The lowest seeds to reach the Final Four represent what the NCAA Tournament is truly about, no matter how many brackets they ruined.

There are two ways to approach the NCAA Tournament as a neutral fan.

One way is to root for your bracket. This is what most people do during the men’s basketball tournament. When your bracket does better than your friends, you can feel a sense of superiority, and that is enticing.

But the correct way to cheer is to root for what makes it so special: chaos. After all, that’s why it’s called March Madness. None of your friends are going to remember that you picked a 5-12 game correctly in five years. But everyone will remember a 16 seed winning for the first time in 2018.

And something even more fun than UMBC winning one game is a low seed making the Final Four. UMBC was fun, but, by the time everyone learned where the college was, the team was already heading home. Those Cinderella national semifinal runs give everyone time to learn the players and the school.

With that in mind, here are the lowest seeds to make the Final Four. These teams represent what the NCAA basketball tourney is truly about, no matter how many brackets they ruined.

11-Seed NC State in 2024

NC State’s run to the 2024 Final Four started in true March Madness fashion, but it happened six days before its first tournament game. Trailing Virginia 58-55 in the ACC Tournament semifinals with 5.3 seconds remaining, the 10th-seeded Wolfpack corralled a missed Cavaliers free-throw attempt and went the length of the floor for Michael O’Connell’s game-tying, banked-in 3-pointer. He didn’t call it, but karma hasn’t caught up with NC State just yet.

The Wolfpack went on to beat top-seeded North Carolina in the conference title game and defeated Texas Tech, Oakland, Marquette and Duke to reach their fourth Final Four before falling to Purdue in Glendale, Arizona.

11-Seed UCLA in 2021

UCLA was hardly a lock to make the tournament at all in 2021. The Bruins finished 17-9 in the COVID-shortened season and lost their first conference tournament game to an Oregon State team that finished .500 in the Pac-12.

But the committee felt good UCLA was trending in the right direction enough to give the team a tournament berth, albeit with a First Four game against fellow storied program Michigan State. UCLA overcame an 11-point halftime deficit to knock off Michigan State in overtime.

UCLA didn’t feel much like a Cinderella after that game, winning its next three games by double figures: BYU 73-62 , Abilene Christian 67-47 and Alabama 88-78. Then, with a trip to the Final Four on the line in the Elite Eight, UCLA held off Michigan by not allowing a field goal in the last five minutes. The Bruins got 28 points from Johnny Juzang and held on for a 51-49 win.

The season ended the game after, however, as Gonzaga took down UCLA in a much higher scoring affair with a trip to the national championship game at stake. The Bulldogs used 25 points from Drew Timme and a balanced offensive effort to beat UCLA 93-90 in overtime.

11-Seed Loyola Chicago in 2018

The same year UMBC knocked off Virginia, an 11-seed made the Final Four.

Not only did Loyola Chicago make the Final Four, but the team seemed determined to make each game as entertaining as possible to start the tournament.

Donte Ingram hit a 3-pointer with less than a second left to lift the Rambles to an opening-round 64-62 win over Miami (FL).

Clayton Custer decided to get the go-ahead bucket in the next round much earlier, as he hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left to give Loyola a 63-62 win over Tennessee.

In the regional semifinal, Loyola showed it could play with a late lead as well, as Marques Townes hit a 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left to give Loyola a four-point lead. It proved to be an important shot as Nevada scored to make the final 69-68.

The Ramblers had mercy on their fans’ hearts in the regional final, as Loyola easily dispatched Kansas State. The run would end with a trip to the basketball championship on the line, though, when Loyola couldn’t hold a seven-point halftime lead and fell to Michigan 69-57.

11-Seed VCU in 2011

VCU was another team that played in the First Four as an 11-seed and still made the Final Four.

After being tied at halftime in the First Four game against USC, VCU used a strong second half to pull away 59-46.

The team held Georgetown’s starters to just 27 points in the next round and blew out the Hoyas. The Rams put the clamps on Purdue’s bench players the next round, allowing only five bench points in a 94-76 win. They finally had a close game in the regional semifinal, beating Florida State 72-71 despite allowing 20 offensive rebounds. VCU then faced the top seed in the regional final, but was undeterred, using a strong first half and 26 points from Jamie Skeen to beat Kansas 71-61.

VCU faced Butler in the Final Four in a matchup between an 11 seed and an 8 seed, but Shelvin Mack’s 24 points proved to be too much for the Rams.

11-Seed George Mason in 2006

Four 11 seeds made the Final Four from 2006-21, but it was a real rarity before that. George Mason became the second 11 seed to make that run and the first since 1986 when the team took over March in 2006.

The Patriots lost in the second round of the CAA tournament but received an at-large bid and ran with it. The team beat Michigan State 75-65 in the first round and came back from a seven-point halftime deficit to beat North Carolina 65-60 in the second round. From there, the team handled fellow upstart Wichita State 63-55 in the third round to earn a date with No. 1-seeded UConn.

George Mason was a heavy underdog, but prevailed in overtime against the Huskies. All five Patriot starters were in double figures.

george mason final four
In this March 26, 2006 photo, George Mason’s Folarin Campbell cuts the net after beating Connecticut 86-84 in overtime during the NCAA Tournament in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

The Patriots ran into one of the elite teams in college basketball history in the Final Four, losing to Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Florida 73-58. The Gators would go on to win the championship and then repeat the following year. But George Mason had quite the run for a team that entered the year never having won an NCAA Tournament game.

11-Seed LSU in 1986

The first 11 seed to make the Final Four came in 1986, when an LSU Tigers team that went .500 in SEC play went on a tear in the NCAA Tournament.

LSU got 25 points from Anthony Wilson to beat Purdue 94-87 in the opening round, then won a nail-biter over Memphis in the second round. Don Redden’s 27 points led LSU over Mark Price’s Georgia Tech team in the next game.

The Tigers faced a familiar foe in the regional final in fellow SEC competitor Kentucky. The Wildcats had beaten LSU three times that season, but the fourth time was the charm for LSU, as the team escaped with a 59-57 win. The run ended the next game, however, when eventual champion Louisville beat LSU 88-77.

10-Seed Syracuse in 2016

Weirdly enough, five 11 seeds have made the Final Four, but only one 10 seed has – the 2016 Syracuse Orange.

The team started the tournament with a couple easy wins, beating Dayton 70-51 and Middle Tennessee 75-50.

In the third round, Syracuse found itself in a close game against fellow double-digit seed Gonzaga, but escaped with a 63-60 win. Then, in the regional final against the top seed, Syracuse held Malcolm Brogdon to 2-of-14 shooting and beat Virginia 68-62. Malachi Richardson led the way with 23 points.

Like all of the double-digit seeds, the run came to an end before a title, as North Carolina beat Syracuse 83-66 to advance to the championship game.

9-Seed Florida Atlantic in 2023

FAU had a magical run to the Final Four in 2023, with all five of the team’s games in the NCAA Tournament being decided by single digits.

Nicholas Boyd hit a floater with 2.5 seconds left to give the Owls their first tournament win, 66-65 victory over Memphis. FAU wasn’t done there.

The Owls were probably expecting top-seeded Purdue in the second round, but found themselves against 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson instead after an upset for the ages. FAU won that game 78-70. The Owls used a dominant second half to beat Tennessee in the next game. Kansas State was the last opponent in the way of a Final Four berth, and FAU used a balanced effort to overset Markquis Nowell’s 30 points and win 79-76.

After several close wins, FAU found itself on the wrong end of a heartbreaker in the Final Four. Lamont Butler hit a jumper at the buzzer to give San Diego State a 72-71 win and end the Owls’ incredible run.

9-Seed Wichita State in 2013

After VCU’s run just two years prior as an 11 seed, the ninth-seeded Shockers’ march didn’t seem as unlikely. But the team is still one of the lowest-seeded teams to dance all the way to the Final Four.

Wichita State started its run with an easy 73-55 win over Pittsburgh. Then came the big test against top-seeded Gonzaga, a test the Shockers aced with a 76-70 win. After that, Wichita State handled upstart La Salle 72-58 in the Sweet 16.

Ohio State was the 2 seed in the regional, but Wichita State looked like the higher seed, jumping out to a double-digit halftime lead and holding on for a 70-66 win. The run ended in the Final Four with a 72-68 loss to title-game winner Louisville out of the Big East.

9-Seed Penn in 1979

The Penn Quakers were the darlings of the Ivy League in 1979 and proved to be a force in the NCAA Tournament.

Penn got 27 points from Tony Price to beat Iona 73-69 in the first round. Then, in one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history, the Quakers knocked off North Carolina 72-71. The run didn’t end there, though, as Penn won the regional semifinal over Syracuse.

With a trip to the Final Four on the line, Price delivered again with 21 points, and Penn escaped with a 64-62 win.

The team’s reward? A date with Michigan State out of the Big Ten and some guy named Magic Johnson. The Spartans proved too much for Penn, winning 101-67 before beating Larry Bird and Indiana State in the final. But the same year that the Johnson/Bird rivalry was born, the Penn Quakers’ run was etched into history.

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