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NCAA Basketball March Madness

The 15 Greatest Cinderella Stories in NCAA Basketball Tournament History

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The 15 Greatest Cinderella Stories in NCAA Basketball Tournament History

NCAA Basketball Tournament
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Some teams that make the NCAA tournament are labeled as longshots, dark horses, sleepers and even underdogs. Ever since the NCAA Tournament went to the bracket format, the biggest overachievers and underdogs in the Big Dance have all been what is now known as the "Cinderella" teams. The college game has created even more parity today with very few dominant teams. The NCAA tournament is just one month away, so now is the perfect time to rank the 15 greatest Cinderella stories in NCAA tournament history.

Putting on my Selection Sunday committee thinking cap, there are certain key criteria that I looked for when ranking the many Cinderella teams down to just the top 15. To start off, Cinderella teams, according to me, are only teams that have reached the Sweet 16 at minimum. These Cinderella teams also have to have had a tough draw in the process, beating quality teams. One-hit wonders like Lehigh and Norfolk State do not qualify for this countdown and classify for the best upsets in tournament history.

A Cinderella team doesn't have to be just an unknown mid-major school previously unheard of before. Representatives of the power conferences are included here as well as long as they entered the tournament with lower seeds and even lower expectations.

Many teams are deserving of inclusion in this list, but only a select few can be the best "Cinderella" teams. Without further ado, here is my version of the 15 greatest Cinderella stories in NCAA tournament history. Here's hoping that this year's tournament will give us a few more of these lovable underdogs.

Brian Kalchik is a writer for rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and connect with him on Google.

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15. 2010 Northern Iowa

Northern Iowa
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Seed: 9

Finish: Sweet 16

With a 28-4 record as the Missouri Valley champion, the Northern Iowa Panthers earned a No. 9 seed. After defeating No. 8 UNLV, UNI pulled off one of the greatest second-round upsets in tournament history by stunning No. 1 Kansas before they lost to Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

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14. 2005 Wisconsin Milwaukee

Wisconsin-Milwaukee
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Seed: 12

Finish: Sweet 16

The Wisconsin Milwaukee Panthers defeated two solid teams in the tournament in No. 5 Alabama and No. 4 Boston College. They finally fell to the national runner-up No. 1 Illinois.

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13. 2010 Cornell

Cornell
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Seed: 12

Finish: Sweet 16

In 2010, Cornell entered with a 27-4 record, but in the Ivy League, they were given no respect in the tournament. The Big Red easily defeated both No. 5 Temple and No. 4 Wisconsin before losing to John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and the Kentucky Wildcats.

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12. 2000 Wisconsin

Wisconsin Badgers
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Seed: 8

Finish: Final Four

In 2000, the Wisconsin Badgers were never ranked all year. The Badgers finished 18-14 yet reached the Final Four after defeating No. 1 Arizona, No. 4 LSU and No. 6 Purdue. Wisconsin lost to the eventual champion Michigan State Spartans in the Final Four.

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11. 1999 Gonzaga

Gonzaga
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Seed: 10

Finish: Elite Eight

The Gonzaga Bulldogs got on the college basketball map in 1999. The Bulldogs reached the Elite Eight after defeating No. 7 Minnesota, No. 2 Stanford and No. 6 Florida before losing to the eventual champion Connecticut Huskies.

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10. 2002 Kent State

Kent State
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Seed: 10

Finish: Elite Eight

Led by future NFL Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates, the Kent State Golden Flashes came within one game of being the first mid-major team in the modern era to reach the Final Four. The Golden Flashes rolled past No. 7 Oklahoma State, No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Pittsburgh before losing to Indiana in the Elite Eight.

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9. 2013 Florida Gulf Coast

Florida Gulf Coast
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Seed: 15

Finish: Sweet 16

The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. The Eagles upset No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State before losing to No. 3 Florida in the Sweet 16.

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8. 2008 Davidson

Davidson
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Seed: 8

Finish: Elite Eight

Before Stephen Curry came along, Davidson was not a fixture in the NCAA tournament. The sophomore proved that he would be a future superstar as Davidson defeated No. 7 Gonzaga, No. 2 Georgetown and No. 3 Wisconsin before losing to No. 1 Kansas.

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7. 1990 Loyola Marymount

Loyola Marymount
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Seed: 11

Finish: Elite Eight

The high-octane Loyola Marymount Lions, led by Paul Westhead, overcame the tragic death of Hank Gathers to reach the Elite Eight. The Lions crushed No. 6 New Mexico State, No. 3 Michigan (the defending national champions) and No. 7 Alabama. The Lions' run would fall short after a loss to the eventual champion UNLV Runnin Rebels.

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6. 2010 Butler

Butler
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Seed: 5

Finish: NCAA Tournament Runner-Up

Butler defeated national powers Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State before coming within one buzzer beater short of defeating another national power in Duke.

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5. 2011 VCU

VCU
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Seed: 11

Finish: Final Four

The 2011 VCU Rams became the first play-in team to reach the Final Four. The Rams defeated USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and upset top-seed Kansas before losing to Butler in the Final Four.

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4. 2006 George Mason

George Mason
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Seed: 11

Finish: Final Four

The George Mason Patriots did not even win their conference tournament, but they still reached the Final Four. The Patriots defeated three of the marquee college programs in history with upsets over Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut before losing to the champion Florida Gators.

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3. 1988 Kansas

Kansas
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Seed: 6

Finish: National Champion

Also known as the Miracles, Larry Brown and Danny Manning led the Jayhawks to an improbable championship. The Jayhawks beat No. 4 Kansas State in the quarterfinals, defeated No. 2 Duke in the semis and upset No. 1 Oklahoma in the Championship Game.

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2. 1985 Villanova

Villanova
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Seed: 8

Finish: National Champion

The lowest seed to win the National Championship, Rollie Massimino and the Villanova Wildcats upset No. 1 Michigan, No. 5 Maryland, No. 2 North Carolina, No. 2 Memphis State and completed their national title against one of the greatest college teams ever in Patrick Ewing's Georgetown Hoyas.

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1. 1983 North Carolina State

North Carolina State
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Seed: 6

Finish: National Champions

The very definition of NCAA Cinderella teams, Jim Valvano’s squad survived plenty of close scares to reach the Final Game. The Wolfpack defeated No. 11 Pepperdine, No. 3 Utah and No. 1 Virginia. In the national championship game, Lorenzo Charles' dunk off an air ball led the Wolfpack over Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.