It’s March. It’s finally time. To help celebrate, these are the best March Madness runs over the last 10 tournaments.
With no tournament last year, 10 tournaments ago remains 2010, which saw Duke reign supreme after a half-court heave nearly sent the national championship game to overtime. We’re now more than a decade removed from that moment, and so many incredible runs have happened since.
In chronological order, here are some of the most memorable, most impressive, most shocking and overall most incredible journeys we’ve seen in the last 10 Big Dances.
Top 11 Best March Madness Runs Since 2010
2010 Butler (Horizon, 33-5, No. 5 seed) – National Runner-Up
First Round – Defeated 12 UTEP, 77-59 | Second Round – Defeated 13 Murray State, 54-52
Sweet 16 – Defeated 1 Syracuse, 63-59 | Elite Eight – Defeated 2 Kansas State, 63-56
Final Four – Defeated 5 Michigan State, 52-50 | National Championship – Lost to 1 Duke, 61-59
Before this run, Butler was seen as a mid-major program with upset potential. This team was respected as legit after going undefeated in Horizon League play, but Final Four good? That wasn’t foreseen. This run helped change the trajectory of this program – now a high-major competing in the Big East – forever.
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From upsetting No. 1 seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16 with an 11-0 run to come back from a four-point deficit in the final four minutes to holding Michigan State off in the final seconds of the Final Four to Gordon Hayward’s near miracle at the buzzer of the title game, this was the run that first put Butler on the map and launched Brad Stevens’ career to where it is now.
2011 Butler (Horizon, 28-10, No. 8 seed) – National Runner-Up
First Round – Defeated 9 Old Dominion, 60-58 | Second Round – Defeated 1 Pittsburgh, 71-70
Sweet 16 – Defeated 4 Wisconsin, 61-54 | Elite Eight – Defeated 2 Florida, 74-71 (OT)
Final Four – Defeated 11 VCU, 70-62 | National Championship – Lost to 3 Connecticut, 53-41
Somehow, Butler managed an even more spectacular run to the national championship game in 2011.
The Bulldogs had more respect after getting to the title game the season before, but nobody though they would do it again. They then proceeded to go on one of the most incredible runs you could conceive, winning three of their five tournament victories by three points of fewer.
First, a Matt Howard buzzer beater was needed to beat Old Dominion in the first round. Next, a ridiculous finish in the second round led to Butler knocking out No. 1 seeded Pittsburgh. I was fortunate enough to randomly be in New Orleans when the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight were played there and watched the Bulldogs defeat Wisconsin first, then Florida in overtime in person to get back to the Final Four. I’ll never forget Shelvin Mack doing the Gator chomp as he stood atop the ladder to cut down the net following the win.
Butler topped fellow Cinderella VCU in the Final Four before playing in one of the worst national championship games of all time against UConn, which I will also never forget for how awful it was. That weirdly makes this run even more memorable, and you have to consider 2011 Butler’s run as one of the best of all time.
2011 VCU (CAA, 28-12, No. 11 seed) – Final Four
First Four – Defeated 11 USC, 59-46 | First Round – Defeated 6 Georgetown, 74-56
Second Round – Defeated 3 Purdue, 94-76 | Sweet 16 – Defeated 10 Florida State, 72-71 (OT)
Elite Eight – Defeated 1 Kansas, 71-61 | Final Four – Lost to 8 Butler, 70-62
No one has ever done what 2011 VCU did.
The Rams were squarely on the bubble on Selection Sunday, but the committee gave them one of the final four spots in the field, giving them a chance to dance. VCU then proceeded to go from First Four to Final Four, the only time a team has ever done so, and it did so in style. The Rams smashed their first three opponents, including No. 6 seed Georgetown and No. 3 seed Purdue. No. 10 seed Florida State gave them their toughest challenge, with the game going down to the wire and ending with a go-ahead bucket for VCU from Bradford Burgess with seven seconds to play in OT to create a one-point advantage that would hold.
The game against No. 1 seed Kansas is the most famous in the run, though, as the Jayhawks were one of the favorites to win the national championship, and a relatively easy victory was expected. VCU had other ideas, though, jumping out to a big lead in the first half, then weathering the storm in the second half to cement a double-digit win against the presumed best team in the country.
VCU’s first-round upset of Duke in 2006 put it on the map, but this run really catapulted this program out of the CAA and into the A-10, where it lives now as a regular tournament-caliber team. It also launched Shaka Smart’s career even further, becoming a big reason why he got the Texas job. This wasn’t just one of the best March Madness runs of the 2010s – this was one of the best March Madness runs ever, and it always will be.
2013 Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN, 26-11, No. 15 seed) – Sweet 16
First Round – Defeated 2 Georgetown, 78-68 | Second Round – Defeated 7 San Diego State, 81-71
Sweet 16 – Lost to 3 Florida, 62-50
This is the only Sweet 16 run you’ll see on the list, which speaks to how special this was.
It wasn’t just that Florida Gulf Coast became one of the few teams to pull off the 15 over a 2 upset, or that it became the first team to get to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed. It was how it did it that made it so incredible.
Dunk City was a phenomenon that someone who didn’t live through it wouldn’t understand. Out of seemingly nowhere, a tiny school most people hadn’t heard of was not only beating much higher seeds by double digits to get to the Sweet 16, but it was doing it above the rim. The absurd dunks that FGCU pulled off in its two victories alone make this one of the best March Madness runs of the decade.
It’s certainly possible that another No. 15 seed will one day reach the Sweet 16 again, but in the same fashion FGCU did? Brett Comer had 14 assists against San Diego State. No, that will never be replicated again.
Oh, and this run launched Andy Enfield’s major coaching career, and he’s still kicking at USC almost 10 years later.
2013 Wichita State (MVC, 30-9, No. 9 seed) – Final Four
First Round – Defeated 8 Pittsburgh, 73-55 | Second Round – Defeated 1 Gonzaga, 76-70
Sweet 16 – Defeated 13 La Salle, 72-58 | Elite Eight – Defeated 2 Ohio State, 70-66
Final Four – Lost to 1 Louisville, 72-68
The beginning of Wichita State being known as the program it is today was with this run.
Those who were in tune with college hoops heading into the tournament knew Wichita State wasn’t a pushover, but its conference led to many to overlook the Shockers. That changed pretty quickly.
A dismantling of Pitt was first, and then an upset of one-loss Gonzaga, which had won 15-straight games before the meeting with Wichita State. The initial reaction was that the Bulldogs must have been overrated, which may have been the case to some degree. But as the Shockers continued to, well, shock, people came to realize how legit this team was.
La Salle didn’t stand much of a chance in the Sweet 16, and Wichita State took care of the No. 2 seed in its region, Ohio State, in the Elite Eight to secure the program’s first Final Four since 1965. Gregg Marshall became Gregg Marshall (and unfortunately became Gregg Marshall later), and Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early became household names.
2014 Connecticut (AAC, 32-8, No. 7 seed) – National Champions
First Round – Defeated 10 St. Joseph’s, 89-81 (OT) | Second Round – Defeated 2 Villanova, 77-65
Sweet 16 – Defeated 3 Iowa State, 81-76 | Elite Eight – Defeated 4 Michigan State, 60-54
Final Four – Defeated 1 Florida, 63-53 | National Championship – Defeated 8 Kentucky, 60-54
To win a national championship as a No. 7 seed is an incredible feat. To do so with Kevin Ollie as your coach is really out of this world. That’s how good Shabazz Napier was, though.
Unlike in 2011, UConn wasn’t on fire heading into March Madness. It wasn’t cold, but win-a-national-championship hot? No, definitely not.
It started with a huge struggle against St. Joe’s in the first round that required overtime to escape, a sign of how close one of the best March Madness runs ever was to not happening. From there, the Huskies handled three top-four seeds to get to the Final Four, an accomplishment no one saw coming. Then, it was a rematch of a regular season showdown against No. 1 seed Florida in the Final Four, followed up a meeting versus Kentucky, a team also on a wildly memorable run, in the title game.
There weren’t as many memorable individual moments in this March Madness run as others, but the overall scope of what 2014 UConn accomplished is why it has to be included. Napier averaged 21.2 points, 4.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, plus shot 46.5 percent from deep and 46.3 percent from the field. His performance was the exclamation point on one of the best March Madness runs ever.
2016 Syracuse (ACC, 23-14, No. 10 seed) – Final Four
First Round – Defeated 7 Dayton, 70-51 | Second Round – Defeated 15 Middle Tennessee, 75-50
Sweet 16 – Defeated 11 Gonzaga, 63-60 | Elite Eight – Defeated 1 Virginia, 68-62
Final Four – Lost to 1 North Carolina, 83-66
Syracuse stood right on the bubble in 2016, and many didn’t think the Orange would be included in the tournament. Not only did they get in, but they got a No. 10 seed, which brought plenty of criticism in the days between Selection Sunday and the tournament’s start.
Jim Boeheim’s team responded with two resounding victories in a row over Dayton and Middle Tennessee, already shocking the country by reaching the Sweet 16. Then, 20 points from Michael Gbinije helped launched Syracuse over Gonzaga in a tight one to get to the Elite Eight. There, the Orange faced fellow conference foe Virginia, which was one of the favorites to bring home the national championship.
Syracuse was down 15 points, 54-39, with 9:28 remaining in the game. It then went on a 29-8 run to close the game, stunning the Cavaliers and becoming the fourth team to reach the Final Four as a double-digit seed and the only No. 10 seed to do it.
The Orange were walloped in the Final Four by another ACC side, North Carolina, but that doesn’t diminish how insane their journey to the national semifinal was. From bubble team to Final Four participant, 2016 Syracuse has to be one of the best March Madness runs of the 2010s.
2017 South Carolina (SEC, 26-11, No. 7 seed) – Final Four
First Round – Defeated 10 Marquette, 93-73 | Second Round – Defeated 2 Duke, 88-81
Sweet 16 – Defeated 3 Baylor, 70-50 | Elite Eight – Defeated 4 Florida, 77-70
Final Four – Lost to 1 Gonzaga, 77-73
After wrecking Marquette in the first round, South Carolina took Duke out in the second round, which caught the attention of the entire country.
The Gamecocks only put up 23 points in the first half, but they exploded in the second. Sindarius Thornwell scored 24, with double-digit scoring efforts from Duane Notice, Chris Silva and PJ Dozier, too, to send Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum and the Dukies packing. To make it even more special, the game was played in Greenville, South Carolina, so there were plenty of Gamecocks fans, Duke fans, and USC-inclined North Carolina fans there to witness it, creating an incredible atmosphere.
But South Carolina wasn’t done. It next blasted Baylor by 20 to reach the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. In the Elite Eight, Thornwell put up more big numbers, scoring 29 points to lead the Gamecocks over SEC rival Florida, which was on its own magical run, too.
The Gamecocks put up a valiant fight against Gonzaga in the Final Four. They trailed, 65-51, with 10:55 to play, but crawled back and even took the lead, 67-65, not even four minutes later. The Bulldogs responded, though, and prevailed narrowly in the end, concluding the best March Madness run in South Carolina history by a wide margin.
2018 Loyola Chicago (MVC, 32-6, No. 11 seed) – Final Four
First Round – Defeated 6 Miami (FL), 64-62 | Second Round – Defeated 3 Tennessee, 63-62
Sweet 16 – Defeated 7 Nevada, 69-68 | Elite Eight – Defeated 9 Kansas State, 78-62
Final Four – Lost to 3 Michigan, 69-57
Any time a No. 11 seed gets to the Final Four, it’s going to be one of the best March Madness runs ever. But this one was made extra special by a few things.
First, the amount of close games Loyola won was insane. A triple from Donte Ingram with 0.3 seconds left in the game sealed the team’s win in the first round over Miami. Then Clayton Custer’s pull-up mid-range jumper bounced around the rim and glass but fell in the waning moments of the team’s second round matchup versus Tennessee. In the Sweet 16, Loyola narrowly evaded Nevada by one point, though it didn’t come down to a last-second shot at least.
Second, Sister Jean. Perhaps the most March Madness story ever, Sister Jean became an icon during Loyola’s run at the spry young age of 98, serving as the living mascot for the squad as it returned to the Final Four for the first time since 1963 back when she was 43 years old. The 101-year-old is still kicking it as a fixture at Loyola.
Heading into the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Loyola was understood to be underseeded and dangerous by those whom had watched the Ramblers and understood their advanced stats. But Final Four good? That wasn’t predicted by many.
2019 Virginia (ACC, 35-3, No. 1 seed) – National Champions
First Round – Defeated 16 Gardner-Webb, 71-56 | Second Round – Defeated 9 Oklahoma, 63-51
Sweet 16 – Defeated 12 Oregon, 53-49 | Elite Eight – Defeated 5 Purdue, 80-75 (OT)
Final Four – Defeated 5 Auburn, 63-62 | National Championship – Defeated 3 Texas Tech, 85-77 (OT)
It feels a little wrong to include a No. 1 seed winning a national championship in this list, but with the backstory to this Virginia team and the way some of these games were won, I have to give the 2019 Cavaliers the nod.
In 2018, Virginia lost to UMBC in the first round, becoming the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. And it didn’t just lose – UVA got smoked. That game and its ramifications need to be understood to fully grasp the incredible nature of this title run.
The Cavs got that monkey off their back by handling Gardner-Webb in the first round and handling Oklahoma next. Things got harder in the Sweet 16 as Virginia held off a scrappy Oregon team that was on fire in the weeks leading up to the tournament. Then, Purdue pushed UVA to its limits as it needed an incredible sequence at the end of regulation to tie the game off a wild buzzer beater via Mamadi Diakite, which led to the eventual overtime victory.
It turned out the insane of the Purdue game was only a taste of what was yet to come. Virginia was up 10 on Auburn in the Final Four with 5:18 to go, but the Tigers went on a 14-0 run and held a 61-57 lead with fewer than 10 seconds to go. Kyle Guy swished a triple in the corner to pull UVA to within one with 6.5 ticks remaining, and Auburn made one free throw to extend the lead to two. Guy drew a foul while shooting a three with 0.6 seconds to go, stepped up the line, and made all three with a trip to the national title on the line to solidify a 63-62 Virginia victory.
The national championship against Texas Tech loomed next, and it was equally as competitive. De’Andre Hunter hit a three to tie the game at 68 with 12.9 seconds to go, which would force overtime. In the last two minutes of the extra period, the Cavs would pull away to complete the unforgettable turnaround from first-round misery to national champions – the ultimate redemption that catapulted this run into one of the best-ever in March Madness.
2019 Auburn (SEC, 30-10, No. 5 seed) – Final Four
First Round – Defeated New Mexico State, 78-77 | Second Round – Defeated 4 Kansas, 89-75
Sweet 16 – Defeated 1 North Carolina, 97-80 | Elite Eight – Defeated 2 Kentucky, 77-71 (OT)
Final Four – Lost to 1 Virginia, 63-62
It sure didn’t look like Auburn was going to the Final Four when it narrowly got by New Mexico State in the first round, but as the old adage goes: survive and advance.
The No. 12 seed and tournament regular pushed Auburn to the brink and had an opportunity to tie or take the lead at the free-throw line after being fouled on a triple with 1.7 seconds remaining. But only one of three would drop, and at attempt at the buzzer would airball to allow Auburn to continue on dancing.
From there, the Tigers would traverse an incredibly difficult path to the Final that included No. 4 seed Kansas, No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 2 seed Kentucky – the highest-possible seeds they could have faced in each round and three of the bluest of blue bloods to boot. They ripped the Jayhawks and Tar Heels to shreds while getting by the Wildcats in overtime – a Jared Harper layup with 38 seconds to go in regulation tied the game at 68, then a huge defensive stand kept the game knotted. Auburn secured the win in OT as Harper and Bryce Brown finished the game with a combined 50 points.
As explained above, the run ended in wild fashion in the Final Four against Virginia. You have to respect this as one of the best March Madness runs of the last 10 tournaments, though, because of the absolute gauntlet Auburn had to go through to reach the national semifinal.
2010 Michigan State (Big Ten, 28-9, No. 5 seed) – Final Four
2011 Connecticut (Big East, 32-9, No. 3 seed) – National Champions
2012 Kentucky (SEC, 38-2, No. 1 seed) – National Champions
2013 Michigan (Big Ten, 31-8, No. 4 seed) – National Runner-Up
2014 Kentucky (SEC, 29-11, No. 8 seed) – National Runner-Up
2014 Dayton (A-10, 26-11, No. 11 seed) – Elite Eight
2015 Michigan State (Big Ten, 27-12, No. 7 seed) – Final Four
2016 Villanova (Big East, 35-5, No. 2 seed) – National Champions
2018 Florida State (ACC, 23-12, No. 9 seed) – Elite Eight
2018 UMBC (AmEast, 25-11, No. 16 seed) – Second Round
2018 Villanova (Big East, 36-4, No. 1 seed) – National Champions