The Final Four now includes a No. 7 and No. 8 seed after March 30. But since the NCAA tournament has been a haven for high seeds to excel lately, a Final Four with two mid-level seeds isn’t an anomaly. Nevertheless, the Connecticut Huskies and Kentucky Wildcats were never ordinary seven and eight seeds, as they proved again by winning their regionals on March 30.
The Huskies were the more surprising winner, knocking off the Michigan State Spartans by 60-54 to win the East. Meanwhile, although the Wildcats were a No. 8 seed facing the second seeded, defending national runner-up Michigan Wolverines, their 75-72 win stunned no one. Yet the way Kentucky did it was eye opening, as Aaron Harrison clinched it on a three pointer with under three seconds left.
Both regional finals were games of spurts, as the Huskies jumped to a 12-2 lead, then fell behind by 10 early in the second half, only to jump back ahead for good. The Wildcats fell behind by 10 in the first half before tying it up at halftime, then traded runs with the Wolverines until Michigan drew even in the final minute. However, that set the stage for Harrison’s fourth and biggest three pointer of the final four minutes.
Connecticut and Kentucky both made the Final Four with as much difficulty as possible. The Huskies beat the top three seeds in the East, while the Wildcats took out three of last season’s Final Four schools. Yet technically, runs like this aren’t new to March Madness in this century.
The Huskies and Wildcats are the 12’th and 13’th teams to make the Final Four with a seed lower than a No. 4 since 2000. Yet none of them won a national title, which doesn’t bode well for the Huskies or Wildcats.
There hasn’t been a Final Four like this since 2000, when a No. 5 and two No. 8 seeds made it. The Florida Gators and Wisconsin Badgers made the national semifinals then too, while the North Carolina Tar Heels were the No. 8 seed to win a regional that year. However, the Spartans won it all in 2000 and won’t be doing it again this year, so some things are different.
The accompanying list details the other high seeds to make the Final Four since 2000, although none of them completed their Cinderella runs on a high note.
Donovan’s first Final Four
2000 Florida Gators: Before 2000, the Gators were hardly a traditional national power, and Billy Donovan was hardly among the elite coaches. Yet when the Gators emerged from a No. 5 seed to get all the way to the national title game, the first step towards greatness was taken.
Tar Heels’ most surprising Final Four
2000 North Carolina Tar Heels: Like the 2014 Wildcats, the 2000 Tar Heels were an underachieving team that only managed an eighth seed, despite their high status. Yet Joseph Forte and the Tar Heels recovered to make their most surprising Final Four to date, although their NCAA tournament gauntlet was hardly as daunting as this year’s Wildcats.
Badgers’ last Final Four
2000 Wisconsin Badgers: The 2014 Badgers are in the Final Four for the first time since 2000, when they came from nowhere as the second eighth seed to win a regional that season. It was Dick Bennett’s last hurrah as coach before Bo Ryan took over, but the Badgers would end it by losing to the eventual national champion Michigan State Spartans in the semifinals.
Indiana runs to title game
2002 Indiana Hoosiers: The last time the Hoosiers made the Final Four was as a fifth seed in 2002, highlighted by an upset of top seeded Duke in the Sweet 16. After knocking off Oklahoma in the Final Four, however, the Maryland Terrapins stopped Indiana short of a national title.
Izzo returns to Final Four
2005 Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans and Tom Izzo were no strangers to the Final Four by this point, yet doing it as a No. 5 seed was new. They did it by upsetting No. 1 seed Duke and beating Kentucky in double overtime, but eventual national champion North Carolina finally stopped them.
Cinderella George Mason
2006 George Mason Patriots: The first of the true mid-major Cinderellas to reach the Final Four were Jim Larranaga and the Patriots, culminating in their Elite Eight shocker over No. 1 seeded Connecticut. However, the Gators’ first national championship team then dismantled the Patriots in short order.
Spartans make Final Four as fifth seed again
2010 Michigan State Spartans: Like in 2006, the Spartans surged to make the Final Four as a No. 5 seed, a year after making the national championship game. But the Spartans didn’t make it back there in 2010, losing in the semifinals to an even greater Cinderella.
Butler’s first Cinderella run
2010 Butler Bulldogs: The greatest Cinderella team of this current century was the first Butler team to make the Final Four. Gordon Hayward and the Bulldogs went all the way from a No. 5 seed out of the Horizon League, to falling inches short of beating Duke for the national championship.
Butler’s second Cinderella run
2011 Butler Bulldogs: History repeated itself in even more unlikely fashion, as the Bulldogs went from an eighth seed to another title game appearance. Nevertheless, they didn’t come as close to beating Connecticut in a not so grand or thrilling finale.
VCU joins Butler in Final Four
2011 VCU Rams: The Bulldogs weren’t even the most stunning team in the 2011 Final Four, as fellow mid-major VCU made a more unprecedented run as a No. 11 seed. However, experience won out for Butler over VCU in the national semifinals.
Shockers stun the world
2013 Wichita State Shockers: The Shockers didn’t need a perfect record to make the Final Four as a No. 9 seed. Coach Gregg Marshall even had the Shockers on the brink of upsetting future national champion Louisville, but they fell short in their last loss for almost 12 months.
Huskies first high seed in 2014 Final Four
2014 Connecticut Huskies: The Huskies were a No. 7 seed that should have lost their first NCAA tournament game to the St. Joseph’s Hawks. But without a top seed and without former coach Jim Calhoun, the Huskies still knocked off the top three seeds in the East to return to the Final Four.
Wildcats second high seed in 2014 Final Four
2014 Kentucky Wildcats: The Wildcats were a No. 8 seed that had disappointed under high expectations all year. But despite a poor regular season and the toughest draw of the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats knocked off three of last year’s Final Four teams to win the Midwest.