19 October 2020

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Top 5 NCAA Basketball Cinderellas of the Decade

Fans love the NCAA Tournament for so many reasons. Seeing the best college stars, and NBA prospects, putting on a show. You get classic blue blood matchups with everything on the line. Single elimination allows for entertaining, buzzer-beating, thrillers. You also get the incredible energy of students and families of players passionately rooting for their schools all tournament long.

However, the most special part of March Madness, which you do not get in many other sports, are the upsets, specifically smaller schools making deep runs into the tournament, and being deemed ‘Cinderella’ teams. Everyone fills out brackets before the tournament begins, but it is impossible to account for these Cinderellas who make runs every year. To celebrate the last decade of college basketball, here are my top 5 Cinderella runs in the NCAA Tournament in the 2010s.

5. 2018 UMBC Retrievers, 16 seed

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CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 16:  Teammates Jairus Lyles #10, K.J. Maura #11 and Joe Sherburne #13 of the UMBC Retrievers react against the Virginia Cavaliers during the first round of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 16, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka – Getty Images

Despite only winning one game in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, it is impossible to leave out the history-making, Fortnite dancing, history makers from UMBC. Going into their matchup with overall #1 seed Virginia, very few people could tell you what UMBC stood for, let alone know anything about the team. Virginia came in as the best team in the country, at 31-3, with the top-ranked defense. However, by the late hours of March 16, 2018, every basketball fan in America knew about this UMBC team, after they stunningly won their first-round matchup 74-54. Still, the only 16 seed to defeat a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Retrievers will always be remembered as a college basketball Cinderella.

Notable Players: SR. Jarius Lyles, 28 pts vs. Virginia, SR. K.J. Maura, 11.3 PPG

4. 2013 Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, 15 seed

Mar 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Florida Gulf Coast Eagles guard Bernard Thompson (2) celebrates making a basket during the first half against the Georgetown Hoyas during the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith – USA Today Sports

Another team firmly entrenched in college basketball history, here we have the “Dunk City” Cinderella story of Florida Gulf Coast. A small school from the ASUN Conference, they entered the tournament at 25-10, as a 15 seed. They faced powerhouse Georgetown in the first round and were not expected to keep the game close. Instead, their incredible athleticism and aggressive playstyle kept them in it, and they eventually went on to shock the Hoyas 78-68. In the next round, they shocked everyone once again, knocking out 7 seed San Diego St. 81-71, powered by a 17-0 run in the 2nd half. They became the first, and still only 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16. It was not just the upsets that made this team great, but their high-flying offensive highlights, which made this Cinderella team so fun to watch.

Notable Players: SR. Sherwood Brown, 15.5 ppg, SO. Brett Comer, 8 ppg, 6.6 apg

3. 2011 Butler Bulldogs, 8 seed

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04:  Head coach Brad Stevens of the Butler Bulldogs shouts from the sidelines against the Connecticut Huskies during the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez – Getty Images

The tenure of coach Brad Stevens at Butler saw many a great NCAA Tournament moment, but the 2011 team, who made the championship game, is hard to top. Fresh off losing star Gordon Hayward to the NBA, it seemed unlikely that Butler’s magic would continue. However, this run saw what makes us all love college basketball so much. The 8 seed Bulldogs snuck by Old Dominion 60-58 on a game-winner by Forward Matt Howard. Their next game saw Howard sink a game-winning free throw in the final seconds to knock out 1 seed Pittsburgh. With the momentum from these two wins, Butler went on the defeat 4 seed Wisconsin, 2 seed Florida, and another Cinderella in 11 seed VCU to make the championship game. The run then came to an end, however, as Kemba Walker’s UConn defeated Butler in a defensive battle 53-41 to win the NCAA title.

Notable Players: JR. Shelvin Mack, 16 ppg, SR. Matt Howard, 16.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg

2. 2018 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, 11 seed

Loyola-Chicago players celebrate after winning a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game against Kansas State, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Atlanta. Loyola-Chicago won 78-62. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Goldman – Associated Press

The Ramblers, no matter who you were as a fan, were hard not to root for. The Sister Jean story was amazing, as she became a national celebrity. They were a small, unknown school with no stars, as every starter averaged between 10 and 14 points per game. They also had an incredible flair for the dramatic, with 3 different players hitting game-winners in the first three rounds. Clayton Custer, their junior point guard, was phenomenal all tournament, becoming somewhat of a national star himself. They got through 6 seed Miami, 3 seed Tennessee, 7 seed Nevada and 5 seed Kansas State to make the final four, and we’re right in the game with Michigan up until the last 10 minutes. Either way, their run was very memorable, and they are only 2nd on this list due to the more impressive upsets pulled by our #1 team.

Notable Players: JR. Clayton Custer 13.2 ppg, SR. Donte Ingram, 11 ppg, 6.4 rpg

1. 2011 VCU Rams, 11 seed

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 27:  Head coach Shaka Smart of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams holds up the trophy after defeating the Kansas Jayhawks during the southwest regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Alamodome on March 27, 20
Jamie Squire – Getty Images

Here we have the best Cinderella run of the decade, and to no surprise, it is Shaka Smart’s VCU team of 2011. They get the edge because of the difficult matchups in their run, and because they did something no other team has done. VCU began in the first four, winning a play-in game over USC 59-46, to become an 11 seed in the bracket. Then, with Smart’s incredible coaching methods, they began to shock the World. VCU, without a rotation player over 6’9, they took down some true tournament giants. They upset 6 seed Georgetown, 3 seed Purdue, and 10 seed Florida State, to set up a matchup with 1 seed Kansas. It was classic David and Goliath, and David won, with VCU stunning Kansas 71-61 to make the team’s first-ever final four. Unfortunately, their run ended with a loss to 8 seed Butler, but they certainly showed us what great coaching and team play can do by getting to this point. VCU’s upset of Kansas will stand as one of the biggest ever, and they are still the only team to ever go first four to final four.

Notable Players: SR. Jamie Skeen, 15.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, SR. Joey Rodriguez, 10.4 ppg, 5.2 apg

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