Best March Madness “Cinderella Runs” Of The 2000s

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March. Arguably the best sports month of the year. The home stretch for the NBA and NHL. The beginning of Spring Training. The NFL Combine. And of course, March Madness. Who doesn’t love it? Any team can win if they are given a chance in the dance. Bracket Challenges, Buzzer Beaters, and most importantly upsets and cinderella runs. March Madness is truly one of a kind.

Here are MY favorite cinderella teams of recent memory.

10: Florida Gulf Coast 2013 — No. 15 to Sweet 16

10 years already? I’m pretty sure everyone who has followed College Basketball remembers this team. The hype was insane after those first two games, Dunk City was born.

FGCU “Dunk City” 2013

Not your typical underdog style of playing slow and calm. They became crowd favorites instantly after upsetting #2 Georgetown 78-68 in the opening round. They would then follow up their big upset by becoming the first #15 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16 after defeating SDSU 81-71. Florida would stop the cinderella run the following week with a 62-50 win.

It’s insane to think about how much hype was behind a team that had only won two games. That’s what makes cinderella teams so special during March Madness.

9: Oral Roberts 2021 — No. 15 to Sweet 16 

8 years after the FGCU run, Oral Roberts would join them as the only #15 seeds to advance to the sweet 16. This run wasn’t as much about the excitement of a high-flying team but rather a team that played intense games, down to the buzzer. All three games were decided by three points or less and had a shot at the last second to decide the outcome of the game.

Round Of 64: Beat #2 Ohio State 75-72 In OT

Round Of 32: Defeat #7 Seed Florida 81-78

This win is more remembered for the comeback by Oral Roberts after trailing by 11 with under 10 to go. Florida had two chances at the buzzer to tie, which obviously didn’t fall.

Sweet 16: Defeated By #3 Arkansas 72-70

This time Oral Roberts got a taste of their own medicine, blowing a 12-point lead in the second half. Arkansas would take the lead with just 3 seconds to go, and this shot came up just inches away from sending Oral Roberts dancing to the Elite Eight.

8: George Mason 2006 — No. 11 to Final Four 

Does this March Madness run deserve to be ranked higher? Probably. I was a young buck who had just started watching college basketball. I slightly remember this Cinderella story, but nothing compared to how I remember the rest of them.

How They Got There

  1. Beat #6 Seed Michigan State 75-65
  2. Beat #3 & Defending Champs North Carolina 65-60
  3. Beat #7 Seed Wichita State 63-55
  4. Beat #1 Seed UCONN 86-84 In OT.
  5. Loss To #1 Overall Seed Florida 73-58

What a run from George Mason. The fairy tale run was highlighted by their huge win against UCONN which some would call the biggest upset in tournament history. Just a few short months later UCONN would have 5 players drafted in the first 40 selections.

2006 George Mason Team

7: Dayton 2014 — No. 11 to Elite Eight 

The reason why I’ve always “cheered” bet on Dayton is because of this run back in 2014 that made me become a fan of their style of basketball instantly. Archie Miller was the head coach at the time, and the way this Dayton team played team basketball was pretty to watch.

In the first round they defeated Ohio State thanks to this shot by Vee Sanford.

They would then defeat #3 Syracuse to advance to their first Sweet Sixteen in 30 years. They would then draw another cinderella story in #10 Stanford which obviously Dayton would win with a score of 63-55. Just like in the previous run, Florida would also be the team to play spoiler. Controlling Dayton the entire game defeating them 62-52.

6: Loyola-Chicago 2018 — No. 11 to Final Four

Does Loyola Chicago deserve to be higher on the list? Hell No. An 11 seed making it to the final four is always impressive, mostly when you are a school with the name “Loyola-Chicago”. But sometimes you have to look at how the team got there to really determine how great of a cinderella story it really was.

How They Got There

  1. Round Of 64: Defeat #6 Miami 64-62
  2. Round Of 32: Defeat #3 Tennessee 63-62
  3. Sweet 16: Defeat #7 Nevada 69-68
  4. Elite 8: Defeat #9 Kansas State 79-62
  5. Final Four: Lose 69-57 To #3 Michigan

Great run with great games, but they played in a bracket filled with upsets which made their route almost as easy as you could ask for. They avoided the #1 seed in Virginia thanks to a shocking opening round upset from #16 UMBC. They had one big “upset” win and even that win within itself wasn’t too great other than the fact it was a close game.

The real question I have here is how Sister Jean didn’t fall over and croak during these close games?

She made the storylines of this run even more dramatic than they already were because she was a 98-year-old Grandma saying a prayer before a game. Look for this year’s cinderella to steal a page outta Loyola’s book. Find the oldest alumni alive, and turn them into your super fan.

5: VCU 2011 — No. 11 to Final Four 

This is where it starts to get tough for me trying to “rank them”. All of the remaining runs were spectacular in their own way, and each has its own stories that will forever be told. VCU had the unlucky draw of becoming the first team to play in the “First Four”. To them that only meant an extra game to warm up as they were able to rattle off 5 wins to get to the Final Four. This was the year the VCU basketball became relevant courtesy of head coach Shaka Smart. There run was highlighted when they defeated a loaded #1 Kansas team in the Elite Eight. We will get to how they lost in the Final Four later on.

4: Wichita State 2013 — No. 9 to Final Four

This team was FUN! Fred VanVleet & Ron Baker, and don’t forget about Cleanthony Early. This team played hard which is probably why they had a slogan named after their team at Wichita State called “play angry“. Such a fun run all the way to the final 4 that included wins over #1 seed Gonzaga and #2 Seed, Ohio State.

2013 March Madness Final Four Team

3: Davidson 2008 — No. 10 to Elite Eight

The tournament in which Steph Curry put his name on the map. Coming into this tournament Curry’s name was already flashing on radars but nothing can boost your stock more than leading your team to the elite eight as an underdog….. by yourself. Just look at his stats from this insane run led by Curry.

Highest scoring average in the 2008 NCAA Tournament: 32.0 points per game. Most 3-point field goals in the 2008 NCAA Tournament: 23 3-pointers. Most 3-point field goals made per game in the 2008 NCAA Tournament: 5.75 threes per game. Highest steals average in the 2008 NCAA Tournament: 3.25 steals per game.

Curry 2008 Tournament stats


  1. Dropping 40 (30 in 2nd half) to defeat #7 Gonzaga
  2. Trailing by 17 in 2nd Half Vs #2 Georgetown… Steph drops 30 in comeback.
  3. Defeat #3 Wisconsin By 17… Curry Drops 33.
  4. Lose To #1 Seed 59-57. Curry misses a shot at the buzzer and drops 25 on 9/25 shooting.

2: Saint Peter’s 2022 — No. 15 to Elite Eight

Last year, we witnessed a 15 seed shock the nation for a second straight year. Oral Roberts shocked everyone in 2021 advancing to the sweet 16, which the 15 seed had only done once before. Saint Peters said hold my beer, and immediately followed with three of the most impressive wins in tournament history.

Why were these wins so great?

  • Beat #2 Kentucky 85-79
  • Beat #7 Murray State 70-60
  • Beat #3 Purdue 67-64

Because they were a 15 seed and played again three opponents who had a combined record of 88-19.

Anything can happen as long as you just get to the tournament, that’s the beauty of sports. They became the first #15 seed to make it this far which is deserving of a top-three spot.

1: Butler 2011 — No. 8 to the title game

My favorite March Madness cinderella run of the 2000s. Butler. They were coming off an insane run as a #5 seed, which ended with one of the closest best shots in the history of sports.

2010 National Championship Game

I remember exactly where I was when watching this game. Wanted Duke to lose SO BAD, maybe the reason why I was such a “Butler Fan” the next year.

Butler was a #5 seed in this game and shocked everyone getting to this spot, but IMO the better year was 2011. The 2010 Butler team had the deepest run for a mid-major since UNLV run in 1991.

2011 Tournament Run

Round Of 64: Beat #9 Old Dominion 60-58

Round Of 32: Beat #1 Pitt 71-70

Skip to the last minute if you don’t wanna watch the highlights of the entire game. Insane game with an insane ending… Remember that sequence like it was yesterday.

Sweet 16: Beat #4 Wisconsin 61-54

Close game but non-dramatic compared to all their other games in this tournament. With this win, it drew them Florida with a chance @ the final 4 on the line.

Elite 8: Beat #2 Florida 74-71

Guess what? Another close game that needed OT to determine the outcome. Can you imagine being a Butler fan during this two-year stretch? The Gordon Hayward-led Butler team was so fun to watch.

Final Four: Beat #11 VCU 70-62

Remember #4 when I talk about how we would get back to their final four-loss later? That moment is right now and VCU’s cinderella run ended thanks to Butler. Yes, what a year that was to be a fan of College Basketball. The score doesn’t bring justice to how back and forth this game was with no team able to extend the lead until the last few minutes. It was the highest two-ranked.

National Championship 2011: Loss To #3 UCONN 53-41.

Back-to-back losses trying to prove small schools can win it all. Unfortunately, they ran into one of the best March Madness player runs I’ve seen.

Kemba Walker

If you’re upset with my list what teams are missing? Was Butler deserving of #1? Or did the 2010 run dampen the “cinderella effect” for 2011? Will we have a new team joining the list next year? So many questions with the answers just weeks away.

Fasten ur seat belts folks because March Madness is about to take off.