Greatest underdogs to reach Final Four in NCAA history

MSU in Final Four at No. 7 seed this season

DETROIT – Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, every possible upset short of a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed has happened in the craziest sports month of the year.

In fact, the first year of the expanded tournament brought with it the game's most surprising winner in history: As No. 8 Villanova stormed through the bracket and took the crown.

In honor of No. 7 Michigan State reaching the Final Four last weekend, here are some of the greatest underdogs to ever reach the Final Four.

1985 -- Villanova Wildcats

In the inaugural 64-team NCAA Tournament, the Elite 8 was nearly exactly what the seedings projected. Three No. 1 seeds reached that stage of the tournament, as did three No. 2 seeds and one No. 3 seed.

But Villanova was the blatant outlier. The Wildcats beat No. 9 Dayton in the first round before upsetting No. 1 Michigan, No. 5 Maryland and No. 2 North Carolina to get to the Final Four.

Unlike most Cinderella teams to reach the final weekend, Villanova finished its run with two more wins and a National Championship. That run still stands as the highest seed, No. 8, to win the NCAA Tournament championship.

1986 -- LSU Tigers

LSU didn't win the National Championship in 1986, but it did make one of the greatest runs to the Final Four in basketball history.

The No. 11 LSU Tigers were underdogs in four straight games in the Atlanta Region, but won four games by a combined 17 points to reach the Final Four.

LSU began its run with an overtime win over No. 6 Purdue. Despite losing 11 of its final 19 games going into the tournament, LSU got 92 of its 94 points from its starters in the victory.

The Tigers went on to beat No. 3 Memphis State 83-31 and No. 2 Georgia Tech 70-64 to reach the Elite 8. In a matchup with No. 1 overall seed Kentucky, LSU beat the 32-3 Wildcats 59-57 behind 16 points from John Williams.

LSU fell to eventual champion Louisville in the Final Four, 88-77, to finish the season at 22-12.

1987 -- Providence Friars

Though it was nowhere near as shocking as LSU's run a year earlier, Providence's run through the Louisville Region as a No. 6 seed in 1987 was the most surprising development of the tournament.

Providence pounded No. 11 UAB by 22 in the first round before a favorable matchup with No. 14 Austin Peay, who knocked off No. 3 Illinois. The Friars came back from eight points down at the half to force overtime, and escaped with a 90-87 win. Providence was led by 51 combined points from Billy Donovan and Ernie Lewis. Donovan, now a two-time champion head coach of the Florida Gators, was later named MVP of the Region.

Providence moved on to demolish No. 2 Alabama in the Sweet 16, scoring 103 points. Donovan recorded a double-double, dropping 26 points and dishing out 10 assists. Delray Brooks added 23 points and seven boards.

The toughest test in the Region came against No. 1 Georgetown, but Providence rolled past the loaded Hoyas. Donovan and Darryl Wright each dropped 20 points en route to the 88-73 win. Reggie Williams led Georgetown with 25 points.

Providence ran into No.2 Syracuse in the National Semifinal Game, and the run came to an end. Carlton Screen scored 18 points off the bench, but Providence's starters were held in check, none scoring more than nine points. Donovan and Lewis combined for 15 points on five for 24 shooting.

Syracuse moved on to the final with a 77-63 win.

1988 -- Kansas Jayhawks

In 1988, Kansas was given the No. 6 seed in the Pontiac, Michigan Region of the NCAA Tournament, and everything fell in line for the Jayhawks.

Kansas started the run with an 85-72 win over No. 11 Xavier and moved on to face No. 14 Murray State, which upset No. 3 North Carolina State in the first round. Murray State made a bid for the Sweet 16, but 25 points from Danny Manning helped Kansas escape with a 61-58 win.

Kansas rolled through the second weekend, pounding No. 7 Vanderbilt 77-64 and meeting in-state rival Kansas State in the Elite 8. Despite losing two of three meetings during the regular season, Kansas pounded KSU 71-58 to advance to the Final Four.

Duke provided Kansas' first major test of the tournament after coming out of the East Rutherford, New Jersey Region as the No. 2 seed. Kansas overcame 19 points and 12 rebounds from Danny Ferry and cruised to a 66-59 win behind 45 combined points scored by Manning and Milt Newton.

The win set up a National Championship Game between Kansas and No. 1 Oklahoma.

Manning was at his best on the biggest stage and dropped a game-high 31 points while grabbing 18 rebounds to lead Kansas. Dave Sieger led Oklahoma with 22 points, but it wasn't enough to stop the No. 6 Jayhawks from taking the title 83-79.

1992 -- Michigan Wolverines

In one of the most famous tournament runs of all time, Steve Fisher's Fab Five revolutionized the way college basketball looked at freshman.

Michigan started five freshmen, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Juwan Howard and Ray Jackson in the NCAA Tournament, which started with a narrow 73-66 win over No. 11 Temple. The Wolverines caught a break in the Round of 32 as No. 3 Arizona lost to No. 14 East Tennessee State. The Wolverines flatted ETSU behind 30 points from Webber. Rose added 19 points and 10 assists and Howard dropped 23 points.

In the Sweet 16, Michigan overcame a slim halftime deficit to beat the No. 2 Oklahoma State Cowboys, who came into the game at 26-7. Michigan got 25 points and 11 rebounds from Rose and 15 points and 10 rebounds from Eric Riley with Webber battling foul trouble.

No. 1 Ohio State met Michigan in the Elite 8 after sweeping the regular-season series with a pair of double-digit wins. Michigan jumped on its hated rival early and got 73 of its 75 points from the Fab Five in the four-point overtime win. Webber bounced back from a difficult Sweet 16 performance to lead Michigan with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

Michigan met another surprise Final Four team in the National Semifinal Game in the Cincinnati Bearcats. No. 4 Cincinnati held a three-point halftime lead, but the Wolverines put four starters in double-figures in the second half and advanced with a 76-72 win.

No. 1 Duke awaited the young Wolverines in the National Championship game, and although Michigan held a 31-30 halftime lead, Duke dominated the second half and took home the title 71-51. Webber (14) and Rose (11) were the only Michigan players to score in double figures. Christian Laettner led Duke with 19 points, which Grant Hill chipped in 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The Fab Five returned to the Championship Game in 1993 as a No. 1 seed, but lost a heartbreaker to North Carolina in the final moments.

2000 -- Wisconsin Badgers and North Carolina Tar Heels

The 2000 Final Four was one of the most surprising groups in tournament history. Besides the No. 1 overall Michigan State Spartans, two No. 8 seeds, Wisconsin and North Carolina, and a No. 5 seed, Florida, made up the Final Four.

Wisconsin fought its way through No. 9 Fresno State to earn a date with No. 1 seed Arizona in the Round of 32. In that game, Wisconsin survived 21 points from eventual three-time NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas and pulled a massive 66-59 upset to advance to the Sweet 16.

In a matchup with No. 4 LSU, Jon Bryant led the Badgers with 16 points en route to a 61-48 blowout win over the 28-5 Tigers.

Purdue and Wisconsin met in the Elite 8 for a surprising conference battle between the No. 6 and No. 8 seeds. After winning two of three meetings with the Boilermakers during the regular season, Wisconsin outlasted Purdue once again in the tournament, winning 64-60 behind 18 points from Bryant and 14 from Andy Kowske.

Wisconsin failed to knock off another Big Ten rival in the Final Four, as Michigan State completed the four-game season sweep of the Badgers, 53-41. Roy Boone scored 18 points for Wisconsin, but the team shot just 34.9 percent from the floor.

On the other side of the field, North Carolina beat No. 9 Missouri to earn a matchup with top-seeded Stanford. Joseph Forte scored 17 points and Ed Cota dished out 10 assists as UNC stunned the 26-3 Cardinal 60-53. David Moseley was Stanford's top scorer at 17 points.

The Tar Heels won another close battle in the Sweet 16, topping No. 4 Tennessee 74-69. Forte put in another big game, scoring 22 points.

UNC met surprise seventh-seeded Tulsa in the Elite 8 and knocked off the 32-4 Golden Hurricane 59-55. Forte was unstoppable in the victory, dropping 28 points on 58.8 percent shooting and grabbing eight rebounds.

Florida put an abrupt end to North Carolina's run in the National Semifinal game, using 10 points each from future NBA champions Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem to earn a 12-point victory. Brendan Haywood led UNC with 20 points on six for seven shooting and eight of 14 from the free-throw line.

Florida went on to lose to No. 1 MSU in the championship game.

2006 -- George Mason Patriots

The 2006 George Mason run to the Final Four tied the 1986 LSU run for the highest seeded team to ever reach the National Semifinal. GMU started the tournament with a dominant 75-65 win over No. 6 Michigan State behind 21 points from Folarin Campbell, who shot a perfect 8-8 from the floor. The Spartans got 27 points from Maurice Ager, but couldn't slow down the shot-shooting Patriots, who finished at 59.2 percent in the game.

George Mason continued its run with a shocking win over No. 3 North Carolina, 65-60. George Mason beat the Tar Heels by 12 points in the second half and sealed the game with 15 makes in 19 tries from the charity stripe. Lamar Butler scored 18 points for GMU.

The Patriots met fellow Cinderella Wichita State in the Sweet 16, and enjoyed a first-half run that put them up 16 points at the break. Despite a late run by the Shockers, George Mason held on behind 58 points from the starting lineup to advance to the Elite 8.

The best game of the entire tournament came two days later, when George Mason met the No. 1 seed Connecticut Huskies. UCONN came into the game at 30-3 after going 14-2 in the Big East, the country's top conference. Rudy Gay scored 20 points for UCONN, but Jai Lewis matched him with 20 and Will Thomas added 19 plus 12 boards to propel George Mason to an 86-84 overtime win.

Denham Brown missed a three-point shot at the buzzer to punch GMU's ticket to the Final Four.

George Mason went toe-to-toe with Florida in the National Semifinal Game, but eventually ran out of gas against the soon-to-be back-to-back champions. Corey Brewer and Lee Humphrey scored 19 apiece, while Al Horford grabbed 13 rebounds for the Gators. Joakim Noah chipped in 12 points and eight boards.

The Patriots were led by Lewis and Tony Skinn, who each scored 13 points. Lewis also grabbed 11 rebounds in the loss.

2011 -- Virginia Commonwealth Rams and Butler Bulldogs

VCU's 2011 run started in the all-new "First Four" round in Dayton, Ohio, where the last four teams to make the tournament and the four lowest-seeded teams would play four games to complete the Field of 64.

VCU battled USC for the right to enter the Round of 64 as the No. 11 seed in the Southwest Region. The two 11 seeds were tied at 22 during halftime, but the Rams held the Trojans to just one field goal in the final nine minutes of the contest to pull away with a 59-46 win.

A large national audience fell in love with VCU's exciting havoc defense and coach Shaka Smart's rapid pace of play. That following only grew as the Rams blew right through No. 6 Georgetown by shooting 12 of 25 from the three-point line and forcing 17 Hoya turnovers. VCU shot an unprecedented 39 free throws during the game, making 26, and coasted to a 74-56 win. Joey Rodriguez led the Rams with seven assists, but Brandon Rozzell came off the bench to make six of 10 three-point tries to score 26 points.

Next up was a loaded Purdue team that featured a starting lineup of JaJuan Johnson, Lewis Jackson and E-Twaun Moore. Johnson scored 25 points and pulled down 14 rebounds, which Toledo native Ryne Smith scored 20 on six for eight three-point shooting.

But VCU was nearly perfect on offense, committing just four turnovers compared to 26 assists and shooting 56.9 percent from the field. Rodriguez dished out 11 assists and Bradford Burgess scored 23 points as the Rams put up 94 points and blew out the Boilermakers by 18.

After a week of buzz surrounding the Rams' run, VCU returned to the court to battled No. 10 Florida State, which pulled two upsets of its own over No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 2 Notre Dame.

VCU kept Michael Snaer and the FSU offense off balance with its press, forcing 16 turnovers. Derwin Kitchen scored 23 points for FSU, and was the only effective guard against the havoc defense.

Burgess carried Smart's team with 26 points on nine of 15 shooting and Rodriguez added 10 assists. With seven seconds left in overtime, Burgess made a layup off of a great inbounds play, and Rob Bradenberg came up with a huge block at the buzzer to send VCU to the Elite 8.

The No. 1 Jayhawks handled the press better than most teams, committing just 14 turnovers during the contest. But Jamie Skeen went off for the Shockers, using 10 of 12 free throw makes to score 26 points in the game.

Brothers Markieff and Marcus Morris gave Kansas a combined 33 points and 28 rebounds, but VCU advanced to the Final Four with a 71-61 win.

The Rams were set to face the winner of the Southeast Region, where another Cinderella run was happening.

Fresh off a run to the Championship Game as a No. 5 seed in 2010, Butler entered the tournament as a No. 8 seed in 2011. After coming within a half-court heave of a National Title the year prior, Butler narrowly escaped an early exit by beating No. 9 Old Dominion 60-58 with a Matt Howard tip-in at the buzzer.

In the Round of 32, Butler's good fortune continued in a wild final two seconds against No. 1 Pittsburgh. Butler's Shelvin Mack committed an awful foul on Pitt's Gilbert Brown with the Bulldogs up 70-69 with 1.4 seconds left. Brown made the first free throw, but missed the second to keep the game tied.

But Pitt's Nasir Robinson got a little overzealous in his pursuit of the rebound and fouled Howard 90 feet away from the basket with 0.8 seconds left. Howard made one of the two free throws, and the Bulldogs advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 71-70 win.

Butler put together perhaps its most complete game of the tournament against the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers. Butler held Jon Leuer, the Badgers' most dynamic scorer, to three points on one of 12 shooting. Point guard Jordan Taylor scored 22 points for Wisconsin, but it wasn't enough to knock off the surging Bulldogs.

Butler got 20 points and 12 boards from Howard and made 18 of 26 free throw attempts to advance.

Florida got the next chance at Butler in the Southeast Region Championship Game. The Gators used the dominant inside presence of center Vernon Macklin, who scored 25 points, to push the game into overtime. But Butler's Shelvin Mack was too much for Florida, scoring 27 points and leading the underdogs to a 74-71 overtime win.

That's where Butler met the new Butler, VCU, in the Final Four

In the highest-ever Final Four matchup in terms of total combined seeding, VCU and Butler battled down to the wire for the right to move onto the National Championship Game. Skeen scored 27 points for the Rams, and Burgess chipped in 15 as they tried to become the first team to reach the final game.

But Mack and the Bulldogs were too much for VCU. Mack scored 24 points on eight for 11 shooting and Howard made 11 of 12 free throws en route to 17 points to lift Butler to a 70-62 win.

Butler didn't miss a final shot in this go-around, as they fell 53-41 to UCONN in one of the lowest scoring National Championship Games in history. Mack was the only scorer in double figures, scoring 13 on just four of 15 shooting.

Kemba Walker, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, scored a game-high 16 for Connecticut.

2013 -- Wichita State Shockers

Just two years ago, Wichita State entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed in the West Region. The Shockers put together a 26-8 record and earned a Round of 64 matchup with No. 8 Pittsburgh.

Wichita State dominated Pittsburgh in the first round behind 22 points from Malcolm Armstead and 21 from Cleanthony Early off the bench. Pittsburgh shot just one for 17 from three-point range and WSU cruised to a 73-55 win.

In the Round of 32, Wichita State met fellow mid-major Gonzaga, a No. 1 seed with a 32-2 record. The shockers shot 50 percent from the field and held Gonzaga to just 35.6 percent to win 76-70. Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk made eight of 22 shots for 26 points.

Wichita State met the most surprising Sweet 16 team in the tournament, La Salle, in its third game. La Salle knocked off No. 4 Kansas State and No. 12 Mississippi to get to the second weekend, but the Shockers were too good. Wichita State scored 72 points and outrebounded La Salle 44-23 in the game. The 14-point win set up an Elite 8 matchup with Ohio State.

Ohio State rode a pair of one-possession wins into the Elite 8, but struggled offensively against WSU. Deshaun Thomas scored 23 points and LaQuinton Ross added 19, but the rest of the team shot just seven for 29 and scored 24 points. Aaron Craft was two for 12 from the floor.

Meanwhile, the Shockers got double digit points from Early, Armstead, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet to reach the Final Four.

Wichita State held a late second-half lead over No. 1 overall Louisville in its quest to make the National Championship Game. Early scored 24 points in the game and grabbed 10 rebounds.

But Russ Smith was too much for Wichita State, scoring 21 points in 36 minutes. Luke Hancock added 20 points off the bench and The Shockers' run ended with a 72-68 loss.

Louisville went on to beat Michigan in the National Championship Game.

2014 -- Connecticut Huskies and Kentucky Wildcats

Last season, the National Championship game featured a No. 7 and No. 8 team for the first time in tournament history.

Connecticut's run almost ended in the first round, when it took overtime to knock off No. 10 Saint Joseph's. Shabazz Napier then led the Huskies past three of the best teams in the tournament, Villanova, Iowa State and Michigan State, to reach the Final Four. Napier scored 69 total points in the three games.

In the National Semifinal Game, UCONN battled No. 1 overall seed Florida wire-to-wire, shooting 55.8 percent and advancing to the title game. DeAndre Daniels led the Huskies with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the game.

Meanwhile, on the other half of the field, No. 8 Kentucky survived a battle with No. 9 Kansas State to meet 35-0 Wichita State in the Round of 32. Despite 31 points from Early, Kentucky used 39 total points from Andrew and Aaron Harrison to survive the first weekend.

In the Sweet 16, Kentucky used a late run to beat rival No. 4 Louisville in one of the best games in the tournament. Dakari Johnson, Julius Randle and Aaron Harrison each scored 15 points for the Wildcats in the win.

Then, thanks to a fadeaway three-point shot in the final seconds from Aaron Harrison, Kentucky knocked off No. 2 Michigan to reach the Final Four.

Aaron Harrison struck again in the Final Four, this time hitting a late three to knock off the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers. Young led the Wildcats with 17 points, while Frank Kaminsky dropped just eight for Wisconsin.

In the title game, Napier took control and led No. 7 UCONN to its second title in four years. Napier scored 22 points, while Young scored 20 for UK.

The following season, UCONN missed the tournament, while Kentucky currently stands at an all-time best 38-0 heading into the Final Four.

2015 -- Michigan State Spartans

Now Michigan State, as a No. 7 seed, is the latest underdog to run to the Final Four. The Spartans battled through three of the top four seeds in the East Region to join three No. 1 seeds in the National Semifinal Round.

Michigan State's biggest win came against defensive powerhouse, No. 2 Virginia, ending the Cavaliers' season for the second-straight year. MSU then came back from a four-point halftime deficit to beat No. 3 Oklahoma behind 24 points from senior Travis Trice.

On Sunday, MSU outlasted No. 4 Louisville in the Elite 8 to reach the Final Four. Trice scored 17 more points and the Spartans overcame 28 points from UL's Wayne Blackshear to keep the run alive.

Now a matchup with No. 1 Duke looms on Saturday. The winner will battle either No. 1 Kentucky or No. 1 Wisconsin.

Michigan State is the greatest remaining underdog in the NCAA Tournament, but history shows that the Spartans have a chance, because the underdogs always have a chance.