The NCAA tournament is always filled with surprising upsets, great games, and unforgettable moments. 15 seed Oral Roberts advancing to the sweet 16 and 12 seed Oregon State advancing all the way to the elite eight were definitely surprising. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention 11 seed UCLA going from being down double digits at halftime in one of the first four games to making the final four. Only 0.3% of brackets made on ESPN’s tournament challenge had UCLA making the final four. While it may have been hard to specifically predict UCLA making the final four; it turns out that the final four normally has an unexpected participant. Eight of the past ten tournaments have contained at least one seven seed or higher in the final four. Let’s examine those teams and what the after-effects were.
2011: 8 seed Butler and 11 seed VCU
The Butler Bulldogs appeared in the national title game in 2010. A year after that surprising run; Butler appeared in the 2011 national title game. A couple of years after consecutive improbable tournament runs, Brad Stevens accepted a job to be the head coach of the Boston Celtics.
UCLA will be playing in this year’s final four after playing in one of the first four games. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same exact thing happened to VCU in 2011. After leading VCU to the final four, Shaka Smart landed a job as the head coach at the University of Texas and is now the head coach at Marquette. These examples show that a coach who leads a surprising run to the final four can unlock great opportunities.
2013: 9 seed Wichita State
Wichita State’s run to the final four was when Fred VanVleet made a name for himself. After the Shockers’ shocking (no pun intended) final four-run, VanVleet earned a spot on an NBA roster and eventually signed a four-year, $85 million contract with the Toronto Raptors. After their surprising final four appearance in 2013, Wichita State entered next season’s NCAA tournament with an undefeated record.
2014: 7 seed Connecticut and 8 seed Kentucky
Kentucky entered the 2013-2014 season as the first ranked team in the entire country. The team failed to live up to expectations and was just an eight seed entering the tournament. However, they upset the previously mentioned undefeated Wichita State Shockers in the round of 32 and made it all the way to the national title game. After playing in the 2014 national title game, Kentucky won their first 38 games and made the final four the following season.
A few years after Kemba Walker led Connecticut to a national title; the Huskies once again found themselves on top of the college basketball world thanks to amazing guard play Shabazz Napier did his best Kemba Walker impression while leading Connecticut to a national championship. You know you did something great when Lebron James praises you on Twitter.
2015: 7 seed Michigan State Spartans
In the 2014 NCAA Tournament, the 4th seeded Michigan State Spartans upset the 1 seeded Virginia Cavaliers. The two teams once again met in the tournament in 2015 where the 7th seeded Spartans upset the 2nd seeded Cavaliers. The Spartans eventually appeared in that season’s final four and was the seventh such appearance for Tom Izzo at the time.
2016: 10 seed Syracuse
You typically would not think of schools like Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Syracuse as your typical march madness cinderellas. However, those schools all had surprising final four runs between 2014-2016. Syracuse’s final four appearance in 2016 was the fifth such appearance for Jim Boeheim.
2017: 7 seed South Carolina
The South Carolina Gamecocks beat Marquette, Duke, Baylor, and Florida on their way to the final four in 2017. The Gamecocks had never even made the elite eight prior to 2017.
2018: 11 seed Loyola-Chicago
How many of you reading this had heard of Loyola-Chicago before 2018? Their win against 1 seeded Illinois a few weeks ago was less surprising because of their final four appearance in 2018. Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart both got better head coaching jobs after they led their teams to surprising final four appearances. Will teams with head coaching vacancies try to hire Loyola-Chicago’s head coach, Porter Moser?
2021: 11 seed UCLA
UCLA went from being down double digits at halftime in one of the first four games to being one of the final four teams standing. They beat two-seed Alabama and one-seed Michigan on their way to the final four. Before accepting the UCLA head coaching job in April of 2019, Mick Cronin led the Cincinnati Bearcats to nine consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Because of UCLA’s rich basketball history, the lure of going to school in Los Angeles, and the fact that he’s going to the final four in just his second season as the Bruins head coach, Cronin should be able to land some of the best high school recruits in the entire country. Is UCLA back to being a basketball powerhouse?
As you can now see, numerous teams that were 7 seeds or higher have recently appeared in the final four. March Madness is always full of surprises. The favorite entering the tournament doesn’t always end up winning. Will this year’s Gonzaga squad finish the season undefeated and be the first overall number one seed to win the national title since Louisville in 2013? This year’s tournament has been filled with surprising outcomes. Will the surprises continue in the final four? Only time will tell.