Throughout the years the NCAA tournament has brought us lots of drama and plenty of surprises. In 1983 the North Carolina State Wolfpack, the number six seed from the Midwest region upset the mighty Houston Cougars, 54-52 to win the title. Two years later, the Villanova Wildcats, the number eight seed from the Southeast region shot over 78% from the field to win the National Championship, stunning the Georgetown Hoyas 66-64. Butler made the Final Four in 2010 as a fifth seed and were within a Gordon Hayward half court heave of pulling off the greatest championship game upset in history. The following season, Butler the number eight seed from the Southeast region once again made the Final Four.
Let’s look at five low seeds to make the Final Four.
1986 LSU Tigers #11
The LSU Tigers entered the 1986 NCAA Tournament, having lost 11 of their last 19 games heading into the tournament. They were placed in the Southeast region as the 11th seed.
In the first round the Tigers beat the Purdue Boilermakers 94-87 in double overtime. LSU beat the third seeded Memphis State Tigers in the second round 83-81 on an Anthony Wilson banked-in jumper at the buzzer.
LSU beat Georgia Tech, the second seed in the region led by future NBA All-Star Mark Price 70-64. After beating Georgia Tech, LSU matched up with the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight, a team they had already lost to three times during the 1985-86 season. LSU kept the game close throughout and went ahead on Ricky Blanton’s basket with 17 second left to go in the contest. The Wildcats missed a last-second half court heave, and the Tigers took the fourth matchup of the season against their SEC rival.
The win over Kentucky earned LSU a trip to Final Four, becoming the lowest seed ever to make the Final Four; that has since been tied but never broken. The Tigers amazing run ended in the Final Four as they lost 88-77 to the Louisville Cardinals, who would go on to win the national championship led by future NBA draft number one overall selection Pervis Ellison.
The 1985-86 LSU Tigers still have the distinction as the only number 11 seed to beat the one, two and three seeds in their region (Southeast) in the same tournament.
2000 Wisconsin Badgers #8
Wisconsin finished the season the 1999-2000 season 22–14 overall, 8–8 in Big Ten play: sixth in the conference. The Badgers received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament as the number eight seed in the West Region.
The Badgers opened the NCAA tournament with a first-round victory over the ninth seeded Fresno State Bulldogs 66-56. Andy Kowske led the way for Wisconsin in the win with 14 points and 14 rebounds. In the second round as a 4.5-point underdog against the number one seed, Arizona Wildcats that featured Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson, the no-name Badgers won 66-59. Three Badgers scored in double digits as their defense slowed down the quicker Wildcats.
In the Sweet 16, Wisconsin beat LSU 61-48. The Badgers held the Tigers to 14 points in the first half. Jon Bryant had 16 points while Andy Kowske and Maurice Linton each scored eight points in the victory. Having met two weeks prior in the Big Ten tournament, Wisconsin entered the West regional final against conference rival Purdue as a 1.5-point underdog. In a tough contest the Badgers won 64-60; Wisconsin was headed to their first Final Four in 59 years.
Jon Bryant led the Badgers in scoring with 18 points and Andy Kowske had 14 points and eight rebounds in the win.
The Badgers magical run would end in the Final Four as eventual national champion and Big Ten rival Michigan State would beat Wisconsin 53-41.
2006 George Mason Patriots #11
The George Mason Patriots from the Colonial Athletic Association earned an at-large bid and entered the 2006 NCAA tournament as an 11 seed and +15000 to win the National Championship. Entering the tournament, the school from Fairfax, Virginia had never won an NCAA tournament game.
In the first round George Mason, upset the number six seed Michigan State Spartans, 75-65 for their first NCAA tournament win in school history. Despite missing their best guard, Tony Skinn who was suspended for the game, the Patriots used hot shooting and a balanced attack to beat the Spartans. Florian Campbell made all eight of his field goal attempts, scoring 21 points while Will Thomas had 18 points and 14 rebounds in the victory. In the second round George Mason beat North Carolina, 75-65. After falling behind early in the game 16-2, the Patriots were able to overcome the deficit to defeat the mighty Tar Heels led by Tyler Hansbrough.
George Mason playing in the Washington, DC region at the Verizon Center, about 20 miles from their campus, defeated Wichita State in the Sweet 16, 63-55. In the regional final, George Mason overcame a 12-point first half deficit and being down nine points early in the second half to shock UConn and the nation with an 86-84 overtime victory. They hit six straight three-pointers in the second half, shot five out of six in overtime (outscoring UConn 12-10 in the extra session) and outrebounded UConn 37-34. All five starters for George Mason scored in double figures, led by Jai Lewis with 20 followed by Will Thomas and the regionals most outstanding player Lamar Butler each with 19 points.
The Patriots at the time were only the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four. George Mason was the first non-Power Five school to make the Final Four since the University of Pennsylvania and Indiana State both did so in 1979. The 2006 NCAA tournament was the first time since the field was expanded to 64 teams (in 1985) that no top-seeded team advanced to the Final Four, and only the second time in tournament history.
2011 VCU Rams #11
The VCU Rams from the Colonial Athletic Association got one of the last at-large bids to the 2011 NCAA tournament, a controversial decision at the time to face the USC Trojans in a First Four matchup of number 11 seeds. Behind Jamie Skeen’s 16 points, Joey Rodriguez’s eight points and five rebounds and an aggressive defensive scheme, VCU led by their energetic coach Shaka Smart beat USC 59-46.
In the second round, VCU routed the sixth seeded Georgetown Hoyas, 74-56. Brandon Rozzell tied his career high with six made three-point field goals to finish with 26 points while Joey Rodriguez, Bradford Burgess and Jamie Skeen all scored in double digits in the victory. VCU destroyed Purdue 94-76 to go to the Sweet 16 as Bradford Burgess’s 23 point led the way in the win.
In the Sweet 16, the Rams beat the Florida State Seminoles 72-71 in overtime. Bradford Burgess scored 26 points and made a layup off an inbounds pass with 7.1 seconds left in overtime, and Rob Brandenberg blocked a Seminole shot at the buzzer, VCU was off to the Southwest regional finals. In the regional finals, VCU stunned the number one seed Kansas Jayhawks 71-61 to make the schools’ first Final Four. The Rams made nine shots from behind the arc in the first half which was key in the upset. Jamie Skeen led VCU with 26 points while Joey Rodriguez had nine points, five assists and five rebounds.
For only the third time at the time, a number 11 seed advanced to the Final Four. VCU is the first team that played in the First Four to make it to the Final Four. The Rams are the first team in tournament history to win five games and not qualify for the national championship game.
2018 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers #11
The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers were Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament champions earning an automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA tournament.
In the first round of the tournament as the 11th seed in the South region, Loyola upset the number six seed in the region Miami 64-62 on a last second three-pointer by Donte Ingram. In the second round, Clayton Custer hit a jumper with 3.6 second left as Loyola upset the number three seed Tennessee Volunteers 63-62. This sent the Ramblers to their first Sweet 16 since 1985.
Loyola defeated Nevada in the Sweet 16, 69-68 in dramatic fashion. Clinging to a one-point lead, Marques Townes hit a three-pointer with 6.3 seconds to eventually seal the win for Loyola. Townes finished the game with 18 points while Clayton Custer added 15 points and four assists in the victory. In the South regional final, led by Ben Richarson’s 23 points, Loyola defeated Kansas State 78-62, advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 1963.
Eventual national runner-up Michigan dashed Loyola’s dream of a national championship, defeating the Ramblers 69-57 in the Final Four; the Cinderella run was over.