How Have Lower Seeded Teams Performed in the Final Four?
Before Syracuse even steps on the court Saturday in Houston, they've already reached rarefied air. The Orange are the first 10 seed to make it to the Final Four, and only the 12th team seeded 8 or lower to reach the final weekend of the NCAA tournament.
While they've already achieved such an amazing feat, history says a victory is improbable, but not impossible.
Let's take a look at the other 11 teams to reach the Final Four as an 8 seed or lower, and see how they fared.
1979 Pennsylvania Quakers (9 Seed)
In 1979, the tournament field was expanded to 40 teams, and Penn took advantage of an opportunity they would not have had in prior years. The Quakers are one of only two 9 seeds to advance to the Final Four. They were ousted 101-67 by Magic Johnson and Michigan State, who eventually won the National Championship.
1980 UCLA Bruins (8 Seed)
Led by Kiki Vandeweghe, UCLA was the first 8 seed to advance to the Final Four after finishing fourth in the Pac 10. The Bruins knocked off 1-seeded DePaul in the second round on their way to the final weekend. They took down 6-seeded Purdue in the Final Four, but were beaten in the National Championship by Louisville, 59-54.
1985 Villanova Wildcats (8 Seed)
On their way to the Final Four in 1985, Villanova, an 8 seed, took down the likes of 1-seeded Michigan and 2-seeded North Carolina. The Wildcats advanced all the way to the National Championship, where they faced Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. Nova pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in college basketball history, shooting 78.6 percent from the field. Villanova remains the lowest seed to win a National Championship.
1986 LSU Tigers (11 Seed)
LSU became the first 11 seed to make it to the Final Four, overcoming the fact that they struggled down the stretch and barely qualified for the tournament. The Tigers played the first two rounds on their home-court in Baton Rouge and the next two in Atlanta, knocking off the top three seeds in the region en route to the final weekend. LSU was beaten by eventual champion, Louisville, in the Final Four.
2000 North Carolina Tar Heels (8 Seed)
In a tournament where three teams seeded 5 or lower made the Final Four, North Carolina advanced to the final weekend. The Tar Heels used sound defense to beat 1-seeded Stanford in Birmingham before squeaking out wins over Tennessee and Tulsa. Brendan Haywood’s junior season ended as UNC lost to national runner up Florida in the Final Four.
2000 Wisconsin Badgers (8 Seed)
Another 8 seed to reach the Final Four in 2000 was the Wisconsin Badgers, who overcame a sixth place finish in the Big Ten to make a tournament run. The Badgers took down 1-seeded Arizona in the Round of 32 and Big Ten foe Purdue in the Elite 8 to reach Indianapolis. They were downed in the Final Four by eventual National Champion Michigan State for Tom Izzo’s first and only title.
2006 George Mason Patriots (11 Seed)
It has been 10 years, but George Mason’s Cinderella run through the tournament is still one of the most memorable. The 11-seeded Patriots took out powerhouse programs Michigan State, North Carolina, and UConn to advance to the Final Four in 2006. In one of the best Elite Eight games in recent memory, George Mason beat Connecticut in overtime 86-84 to earn their trip to Indianapolis. Mason fell in the Final Four 73-58 to eventual champion Florida in the first of consecutive National Championships.
2011 VCU Rams (11 Seed)
In the first year the NCAA tournament was expanded to 68 teams, 11-seeded VCU was said to be undeserving of even a spot in one of the at large play-in games. The Rams quieted their critics by running off five straight wins, including a victory over top-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight. In Shaka Smart’s second year as head coach, they reached the Final Four where they lost to eventual runner-up Butler, 70-62.
2011 Butler Bulldogs (8 Seed)
Butler’s second surprise run to the National Championship under Brad Stevens began as an 8 seed, where they were forced to beat chalk in the Southeast region. Wins over 1-seeded Pittsburgh and 2-seeded Florida catapulted the Bulldogs into the Final Four. After knocking off the other surprise team of the tournament, VCU, Butler lost an ugly game to Connecticut, 53-41, in Houston.
2013 Wichita State Shockers (9 Seed)
Wichita State reached the Final Four in 2013 as the first 9 seed to make it since 1979. In the freshman season of eventual standouts Fred Van Vleet and Rod Baker, the Shockers downed 1-seeded Gonzaga and 2-seeded Ohio State to reach the final weekend in Atlanta. Despite 24 points from Junior Cleanthony Early, Wichita State was outlasted by eventual National Champion Louisville, 72-68.
2014 Kentucky Wildcats (8 Seed)
In what was considered a down regular season for Kentucky since John Calipari’s arrival, they were able to click at just the right time. The season before taking a perfect record into March themselves, the 8-seeded Wildcats ended 1-seeded Wichita State’s bid for perfection in the Round of 32. Their path included wins over in-state rival Louisville and 2-seeded Michigan to reach the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. Kentucky prevailed over Wisconsin, but dropped a close one to Shabazz Napier and 7 seed Connecticut in the title game.
To recap, these teams went 3-8 in the Final Four game, and of those three, only Villanova went on to win the National Championship. If Syracuse could pull off the upset Saturday, they would be the highest seed to ever play in the National Championship game.