49 loss to No. 8 North Carolina in that round, but basketball fans will never forget Saint Peter’s magical March Madness run.

4. 2023 Florida Atlantic Owls

Right now, Florida Atlantic’s run ranks fourth on the all-time list. If the Owls win the National Championship Game, or even make it there, though, they could easily climb to the top of the list.

The Owls, a 9-seed out of Conference USA, began their run with a thrilling 66-65 win over No. 8 Memphis, then took care of No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 78-70 in the second round. In the Sweet 16, they upended No. 4 Tennessee 62-55, before stunning No. 3 Kansas State in the Elite Eight to become the second 9-seed to make the Final Four.

As great as this run is, one can’t help but wonder how much greater it could have been if they beat a 1 seed in the second round instead of a 16 seed. Still, the Owls have beaten everyone in front of them, and that’s what really matters. As mentioned previously, their run could easily become the best ever with just another win or two.

3. 2013 Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State has a pretty strong history for a mid-major team, but 2013 is undeniably the peak of the program. At this time, the Shockers had just three March Madness appearances in the past 25 years, and they were a first-round exit in two of them. With this run, though, they established themselves as a consistent tournament team for the next half-decade.

The Shockers, then in the Missouri Valley Conference, earned a 9-seed in the tournament. They made quick work of No. 8 Pittsburgh in the first round, winning 73-55. Next, they shocked (pun intended) the world with a 76-70 upset over No. 1 Gonzaga, the nation’s top team entering the tournament. They then beat another Cinderella team in No. 13 La Salle 72-58 in the Sweet 16 before beating No. 2 Ohio State 70-66 in the Elite Eight.

Unfortunately for the Shockers, they met their match against top overall seed Louisville in the Final Four. Even then, they put up a great fight in a 72-68 loss to the eventual-champion Cardinals. With just a few more bounces, this team could have played for the national title.

2. 2011 VCU Rams

The 2011 March Madness tournament was one of the weirdest in recent history. The Final Four consisting of No. 3 UConn, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 8 Butler and No. 11 VCU shows just how chaotic it was. Butler’s run, as we previously saw, was magical in its own right, but VCU’s was even more surprising.

The Rams lost in the Colonial Athletic Association Championship Game, but still earned one of the last at-large bids. They found themselves in the newly-introduced First Four and beat USC 59-46. They then convincingly beat their next two opponents, defeating No. 6 Georgetown 74-56 and No. 3 Purdue 94-76. In the Sweet 16, they survived a scare against No. 10 Florida State with a 72-71 overtime win. Finally, they upended No. 1 Kansas 71-61 in the Elite Eight.

To this day, the Rams are one of two teams to go from the First Four to the Final Four, the other being UCLA in 2021. They fell to Butler 70-62 in the semifinals, putting an end to their run. Still, this run put VCU on the map. This is still the only time the Rams have made it out of the first weekend, but they sure made it count.

1. 2006 George Mason Patriots

Of all the teams to ever make the Final Four, George Mason may be the most unlikely of all. Sure, other 11 seeds and other mid-majors have made it before and since. However, the Patriots stand out in terms of just how special their run was. At the time, they had just three tournament appearances and no wins in the tournament. That all changed in spectacular fashion with this run, led by head coach Jim Larrañaga.

George Mason lost in the CAA tournament, but still nabbed an at-large bid to the big dance. The Patriots immediately knocked out two blue bloods, defeating No. 6 Michigan State 75-65, then No. 3 North Carolina 65-60. Next, they knocked off No. 7 Wichita State 63-55 in the Sweet 16. Finally, they beat No. 1 UConn, the top overall seed in the tournament, 86-84 in overtime.

Unfortunately, their Cinderella story came to an end against eventual champion Florida 73-58 in the semifinals. However, this March Madness Cinderella run still stands as the greatest of all time, for now.

The post Ranking Florida Atlantic’s Final Four run among greatest NCAA Tournament Cinderellas appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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