5 Best Cinderellas of the Last Decade

Brad Stevens coaching Butler
Was Brad Stevens' trip to the 2011 title game with #8 Butler the best Cinderella story of the decade? Photo by Bradjward (flickr) [CC License].

Everyone loves a good Cinderella story, and March Madness delivers the best of the best. What was the greatest storybook run of the last ten years? We put every bracket from the last decade into our Hot-Take 3000, which spat out the following list.

Feel free to disagree in the comments or on Facebook and Twitter. Just know that the HT3000 is already picking West Virginia to win the 2018 title. It can’t be reasoned with.

5. Davidson Wildcats (#10 seed, 2008)

#10 Davidson: 2010 Tournament Games Score
#7 Gonzaga (Round of 64) 73-55 W
#1 Gonzaga (Round of 32) 76-70 W
#13 La Salle (Sweet 16) 72-58 W
#2 Ohio State (Elite Eight) 70-66 W
#1 Louisville (Final Four) 72-68 L

The story of Davidson’s Elite Eight run in 2008 is really the story of Steph Curry. After leading the Wildcats to a 20-0 record in the Southern, Steph balled-out in the tournament, going for 40 in the Round of 64 versus Gonzaga (the last time the Zags lost in the first round) and following that up with 30 and 33 in wins over Georgetown and Wisconsin, respectively.

He only managed a mere 25 points against Kansas in the Elite Eight, though, and Davidson bowed out in a narrow 59-57 loss to the Jayhawks. If you’re wondering whether Davidson had a shot at the buzzer to win, they did. But Steph gave up the rock …

It’s almost like he was exhausted from carrying an entire team on his back for five months.


4. VCU Rams (#11 seed, 2011)

#11 VCU: 2011 Tournament Games Score
#11 USC (First Four) 59-46 W
#6 Georgetown (Round of 64) 74-56 W
#3 Purdue (Round of 32) 94-76 W
#10 Florida State (Sweet 16) 72-71 W
#1 Kansas (Elite Eight) 71-61 W
#8 Butler (Final Four) 70-62 L

Shaka Smart’s 2011 Rams team played like they had nothing to lose, and with good reason. They finished fourth in the old CAA (12-6) and should not have been in the tournament field, only lucking into a First Four bid thanks to some questionable decision-making from the committee on Selection Sunday.

In only his second season with the team, Smart’s now trademarked “havoc” defense wreaked just that on unsuspecting offenses. The Rams forced at least 14 turnovers in each of their tournament games until they lost to Butler in the Final Four, when Shelvin Mack and the Bulldogs committed just nine turnovers.

In only his second season with the team, [Shaka] Smart’s now trademarked “havoc” defense wreaked just that …

While some Cinderella’s ride a preeminent star to lofty heights, others – like VCU – need a full team effort. Like the team just ahead of them on this list, the Rams didn’t have a single NBA-caliber player on their roster. In fact, as a school, VCU has had just two players drafted into the Association this millennium (Eric Maynor, 2009; Larry Sanders, 2010).


3. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (#15 seed, 2013)

#15 Florida Gulf Coast: 2013 Tournament Games Score
#2 Georgetown (Round of 64) 78-68 W
#7 San Diego State (Round of 32) 81-71 W
#3 Florida (Sweet 16) 62-50 L

“Dunk City” won the nation’s heart one alley-oop at a time back in 2013, when they took down Otto Porter and #2-seed Georgetown in the first round and then ousted #7 San Diego State in round two.

Why are the Eagles so high on the list when they only won two games? Because they were the first #15 seed to ever reach the Sweet 16, and not one of the guys on the team would ever sniff the NBA. Brett Comer, Chase Fieler, and Sherwood Brown played the games of their lives on the biggest stage they would ever know. This team didn’t even win the Atlantic Sun regular-season title, finishing a game behind Mercer. They got swept by Lipscomb in conference play, a team that finished the year 289th on KenPom!


2. Wichita State Shockers (#9 seed, 2013)

#9 Wichita State: 2013 Tournament Games Score
#8 Pittsburgh (Round of 64) 73-55 W
#1 Gonzaga (Round of 32) 76-70 W
#13 La Salle (Sweet 16) 72-58 W
#2 Ohio State (Elite Eight) 70-66 W
#1 Louisville (Final Four) 72-68 W

The Shockers are now a tournament staple, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in 2013, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker were baby-faced freshmen and complete unknowns, joining a team that had dominated the MVC the year prior, but lost in the first round as a #5 seed.

The anonymity of Van Vleet, Baker, and the entire Shocker team went out the window when they charged to the Final Four as a #9 seed, knocking off #8 Pitt, #1 Gonzaga, #13 La Salle, and #7 Ohio State before finally succumbing in a heartbreaker to eventual champion Louisville.

Looking back at the roster, it’s not the least bit surprising they made it as far as they did. Van Vleet is a legit NBA point guard, Baker is still hanging around with the Knicks, and they weren’t even the best players on the team at that point. Cleanthony Early, a top-40 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, absolutely beasted in the tournament, averaging 16.2 points and 7.6 rebounds over the five-game run.


1. Butler Bulldogs (#8 seed, 2011)

#8 Butler: 2011 Tournament Games Score
#9 Old Dominion (Round of 64) 60-58 W
#1 Pittsburgh (Round of 32) 71-70 W
#4 Wisconsin (Sweet 16) 61-54 W
#2 Florida (Elite Eight) 74-71 W
#11 VCU (Final Four) 70-62 W
#3 Connecticut (National Championship) 53-41 L

When Butler made it to the title game as a #5 seed in 2010, it was surprising. When they did again the next year as a #8 seed, this time without Gordon Hayward, surprise turned to a bona fide Cinderella story. Led by coach Brad Stevens, now with the Boston Celtics, the 2011 Butler team was a lunch-pail group that relied on relentless hustle and brute physicality. Outside of Shelvin Mack, the skill-level on this team was nowhere near Final Four level, but they still managed to get by #9 Old Dominion, #1 Pittsburgh, #4 Wisconsin, #2 Florida, and #11 VCU.

Unfortunately, more heartbreak awaited in the title game. A year after losing by two to Duke, Stevens and company went ice-cold in the final, falling to Kemba Walker and #3 UConn (53-41).