Busting Brackets

10 March Madness Cinderella teams that stole our hearts

March Madness is all about the upsets and these ten Cinderellas stole America's heart as they made their runs.

Loyola v Kansas State
Loyola v Kansas State / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages
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Cinderella runs have long been what makes March Madness a national obsession. Almost every year, a lowly-ranked team comes from out of nowhere to stun one of the sport's powerhouses in the first weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

However, from time to time, those Cinderellas make a sustained run deep into the tournament. That's when they capture America's heart.

It is why people from across the nation, many of whom have not watched a college basketball game all season long, tune into the tournament as if they are college hoops junkies. The Big Dance is one of the only events in sports where the Davids get their shot at taking down the Goliaths of the sport and because we know that at least one of the rocks from one of the Davids' slingshots is going to hit its mark, we can't look away.

In football, small schools don't get to go up against Alabama or Ohio State in the playoff. What's more, because of the gulf between lower-tier programs and the blue bloods, if they were to get that opportunity, they would almost never pull the upset.

Meanwhile, in the professional ranks, the playoffs in the NBA are contested with best-of-seven series. Thus, a Cinderella has to pull off four upsets to knock out the favored team. In the NCAA Tournament, Cinderella has to only be the better team for 40 minutes to become a legend.

With the 2024 NCAA Tournament quickly approaching, fans across the nation are sure to start turning their attention to brackets and trying to figure out who the next Cinderella will be. So to get ready for this year's madness, let's look back at ten Cinderellas that stole America's heart thanks to a magical March run.

1979 Penn Quakers

  • Seed: No. 9
  • Tournament Run: Final Four
  • Final Ranking: No. 14

The 1979 NCAA Tournament is famous for its unforgettable final between Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores and Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans. However, the team that Michigan State beat in the Final Four, Penn, was the Cinderella story of the tournament.

Back when each region of the bracket had only 10 teams, Penn was the No. 9 seed in the East Region. In the opening round, they took down No. 8 seed Iona with a narrow 73-69 win. Then, the Quakers had to face No. 1 seed North Carolina. That day, the underdogs took the lead in the middle of the second half and held on for a 72-71 win that stunned the nation.

In the East Region Semifinals, Penn got to take on Syracuse, the No. 4 seed. Taking a 13-point halftime lead, the Quakers held on for an 84-76 victory.

The Elite Eight brought Penn face to face with No. 10 seed St. John's, another Cinderella, and the team that knocked No. 2 seed Duke out of the tournament in the round of 32. In a wild final flurry, St. John's would miss three shots to try to tie the game in the closing seconds as Penn would hold on for a 64-62 win to reach the Final Four.

Madness ensued on the Penn campus including a rally that brought out an estimated 10,000 fans. However, this Cinderella run would come to a crashing halt in the Final Four as Michigan State would score a 101-67 win in Salt Lake City to set up the showdown with undefeated Indiana State. Still, in a tournament that all eyes were on because of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Penn made a name for itself and became one of the first Cinderella teams to capture America's imagination.