There was a time in college basketball when the best teams in the country would almost always make the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. However, in the mid-2000s, more upsets started to happen as the talent gap between the top and bottom began to shrink thanks to the best players only sticking around for a year before heading to the NBA.
As a result, there have been some lower seeds to make the Final Four, including a long list of eight seeds that have even reached the championship game. Then there are those who were ranked even lower, stunning the sports world by claiming a Final Four spot as a double-digit seed. Here are those teams that had remarkable runs, but all of which ended just short of a championship.
Louisiana State University isn’t some rinky-dink school in the middle of nowhere, but they were ranked like one when they made it into the 1986 NCAA Tournament as an 11 seed. In their first game, LSU pulled off the minor upset over Purdue by defeating the Boilermakers 94-87 in double-overtime. They then pulled off a trio of major upsets, all of which were also incredibly close games.
They defeated third-seeded Memphis in the second round (83-81), second-seeded Georgia Tech in the Sweet 16 (70-64), and top-seeded Kentucky in the Elite 8 (59-57). LSU didn’t fare so well in the Final Four when they met up with western regional-winning Louisville, however. The eventual-champion Cardinals defeated LSU 88-77, then defeated Duke 72-69 to claim their title.
George Mason (2006)
It would be another 20 years before another double-digit seed made it to the Final Four, and it came from the unlikeliest of teams. George Mason was a mid-major, but they didn’t win their conference tournament. Instead, that honor went to UNC Wilmington, but the Patriots were still given a chance by the NCAA Tournament Committee to show what they could do in 2006.
George Mason didn’t disappoint, and they started off by taking down a pair of blue bloods in the first two rounds in the form of Michigan State and North Carolina. After beating upstart Wichita State in the Sweet 16, George Mason pulled off their biggest upset in their tourney run by taking down top seed Connecticut. The run would end in the Final Four, however, as Florida defeated them 73-58, then dispatched UCLA by a nearly identical score in the championship game.
Virginia Commonwealth’s story was almost identical to George Mason’s. The team was considered a strong mid-major, but many felt that they should have been left out of the tournament since they didn’t win their conference tournament. VCU was brought in for the new “First Four” which meant they had to play USC to declare who the #11 seed would be in the southwest region.
VCU took down the Trojans to claim the spot then blew out their next two opponents (#6 Georgetown and #3 Purdue). The only real close game that VCU played on their way to the Final Four was against 10th-seeded Florida State, with VCU prevailing 72-71 in overtime. They took down #1 Kansas before losing to eighth-seeded Butler in the Final Four.
Nobody will ever forget the story of Sister Jean and the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers of the Missouri Valley Conference. After finishing 28-5 and winning the MVC, Loyola won their first three games in the tournament by a combined four points. The Ramblers took down Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada during that stretch then took on Kansas State in the Elite 8.
Kansas State came in as a nine-seed, so it was going to be a cinderella team in the Final Four, either way. Loyola ran away with the game, defeating the Wildcats 78-62. Many thought they were a team of destiny, but when they reached the Final Four, they ran into a buzzsaw in the form of the Michigan Wolverines. The Ramblers’ season came to an end with a 69-57 loss.
When you think of underdogs, you probably don’t think much about the NCAA team that has more championships than anybody else. However, that was the case in 2021 when the UCLA Bruins were given an at-large bid and entered into the First Four against fellow low-seeded blue blood Michigan State.
UCLA prevailed over the Spartans and went on to upset BYU in the first round. They then got an easy opponent in Abilene Christian when they upset Texas. UCLA showed they weren’t a fluke, though, as they toppled the top two seeds (Alabama and Michigan) to make it into the Final Four. UCLA nearly made the championship game, too, but lost to Gonzaga in overtime.