We all love the Big Dance, especially when little-known schools knock off the powerhouses in major upsets. Let's walk down memory lane & learn how we can improve future college basketball picks.
The Earliest Dreamers
Where were you in 1966? That's when the Texas Western Miners took not only college basketball but the entire country by storm with their incredible season.
The Miners weren't considered a serious threat by many, especially with Kentucky the clear-cut top dogs and the favorites to win it all. However, Texas Western blitzed through the competition to set up a date with the mighty Wildcats in the championship game.
Before we get to the result, we first must recognize what the country was going through at this time. Race tensions were at an all-time high, and the Miners' success, with the squad filled with black players, wasn't appreciated by everyone. The team had to deal with a lot of hate but pushed through.
In the championship game, Texas Western trotted out an all-black starting five against Kentucky's all-white starting five, and at the end of a back-and-forth game, the huge underdogs emerged victorious in a 72-65 win. The Miners' triumph was chronicled in the movie Glory Road and set the stage for the rest of the little-known teams to make their mark.
The other early cinderella story in the NCAA Tournament that sticks out revolved around the North Carolina State Wolfpack. They had a solid season, going 26-10 and 8-6, but few forecasted them to reach the championship game, let alone overcome the mighty Houston Cougars. Houston had two futures NBA Hall of Famers on the team in Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, but lost on a last-second Lorenzo Charles dunk to claim the honors.
More Recent Cinderellas
Let's go back to 2011, when the Butler Bulldogs embarked on an improbable run, one year after reaching the title game with a much more talented squad.
In 2011, the Bulldogs really struggled out of the gate, but they turned it up to close out the regular season to earn an eight-seed. That's when things got very interesting. Butler picked up wins over Old Dominion, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Florida (as you can see, they didn't exactly benefit from an "easy" schedule) before topping VCU (more on the Rams later) by eight in the Final Four. They couldn't end their cinderella run in positive fashion, however, as they lost to Connecticut in the title game, though no one can say they didn't enthrall the nation with their improbable run.
That same year, VCU also made a stunning run, reaching the Final Four despite being an #11 seed. The Rams beat USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas on their way to the last four, with the win over the #1 Jayhawks standing out most. As you can see, 2011 was the year for cinderellas.
We can go back five years before that and mention George Mason in 2006 too. The Patriots were a #11 seed but reached the Final Four, where they lost to Florida. Before exiting, they had beaten the likes of Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut. Not bad, right?
Davidson's 2008 run, behind the incredible play of recently-named NBA MVP Stephen Curry, also stands out, as do Cornell (2011) and Gonzaga (1999).
Possible 2015/16 Cinderellas
One team that stands out is Dayton, who should have a very talented team and always seems to step up their game come tournament time. The Flyers are never really given a legitimate chance to win the title, but they have an outstanding traveling support and could be a team to watch out for this coming season. Right now you can find Dayton at +7500 to win the title on the NCAA basketball futures odds board at 5Dimes.
Other smaller programs that could contend include SMU +6500, as well as Saint Louis +15000 at William Hill, Creighton +20000 and Northern Iowa (+30000).
Which cinderella story was your favorite, and who do you think has a chance to make that kind of noise this coming season?