There’s a reason they call it March Madness. Every year in the NCAA tournament, there’s always that one team. The team that your friends brag about having picked, the team that busts your bracket alongside your hopes and dreams. The team that isn’t expected to go far, but does anyway. These teams are the Cinderella teams, and there have been quite a few over the past half decade. But how can someone rank these teams? How is it possible to decide who is better than the other? It’s simple, really. I’ll be ranking the top 7 Cinderella teams over the past five years using the following criteria:
- Depth of run (How far did they get in the tournament?)
- Strength of schedule (Who did they play?)
- Seeding (what kind of chance did the committee give them?)
While these teams didn’t necessarily make it far in the tournament, they pulled out some impressive wins and showed that anything can happen in March.
2018 UMBC Retrievers
Before 2018, teams seeded No. 16 in the NCAA Tournament were 0-135 against No. 1 seeds.
Then @UMBCAthletics changed everything.
UMBC vs. UVA: Bracket Busted airs today at 12:30PM ET on CBS. pic.twitter.com/UyD8VV3jlA
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 31, 2019
The first 16 seed to ever win an NCAA tournament game, the Retrievers shook the world last year by knocking down No. 1 Virginia. Unfortunately, they could not keep the momentum going, and fell in the round of 32.
2016 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee was the 15 seed going into the tournament, and they opened up playing a No. 2 Michigan St. team that was a favorite to win the whole thing. They busted a lot of brackets, but would fall to Syracuse, a team mentioned earlier on this list.
2015 Wichita St Shockers
With the most wins out of the honorable mentions, the Shockers came out and beat a bubble team Indiana and advanced on to play No. 2 Kansas. This is where they really impressed, upsetting Kansas and making a Sweet 16 appearance.
7) 2018 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
Recency bias aside, the no.11 Ramblers are at the bottom of my list due to the fact that they just didn’t play too many tough teams. When you look at their path to the final four, they played No. 6 Miami, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 7 Nevada, and No. 9 Kansas St, all before losing to No. 3 Michigan. Don’t get me wrong, beating a No. 3 seed and knocking down three other teams is impressive, just not as impressive as some other teams on this list.
6) 2016 Syracuse Orange
Stacking up some impressive wins en route to a Final Four appearance, the No. 10 Orange were highly doubted to even make it to the Sweet 16. However, after No. 2 Michigan State was upset by No.15 Middle Tennessee, their path opened up. Cruising past teams like Dayton, Middle Tennessee and Gonzaga, their first true test was a matchup against No. 1 Virginia in the Elite Eight, where they defeated the Cavaliers in a 68-62 victory. The clock would strike in the Final Four, however, as No. 3 North Carolina proved too much for them and they lost by a crushing 17 points.
5) 2019 Auburn Tigers
Considering the fact that they are a No. 5 seed in the tournament, it makes sense that the Tigers are number five on my list. The Tigers are currently in the middle of their run, set to play Virginia in the Final Four this weekend. With absolutely amazing wins over some of college basketball’s most historic programs, the Tigers have been nicknamed the “Blue Blood Killers”. Wins over No.4 Kansas, No. 1 North Carolina would have earned them an honorable mention on this list, but their most recent win over No. 2 Kentucky without their top rebounder and third-leading scorer, Chuma Okeke, pushed them into the list. Even without Okeke, the Tigers still found a way to get it done, and look to finish out the tournament strong.
4) 2015 Michigan St Spartans
With future NBA player Denzel Valentine on the team, the No. 7 Spartans had some fantastic wins in this tournament. They would take down No. 10 Georgia, No. 2 Virginia, No. 3 Oklahoma, and No. 4. Louisville before finally falling at the hands of Duke, who would go on to win the tournament that year. As you can see, their path is impressive enough, and I think with a win over Duke, they would have been at the top of the list.
3) 2017 South Carolina Gamecocks
The No. 7 Gamecocks might have one of the most impressive resumés on this list. Knocking out No. 10 Marquette, No. 2 Duke, No. 3. Baylor, and No.4 Florida, the Gamecocks were aiming high and seemed like they belong in the championship conversation. Unfortunately, their dreams fell just a bit short, and No. 1 seed Gonzaga proved a bit too strong for them in the Final Four. Overall, this team proved it was resilient, and that is one of the best qualities a Cinderella team can have.
2) 2014 Kentucky Wildcats
This was a tough call. A REALLY tough call. However, it all comes down to how far you make it in the tournament, and unfortunately, these No. 8 seeded Wildcats couldn’t quite go the distance. Knocking off No. 9 Kansas St., No. 1 Wichita St., No. 4 Louisville, No. 2 Michigan, and No. 2 Wisconsin, this team got put through the ringer. They made it all the way to the National Championship game but were unfortunately unable to cut down the nets when it was all said and done, and for that reason, they finish second on this list just like the tournament.
1) 2014 UCONN Huskies
So what team could possibly be better than that Kentucky team? Well, how about the team that beat them in the National Championship. The only Cinderella team on this list to have an absolutely flawless record, the No. 7 UCONN Huskies took down No. 10 St. Josephs, No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa St., No. 4 Michigan St., No. 1 Florida, and No. 8 Kentucky. The team was led by Shabazz Napier, who had one of the best tournament performances since Kemba Walker, who also won UCONN a title. This team proved that anything is possible in March, and to never count an underdog out. For most teams, the clock strikes midnight. But every once in a while, the glass slipper fits.