Greatest All-Time March Madness Cinderella Teams

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Who doesn’t love March Madness Cinderella teams making a run in the tournament? Cheering on the underdogs to pull off improbable upsets in the NCAA basketball tournament is exciting.

Identifying the best March Madness Cinderella teams for your brackets is an annual puzzle.

To help, we’re going to examine the greatest all-time March Madness Cinderella teams. We’ve seen more March Madness Cinderella runs in recent years, as there’s more parity in college basketball.

We won’t be ranking March Madness Cinderella teams, but we’ll discuss all of the greatest runs.

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Biggest Upsets in March Madness History

Before we look at the greatest all-time March Madness Cinderella teams, we’re going to look back at the biggest upsets in March Madness history (single game upsets based on moneyline odds).

The biggest upsets in March Madness history have all happened in the last decade.

  • 2018: #16 UMBC defeats #1 Virginia at +2750 odds (Bet $100 to Win $2750).
  • 2023: #16 FDU defeats #1 Purdue at +2000 odds (Bet $100 to Win $2000).
  • 2022: #15 St. Peters defeats #2 Kentucky at +1400 odds (Bet $100 to Win $1400)
  • 2016: #15 Middle Tennessee defeats #2 Michigan State at +1200 odds (Bet $100 to Win $1200).

If you blindly bet $100 on every #16 seed to defeat the #1 seed since 2018, you’d be 2-18, but up $2950. Targeting big underdogs to win in March Madness recently has paid off and I expect that to continue.

March Madness Cinderella Teams (2020-Present)

There was no March Madness in 2020 due to COVID-19, but we’ve had a Cinderella team emerge in the last three tournaments with varying success. Here are the most recent March Madness Cinderella teams:

  • 2023: #9 Florida Atlantic (Final Four)

Florida Atlantic became just the second #9 seed to advance to the Final Four. The Owls were able to win against #8 Memphis, #4 Tennessee and #3 Kansas State before losing to #5 San Diego State.

  • 2022: #15 St. Peters (Elite Eight)

St. Peters defeated #2 Kentucky, #7 Murray State and #3 Purdue in March Madness 2022 before losing to #8 North Carolina. St. Peters became the first #15 seed to advance to the Elite Eight in history.

  • 2021: #15 Oral Roberts (Sweet Sixteen)

Led by Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor, Oral Roberts defeated #2 Ohio State and #7 Florida. They almost eliminated #3 Arkansas, but the Razorbacks scored a two-pointer with three seconds left to win by two.

#11 UCLA also made a Cinderella run in 2021, as they advanced to the Final Four.

Loyola Chicago are one of the greatest March Madness Cinderella teams.
Loyola Chicago are one of the greatest March Madness Cinderella teams.

March Madness Cinderella Teams (2000-2019)

Some of the greatest all-time March Madness Cinderella teams have happened during the 21st century.

  • 2018: #11 Loyola Chicago (Final Four)

Led by a nun (Sister Jean), Loyola are one of the greatest March Madness Cinderella teams. Loyola were on nobody’s radar, as they hadn’t won a March Madness game in 32 years prior to the Cinderella run.

UMBC became the first #16 seed to defeat a #1 seed in 2018, but lost in the Second Round.

  • 2016: #10 Syracuse (Final Four)

Syracuse became the first #10 seed to advance to the Final Four. No other #10 seed has done it since. The Orange defeated #1 Virginia in the Elite Eight, but lost to the #1 Tar Heels in the Final Four.

  • 2013: #15 Florida Gulf Coast (Sweet Sixteen)

It’s rare for a #15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 (only four teams have). FGCU were one of the most entertaining March Madness Cinderella teams and were nicknamed “Dunk City”.

#9 Wichita State also made a Cinderella run in 2013. The Shockers had wins against #1 Gonzaga and #2 Ohio State. #1 Louisville needed a late comeback to eliminate the Shockers in the Final Four.

VCU and Butler Shock Fans in 2011

  • 2011: #11 VCU (Final Four) and #8 Butler (National Championship)

VCU defeated #6 Georgetown, #3 Purdue, #10 Florida State and #1 Kansas before losing to Butler in the Final Four. Butler defeated #1 Pittsburgh, #4 Wisconsin and # Florida in the Southeast Regional.

Butler collapsed in the National Championship Game and lost to UConn in a low-scoring game (53-41). The Bulldogs were led by Brad Stevens (head coach). It was one of the most exciting tournaments.

  • 2008: #10 Davidson (Elite Eight)

Prior to the 2008 tournament, Davidson hadn’t won a March Madness game since 1969. Stephen Curry averaged 32.0 PPG in the tourney. Davidson defeated #7 Gonzaga, #2 Georgetown and #3 Wisconsin, before losing to #1 Kansas in the Elite Eight. Curry became a star in this tournament.

  • 2006: #11 George Mason (Final Four)

This was one of the greatest March Madness Cinderella teams ever. George Mason were able to defeat #6 Michigan State, #3 North Carolina (2005 Champs), #7 Wichita State and #1 UConn.

Unfortunately, they’d lose to #3 Florida in the Final Four. The Gators went on to win the tournament.

March Madness Cinderella Teams (1985-1999)

Here are some of the greatest March Madness Cinderella teams since the tournament expanded to a 64-team bracket. Two of these March Madness Cinderella teams were even crowned champions.

  • 1999: #10 Gonzaga (Elite Eight)

Gonzaga was playing in the big dance for just the second time in 1999. The Bulldogs pulled off upsets against #7 Minnesota, #2 Stanford and #6 Florida, before losing to #1 UConn in the Elite Eight.

  • 1990: #11 Loyola Marymount (Elite Eight)

Loyola Marymount defeated #6 New Mexico State, #3 Michigan and #7 Michigan in 1990. They lost to #1 UNLV in the Elite Eight. The Runnin’ Rebels went on to win the tournament in 1990.

Kansas and Villanova Crowned Champions

  • 1988: #6 Kansas (Champions)

Kansas are the highest seed on our list of the greatest all-time March Madness Cinderella teams, but they deserve a spot after winning the championship. After defeating #4 Kansas State in the Elite Eight, Kansas won against #2 Duke and #1 Oklahoma to win the title. Kansas are the only #6 seed to win the tourney.

  • 1986: #11 LSU (Final Four)

LSU defeated #6 Purdue, #3 Memphis State, #2 Georgia Tech and #1 Kentucky. LSU are the only #11 seed to defeat the top three seeds in their region in March Madness history. LSU lost to #1 Louisville in the Final Four, but this was one of the first March Madness Cinderella teams to make a deep run.

  • 1985: #8 Villanova (Champions)

Villanova won their first championship in 1985 after upsetting #1 Georgetown (66-64) in the finals. The Wildcats defeated #1 Michigan, #5 Maryland, #2 North Carolina and #2 Memphis State in the tourney.