Top 10 Best March Madness Cinderella Stories of All Time

Morgan Wolf

Top 10 Best March Madness Cinderella Stories of All Time

March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, is renowned for its ability to produce captivating upsets and Cinderella stories. 

These underdog tales captivate the hearts of fans and embody the spirit of the tournament, where teams from smaller conferences rise to prominence and topple giants. 

In this blog post, we will explore the top 10 best March Madness Cinderella stories of all time, celebrating the remarkable achievements of these underdog teams. 

From shocking upsets to deep tournament runs, these stories remind us that anything is possible in the frenzy of March Madness. Stay focused. 

Top 10 Best March Madness Cinderella Stories of All Time

Now, we will explore the top 10 best March Madness Cinderella stories of all time, celebrating the remarkable achievements of these underdog teams. 

From shocking upsets to deep tournament runs, these stories remind us that anything is possible in the frenzy of March Madness. Check them out below. 

1. Villanova (1985)

Villanova (1985)


The Villanova Wildcats’ Cinderella run in 1985 is one of the most celebrated in tournament history. As an eighth-seeded team, Villanova faced a tough path to the championship. 

Led by coach Rollie Massimino, they defied expectations, defeating higher-seeded teams and stunning the basketball world with their exceptional shooting and relentless determination. 

In the championship game against heavily-favored Georgetown, Villanova executed a near-perfect game plan and shot an astonishing 78.6% from the field, securing an improbable 66-64 victory and the national title. 

The Wildcats’ Cinderella story remains an enduring symbol of the underdog’s triumph and the magic of March Madness.

2. George Mason (2006)

George Mason (2006)


In 2006, the George Mason Patriots captured the nation’s attention with their magical run to the Final Four. As an 11th seed, George Mason faced an uphill battle against top-tier programs, but they displayed a combination of grit, tenacity, and unselfish team play that overwhelmed their opponents. 

Led by coach Jim Larranaga and a core of determined players, including Jai Lewis and Lamar Butler, George Mason defeated traditional powerhouses such as Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut. 

Their incredible journey ended in the Final Four, falling just short of the championship game. Nevertheless, their Cinderella story inspired fans across the nation and solidified their place as one of March Madness’ most beloved underdogs.

3. Loyola Chicago (2018)

Loyola Chicago (2018)


The Loyola Chicago Ramblers made a magical run to the Final Four in 2018, capturing the hearts of basketball fans everywhere. As an 11th seed, Loyola Chicago showcased a unique blend of skilled players, selfless teamwork, and clutch performances. 

Led by their spiritual leader, Sister Jean, the Ramblers became the darlings of the tournament, winning thrilling games with last-second shots and impeccable execution. 

Their Cinderella story resonated deeply with fans, as they defeated higher-seeded teams and advanced further than any Loyola Chicago team since their championship-winning squad in 1963.

4. Butler (2010, 2011)

Butler (2010, 2011)


Butler’s back-to-back runs to the national championship game in 2010 and 2011 solidified their place among the greatest Cinderella stories in March Madness history. Coached by Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs displayed a gritty and disciplined style of play that disrupted opponents and fueled their remarkable success. 

In 2010, as a fifth seed, Butler narrowly missed a game-winning shot against Duke in the final seconds, falling just short of a championship. Undeterred, they returned the following year, once again defying expectations and advancing to the championship game. 

Despite another close defeat, Butler’s back-to-back Cinderella runs captured the imagination of basketball fans, elevating the program to national prominence and inspiring future underdog teams.

5. VCU (2011)

VCU (2011)


VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011 is a Cinderella story that will be forever etched in March Madness history. As an 11th seed, the Rams faced a play-in game just to secure their spot in the main tournament. 

Undeterred, they embraced the underdog role and embarked on a remarkable journey. Coached by Shaka Smart, VCU played a frenetic style of basketball known as “Havoc,” which overwhelmed opponents and led to stunning upsets. 

They defeated higher-seeded teams, including Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas, to reach the Final Four. VCU’s Cinderella run showcased the power of belief, resilience, and a fearless approach to the game.

6. Wichita State (2013)

Wichita State (2013)


In 2013, the Wichita State Shockers made an unforgettable run to the Final Four as a ninth seed. Led by coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers displayed a tenacious defense and executed with precision on offense. 

They defeated higher-seeded opponents, including Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle, and Ohio State, to secure their place in the Final Four. 

Wichita State’s Cinderella story was characterized by their unwavering determination and team-first mentality, captivating fans and proving that mid-major programs can compete with the nation’s elite on the biggest stage.

7. Davidson (2008)

Davidson (2008)


Davidson’s run in the 2008 NCAA Tournament showcased the brilliance of a small-school program led by a transcendent player. The Wildcats, coached by Bob McKillop, were propelled by the remarkable performances of guard Stephen Curry. 

Curry’s scoring prowess, deep shooting range, and clutch performances carried Davidson to unprecedented heights. As a 10th seed, Davidson defeated powerhouses such as Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin, captivating the nation with their underdog success. 

Though their journey ended in the Elite Eight, Davidson’s Cinderella run and Curry’s emergence as a star put them on the map and ignited a legacy that continues to inspire underdog teams today.

8. Florida Gulf Coast (2013)

Florida Gulf Coast (2013)


Florida Gulf Coast University burst onto the national scene with its captivating run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. As a 15th seed, the Eagles became the first-ever 15-seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. 

Coached by Andy Enfield, Florida Gulf Coast played with a fearless and high-flying style of basketball, electrifying fans with their fast-paced and entertaining play. Their upsets over Georgetown and San Diego State showcased their unrelenting spirit and ability to thrive on the big stage. 

Florida Gulf Coast’s Cinderella story marked a watershed moment for the program and exemplified the tournament’s ability to create unexpected heroes and captivating narratives.

9. Gonzaga (1999)

Gonzaga (1999)


Gonzaga’s Cinderella run in the 1999 NCAA Tournament marked their arrival as a mid-major program with national prominence. Coached by Mark Few, the Bulldogs, as a 10th seed, defeated higher-seeded teams and reached the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. 

Their remarkable journey captured the imagination of fans, as they showcased a blend of skilled players, strong teamwork, and an unwavering belief in their abilities. 

Gonzaga’s Cinderella story paved the way for their subsequent success and solidified their status as a perennial powerhouse in college basketball.

10. Northern Iowa (2010)

Northern Iowa (2010)


Northern Iowa’s stunning upset over top-seeded Kansas in the 2010 NCAA Tournament remains one of the most memorable Cinderella stories in March Madness history. 

As a ninth seed, the Panthers, coached by Ben Jacobson, faced a formidable opponent in the Jayhawks. However, Northern Iowa displayed exceptional poise, executing their game plan flawlessly and hitting clutch shots throughout the game. 

Their victory over Kansas showcased the magic of the tournament and reinforced the notion that on any given day, an underdog can rise to the occasion and achieve greatness.


What defines a Cinderella story in March Madness?

In March Madness, a Cinderella story refers to the unexpected success of a lower-seeded team that surpasses expectations and achieves remarkable feats in the tournament. 

These teams often hail from smaller conferences and face significant challenges against more prominent programs.

How are the top 10 Cinderella stories selected for this list?

The top 10 Cinderella stories on this list are selected based on a combination of factors, including the team’s seeding, the extent of their success, the impact of their performances, and the lasting legacy they leave in March Madness history. 

These stories represent the epitome of underdog triumph and inspire fans with their remarkable achievements.

Can a Cinderella story include teams that didn’t win the tournament?

Absolutely! While winning the tournament is a remarkable feat for any team, the term “Cinderella” in March Madness often extends beyond the champion. 

It includes teams that defy expectations, make deep runs, and leave a lasting impact on the tournament, regardless of whether they ultimately clinch the title.

What challenges do Cinderella teams face in the tournament?

Cinderella teams often face challenges such as limited resources, lower exposure, and the need to compete against powerhouse programs with significant talent and resources. 

However, they often make up for these disadvantages with strong team chemistry, a chip on their shoulder, and a determination to prove themselves on the national stage.

How do Cinderella stories resonate with fans and the tournament?

Cinderella stories resonate deeply with fans because they embody the essence of the underdog. Fans are drawn to the narratives of teams overcoming obstacles, defying the odds, and creating memorable moments. 

These stories add an element of surprise, excitement, and inspiration to the tournament, making March Madness a showcase for the triumph of the human spirit.

End Call

March Madness has witnessed numerous Cinderella stories that have captured the imaginations of basketball fans worldwide. 

These tales of underdog teams defying expectations and achieving remarkable success serve as a testament to the magic and unpredictability of the tournament.

From historic upsets to unexpected deep runs, these stories remind us that March Madness is a stage where dreams can come true and where the underdogs can rise to greatness. 

They inspire us with the belief that anything is possible in the frenzy and excitement of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Best wishes. 

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Morgan Wolf

Journalist with experience covering the intersection of sports with business. Demonstrated expertise in digital, video and social media content covering major sports including soccer, NBA, NFL, MLB, tennis and Olympic sports. But basketball is his passion. Specialties: expert for sports related content management LinkedIn