’06 George Mason
The NCAA has had its fair share of Cinderella stories throughout history, but one team stands out in my mind as the best Cinderella story of them all.
That would be the 2006 George Mason Patriots. Now, to be clear, in order for a team to qualify as a “Cinderella,” in my opinion, the team has to be an eighth seed or lower and not be from a power conference.
George Mason was a great story. As a No. 11 seed, the Patriots defeated sixth-seeded Michigan State, third-seeded North Carolina, seventh-seeded Wichita State, and first-seeded Connecticut before being defeated by the eventual champion Florida in the Final Four.
They may not have won the championship, but it was still an incredible run.
This was made better by the fact that it was the first time in its school history that they got an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Also, the Patriots had no true star. They were an incredibly balanced team, having five players who averaged double figure points. It was incredible coaching job by now Miami coach Jim Larranaga.
The George Mason Patriots are still one of the first teams that come to mind when you think of a Cinderella story, even seven years later. They are the best Cinderella story in tournament history.
‘90 Loyola Marymount
No Cinderella team has ever gone through the face of adversity as well as the 1990 Loyola Marymount squad that went to the Elite Eight as a No. 11 seed.
The Lions were a team that revolutionized the run-and-gun offense. Not only did they average a NCAA record 122 points per game, but they also had a star 6-foot-7-inch forward in Hank Gathers, a second-team All-American.
However, tragedy struck in the West Coast Conference Tournament. In the semifinals, Gathers collapsed after throwing down a dunk. He died on the way to the hospital from a heart-muscle disorder.
While the WCC Tournament was canceled, Loyola Marymount still earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament because of its regular season title.
In the first round, the Lions upset New Mexico State 111-92. Next up was the defending national champion Michigan, but Loyola Marymount ran them out of the water in route to a 149-115 victory. They then advanced to the Elite Eight when they beat Alabama in a low-scoring 62-60 win.
Although they lost to the eventual champions, UNLV, their upsets were the lasting image of that tournament. Through the adversity, Loyola Marymount was the best Cinderella in NCAA Tournament history.