The NCAA Tournament is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, and it’s partly due to the unpredictable nature of the event. This event is made popular by March Madness Cinderella teams, and those teams tend to captivate the country during those runs.
Most NCAA Cinderella teams see their run end at some point before winning a national championship, but that’s not always the case. The NCAA Tournament seeds don’t really matter once the games begin, but the lower seeds usually produce the most memorable moments.
March Madness Cinderella Teams
Not all Cinderella teams are built the same as some have been much more memorable than others. Here is a look at the ten best Cinderella stories in March Madness history.
Penn Quakers (1979)
The Penn Quakers were the original March Madness Cinderella team, and they actually went on their run before this term became so popular. The Penn Quakers dominated the Ivy League year after year in the 1970s, but it was in 1979 that they were able to go on a magical run in the NCAA Tournament.
Penn was a number 9 seed that year, but they got hot at the right time and went on to win the Eastern Regional Final. The biggest win during that run came in the second round when the Quakers upset the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Unfortunately, the magical run ended in the Final Four when Penn squared off against Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans.
North Carolina State Wolfpack (1983)
A March Madness Cinderella team that is always shown in video montages every single year is the 1983 NC State Wolfpack team. Not only was this a great team, but it was coached by the wildly popular Jim Valvano.
NC State had to win the ACC Tournament that year just to get into the NCAA Tournament, but they were ready for the challenge once they got to March Madness. The Wolfpack had a bunch of several close calls along the way but ultimately made it to the National Championship Game as a number six seed.
The mighty Houston Cougars were waiting for them in that game, and they were massive underdogs. The Wolfpack were able to cut down the nets, and Valvano was seen running around on the court in a wild celebration that has become a staple of NCAA basketball video packages.
LSU Tigers (1986)
The 1986 LSU Tigers entered the NCAA Tournament as a number 11 seed, and they were not expected to do much in that position. LSU caught a huge break in the first two rounds by playing at home at the LSU Assembly Center, and they used that break and then ran with it.
The Cinderella run didn’t really start until the Tigers made it to the Sweet 16, as LSU was able to take care of business on their home floor. A win over number two-seed Georgia Tech in the Sweet 16 caught everyone’s attention, and it also set them up for a matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky was waiting for LSU in the Elite 8, and the Wildcats had a pair of wins over the Tigers right before the tournament. LSU would get some revenge on the biggest stage to reach the Final Four.
LSU remains the only team in NCAA Tournament history to beat seeds 1, 2, and 3 on the way to winning a regional final, and they pulled this feat off as a number 11 seed.
Loyola Marymount (1990)
The Loyola Marymount Lions are one of the most interesting Cinderella teams March Madness, and they shouldn’t have even been in that position, to begin with. Loyola Marymount reached the Elite Eight as a number 11 seed, but they were also one of the best teams in the country during that season.
This team scored over 122 points per game to set an NCAA record, and they had two players named All-Americans that season. One of those All-Americans, Hank Gathers, collapsed and died during a game in the Mountain West Tournament.
Losing Gathers felt like a massive blow to the title chances of the Lions, but his teammates were able to rally and rattle off three straight wins to get to the Elite Eight. That team honored their late teammate in many different ways, but playing well in March was at the top of that list.
The Lions were a fan favorite all season long, but everyone started rooting for them after the death of Gathers. Loyola Marymount was a joy to watch on offense, and they just kept running out athletes that could put the ball in the basket.
George Mason (2006)
There was actually a pretty big gap between NCAA Cinderella teams in the early 2000s, but the George Mason Patriots ended that run in 2006. George Mason is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, not a conference typically known for producing great college basketball teams.
George Mason was one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament field after getting upset in their conference tournament, and they were handed a number 11 seed. The Patriots were able to regroup quickly and ran through three very impressive teams to get to the Elite Eight.
The Patriots got past Michigan State, North Carolina, and Wichita State, and they were heavy underdogs in all of those matchups. That set up a showdown against the UConn Huskies, a powerhouse program and a team many thought would win the title.
An 86-84 overtime win pushed George Mason into the Final Four as one of the most improbable teams to get to that point in NCAA Tournament history. The magical run would end with a semifinal loss to Florida, but this team will be remembered for those four wins as a Cinderella.
Davidson Wildcats (2008)
One of the most memorable Cinderella teams March Madness was the Davidson Wildcats back in 2008. There were a ton of great players on that roster, but Stephen Curry was bringing all of the attention to this Davidson Wildcats team.
This was the coming out party for Stephen Curry, and it ended propelling Curry to a long and impressive career in the NBA. Curry helped put Davidson on the map with that magical run in 2008, and he was making opposing defenses look silly in every single matchup.
Davidson ultimately lost to Kansas in the Elite 8, and the Jayhawks would go on to win the National Championship. There have been very few players in NCAA Tournament history that have been as impressive as Curry was during that magical 2008 season.
VCU Rams (2011)
The NCAA instituted a new tournament format in 2011 as the “First Four” was introduced to include 68 teams. There was some debate about the new format, but it produced one of the most memorable March Madness Cinderella teams in NCAA tournament history.
The 2011 VCU Rams were forced to play in one of those First Four games, and they were an underdog against the USC Trojans in that matchup. After VCU found a way to get past USC, they then took on some huge college basketball programs and just continued to win games.
Head coach Shaka Smart was becoming a big name in college basketball, and his Rams team was winning games by playing a relentless and aggressive style of defense. VCU was able to get past Georgetown, Purdue, and Florida State to set up a meeting with top-seeded Kansas in the Regional Final.
VCU would find a way to wear down the Jayhawks in that game, and their opponent in the Final Four was another Cinderella-type team in Butler. Ultimately the dream season would end, but Smart would become a coveted head coach from that point on.
Florida Gulf Coast University (2013)
One of the most exciting March Madness Cinderella teams was the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles in 2013. FGCU was a 15-seed back in 2013, and they became the first-ever team with that seed to get to the Sweet 16.
The Eagles team coined the phrase “Dunk City,” as they were throwing alley-oops seemingly every single possession. In their first NCAA Tournament game, it took about five minutes to show the country what they were made of, and that style of play was contagious with fans.
FGCU upset Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and then got past San Diego State in the second round. During that win over Georgetown, the Eagles went on a 25-2 run to simply embarrass the Hoyas.
The Florida Gators eventually ended the Cinderella run for FGCU in the Sweet 16, but college basketball fans from across the country now follow this team because of that run.
UMBC Retrievers (2018)
There have been some great March Madness Cinderella teams, but only one has been able to do what the UMBC Retrievers pulled off in 2018. Not only did UMBC become the first 16-seed in tournament history to win a game, but they did it against the top overall seed, the Virginia Cavaliers.
There have been some close calls for 16 seeds in the past, but this wasn’t even the case in this game. The Retrievers shot their way to a blowout win, in a game that will always be remembered as one of the biggest upsets of all time.
This was a very quick Cinderella run for UMBC, though, as they were knocked off by the Kansas State Wildcats in their next game. The UMBC Retrievers are always going to be the answer to a trivia question until some other 16 seed is able to pull off a win.
St. Peter’s Peacocks (2022)
One of the best Cinderella stories in March Madness history actually happened just last year, and it was St. Peter’s that was captivating the entire country. St Peter’s was given a number 15 seed a season ago, and they became the first 15 seed to ever reach the Elite Eight.
The magical run for the Peacocks started with an impressive upset over the Kentucky Wildcats, but they were just getting started. Up next was a big win over Murray State to get the Peacocks into the Elite 8.
There St. Peter’s pulled off a stunning upset over Purdue, and that team was one of the favorites to win it all. Ultimately it was the North Carolina Tar Heels that ended the most improbable run in NCAA Tournament history.
That run by St. Peter’s came out of nowhere from a 15-seed, but that team was full of players that had plenty of personality and became fan favorites.
Where to Bet on March Madness Cinderella Teams?
Do you have a hunch about which team will be the March Madness Cinderella of 2023? Betting on NCAA tournament underdogs can be a great way to make the tournament more exciting and make you root for the team no one expects to win.
Below you can find sportsbooks with the best promotions, where you can bet on your NCAA Cinderella teams. Simply click the links below to sign up and claim the special bonuses.
March Madness Cinderella Teams FAQ
What is the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history?
The biggest upset in NCAA tournament history was the 16-seed UMBC Retrievers beating 1-seed Virginia in the 2018 tournament. To date, this is the only time a 16-seed has beat a 1-seed.
What is a Cinderella team?
A Cinderella team is a team that goes from “rags to riches” during the NCAA tournament. They are often a lower-seeded team who goes on a winning streak when March Madness begins, enamoring college basketball fans.
Has a Cinderella team ever won the NCAA tournament?
Depending on your definition of a Cinderella team, none has ever won the NCAA tournament. The lowest-seeded team to take the title was the Villanova Wildcats, who won the 1985 tournament as an 8-seed.
Want To Learn More?
NCAA Bracket Contests to Join in 2023
NCAA March Madness Mascots Guide
NCAA MVP Odds - Who is The Favorite in 2023?
Current Odds to Win March Madness 2023
NCAA Tournament Parlay Bets to Make in 2023