The NCAA tournament began seeding in 1979 and right away got itself an unlikely Final Four when Indiana State and Penn crashed the party. Since then we look at the ten most unlikely Final Four fields.
10. 2008: No. 1 Kansas, No. 1 Memphis, No. 1 UCLA, No. 1 North Carolina
No. 1 seeds are expected to make the Final Four but all four of them reaching college basketball’s Holy Land? That’s only happened once, making it extremely unlikely. The 2008 Final Four was very close to including No. 10 seed Davidson and March superstar Stephen Curry but the Wildcats missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer vs. Kansas that would have sent them to San Antonio.
9. 1986: No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Louisville, No. 1 Kansas, No. 11 Louisiana State
One of these is not like the other. The Tigers made tournament history when they became the lowest seed to reach the Final Four, turning an otherwise chalky bracket into something a little more interesting.
The Tigers’ run was plenty of fun to follow. They won in double overtime over Purdue in the first round; beat Memphis State on a buzzer-beating shot in round two and defeated Kentucky by just two points in the Elite Eight. They bowed out of the Big Dance with an 88-77 loss to Louisville in the Final Four, but not before destroying brackets around the country.
8. 1985: No. 1 St. John’s, No. 1 Georgetown, No. 8 Villanova, No. 2 Memphis State
The teams that actually reached this Final Four weren’t particularly unlikely, with the exception of No. 8 Villanova. Not only was a No. 8 seed among the last four standing, this is the first and last time the same conference sent three teams to the Final Four. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise considering how stacked the Big East was in 1985, but it’s an anomaly we still haven’t seen in the NCAA tournament since.
7. 1992: No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Indiana, No. 4 Cincinnati, No. 6 Michigan
The Blue Devils and Hoosiers were no strangers to the Final Four, but Michigan and Cincinnati? Bob Huggins was just in his third season with the Bearcats and in his first NCAA tournament (he had two second round NIT exits under his belt in Cincinnati). The Bearcats caught break after break in this tournament, never facing a teem seeded better.
Then there was the Wolverines, who may have been slightly underseeded, but with five freshman starters were a longshot to reach the Final Four. We all know what happened next.
6. 1989: No. 1 Illinois, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Michigan, No. 3 Seton Hall
Despite their seeds, Michigan and Seton Hall had no business reaching the Final Four in 1989. The Wolverines had lost their head coach the night before the tournament began when Bo Schembechler fired Bill Frieder for accepting a job at Arizona State. That kind of move usually sinks a team’s chemistry.
On the other side of the bracket, Seton Hall and P.J. Carlesimo were making just their second appearance in the NCAA tournament and had to go through No. 2 Indiana, No. 4 UNLV (who won the title the next year) and No. 2 Duke.