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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

What are the lowest-seeded teams to win an NCAA Tournament?

Runs like that of Shabazz Napier and UConn in 2014 are rarer than you might think.
Runs like that of Shabazz Napier and UConn in 2014 are rarer than you might think.
Photo: AP

Oh, sure, everyone loves a good Cinderella run. And if you’re like me and take the NCAA Tournament, and its history, seriously (you are reading this) you can no doubt rattle off the biggest underdogs to crash a Final Four, like Loyola and George Mason.

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But would it surprise you to learn that since the brackets expanded to 64 in 1985 (later 68), only three teams seeded lower than No. 4 have won it all?

No big deal, though, because these three teams just represent the biggest tourney upsets of all-time, producing two guys — Danny Manning and Shabazz Napier — who will forever eat and drink for free in Lawrence, Kansas and Storrs, Connecticut, respectively, based on Herculean six-game runs.

In 1985, the first season of a 64-team field, Villanova played “the perfect game” to upset Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. It was a three-team Big East Final Four, with St. John’s joining the fun, which didn’t last long in a 77-59 loss to the Hoyas. Villanova, an 8 seed, upset 2-seed North Carolina to get their shot at history in the finals. In a stunning 66-64 win, the Wildcats secured their legacy. They remain the highest seed to win a title.

In 1988, Danny and the Miracles upset No. 1 seed Oklahoma Sooners, a squad featuring Mookie Blaylock, Harvey Grant, and Stacey King. The high-scoring Sooners were coached by Billy Tubbs, and no one expected 6-seeded Kansas to be able to match up against them. Home cooking at Kemper Arena probably helped a little, but so did holding Oklahoma under 80 in an 83-79 win. The X-factor, though, was Manning’s 31 points and 18 rebounds.

In 2014, UConn became the first 7 seed to win a crown, with Shabazz Napier leading the way over Kentucky. It was the first time a title tilt featured two teams that had missed the previous year’s tourney. It was also the first title game not to feature a 1, 2, or 3 seed.

“It’s March, anything can happen.” I know. That’s something you hear annually, but it’s just not true. In fact, only six teams seeded fifth or lower have even been tournament runners-up in that time, most recently Kentucky (which shouldn’t even count), who lost to that 2014 UConn team as an 8-seed. Otherwise it’s been an elite feast in the finals, year after year.

Deputy Editor, Deadspin. Author, "One Lucky Fan: From Bleachers to Box Seats, Chasing the Ultimate Sports Dream to Visit All 123 MLB, NBA, NFL & NHL Teams." Earthwalker.