Cinderella Stories: The Greatest Underdog Runs in NCAA History

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March Madness is a time of heart-stopping buzzer-beaters, impossible comebacks, and monumental upsets. It’s a time when the underdogs rise, defying all odds and capturing our imaginations. The NCAA tournament has seen its fair share of Cinderella stories – those magical runs by teams that were seemingly outmatched but refused to back down.

Let me take you back to 1944, when the University of Utah’s basketball team found themselves in an unexpected position. The Arkansas Razorbacks, their scheduled opponent, had to withdraw from the tournament due to a car crash. And just like that, Utah, initially the underdog, got their shot at the big dance.

The stage was set, and Utah embraced their underdog status. They battled their way through the tournament, with each victory fueling their determination. And in the championship game, with seconds left on the clock, Herb Wilkinson made a clutch shot that secured Utah’s national championship victory over Dartmouth.

This is just one example of the underdog magic that has unfolded in the NCAA tournament. These Cinderella stories remind us that with passion, perseverance, and a few clutch moments, anything is possible. So get ready to be inspired and amazed as we delve into the greatest underdog runs in NCAA history.

Key Takeaways:

  • Cinderella stories in the NCAA tournament showcase the triumphs of underdog teams.
  • These stories feature bracket-busting upsets and memorable performances that captivate fans.
  • The University of Utah’s unexpected championship victory in 1944 is a prime example of a Cinderella run.
  • Passion, perseverance, and clutch moments are crucial to the success of underdog teams.
  • Stay tuned to discover more awe-inspiring tales of underdog triumphs in NCAA history.

Utah’s Cinderella Story

In 1944, the University of Utah’s basketball team, known as the Redskins at the time, etched their place in NCAA history with an extraordinary underdog run in the tournament. This Utah Cinderella story unfolded during the 1944 NCAA tournament, leaving fans in awe of their remarkable journey.

The Utah Redskins’ unexpected path to success began when the Arkansas Razorbacks, their intended opponent, were unable to participate in the tournament due to a tragic car accident. Seizing the opportunity, Utah stepped in as a replacement, pitting them against top-ranked teams.

Undeterred by their underdog status, the Redskins defied all expectations, showcasing resilience and determination. Led by coach Herb Wilkinson, Utah demonstrated exceptional skill and teamwork on the court, surprising both opponents and spectators alike.

As the tournament progressed, the Utah Redskins faced challenging matchups, but their unwavering spirit propelled them forward. Each victory brought them closer to their ultimate goal of claiming the national championship.

“We knew we were the underdog, but that only fueled our fire to prove ourselves. We believed in each other and played with heart every game,” Wilkinson recalled.

The pivotal moment came in the championship game against Dartmouth. With the score tied and time winding down, Herb Wilkinson delivered a clutch shot that sealed the victory for Utah. This remarkable play further solidified their Cinderella status and etched their names in NCAA history.

Utah’s Cinderella run in 1944 remains an inspiration to underdogs in the world of college basketball. Their remarkable journey serves as a reminder that anything is possible with determination, teamwork, and the belief that no obstacle is insurmountable.

University of Utah’s Cinderella Story
Tournament Year 1944
Team Name University of Utah Redskins
Coach Herb Wilkinson
Underdog Status Yes
NCAA National Championship Won
Defining Moment Herb Wilkinson’s crucial shot in the championship game

Dayton’s Unranked Final Four Run

In 1967, the Dayton Flyers made an impressive run to the Final Four as an unranked team. Despite being overlooked and underestimated, the Flyers defied expectations and captured the hearts of basketball fans everywhere with their Cinderella story in the 1967 NCAA tournament.

The Flyers started their journey by facing off against Western Kentucky, a 6th-seeded opponent. In a nail-biting battle, Dayton emerged victorious with a one-possession margin, showcasing their determination and resilience on the court. This hard-fought victory set the stage for their next challenge.

Next, the unranked Flyers faced another daunting task – the 8th-seeded Tennessee team. Once again, Dayton showed their mettle and pulled off another thrilling win by the slimmest of margins. Their unwavering spirit and ability to perform under pressure propelled them to the coveted Final Four.

Although the Flyers’ Cinderella run came to an end against UCLA in the Final Four, their underdog journey left an indelible mark on NCAA history. The Dayton Flyers not only demonstrated the power of determination and teamwork but also proved that rankings don’t dictate success in the tournament.

This image depicts the spirit and camaraderie of the Dayton Flyers as they battled their way through the 1967 NCAA tournament.

NC State’s Historic 1983 Championship

In 1983, the NC State Wolfpack defied all odds and etched their name in NCAA history as one of the greatest underdog stories of all time. Led by coach Jim Valvano, the Wolfpack embarked on an unforgettable journey in the 1983 NCAA tournament.

As a No. 6 seed, NC State faced formidable opponents throughout the tournament, including the Ralph Sampson-led Virginia Cavaliers and Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Cougars. Despite being labeled as underdogs, the Wolfpack showcased unwavering determination and incredible teamwork as they kept advancing in the tournament.

But it was the championship game against the Houston Cougars that would define NC State’s Cinderella story. With just seconds remaining on the clock, the Wolfpack found themselves trailing by one point. As time ticked away, Lorenzo Charles’ unforgettable buzzer-beater dunk sealed the victory for NC State, unleashing a wave of jubilation and securing their place in NCAA tournament lore.

The image below captures the electrifying moment of Lorenzo Charles’ game-winning dunk in the 1983 NCAA championship:

NC State’s Road to Victory

Round Opponent Result
First Round Pepperdine 67-54 (W)
Second Round UNLV 71-70 (W)
Sweet Sixteen BYU 75-73 (W)
Elite Eight Virginia 63-62 (W)
Final Four Georgia 67-60 (W)
Championship Houston 54-52 (W)

NC State’s remarkable journey to the championship title serves as a testament to the unpredictable and captivating nature of March Madness. The Wolfpack’s historic run in the 1983 NCAA tournament captured the hearts of basketball fans and continues to inspire underdogs in their pursuit of greatness.


The NCAA tournament is a stage for unforgettable Cinderella stories, showcasing the magic of underdog triumphs and the thrill of bracket-busting upsets. From Utah’s unexpected championship in 1944 to NC State’s historic run in 1983, these Cinderella teams have not only captivated fans but also etched their names in NCAA history.

The surprising performances of these underdog teams during March Madness never fail to amaze and inspire. Against all odds, they overcome adversity, unite as a team, and prove that anything is possible. These Cinderella teams remind us that sports can be the perfect platform for unlikely heroes to emerge and reach greatness, no matter their seed or ranking.

The spirit of March Madness lives on, year after year, through the captivating Cinderella stories that unfold. It is the unpredictability and excitement of these underdog teams that make the tournament a true spectacle. March Madness surprises us with the resilience, determination, and sheer willpower displayed by these teams, reminding us why we love college basketball and the incredible moments it brings.


What are Cinderella stories in the NCAA?

Cinderella stories in the NCAA refer to the unexpected victories and underdog runs in the NCAA tournament. These are instances where lesser-known or lower-seeded teams surpass expectations and achieve remarkable success against more favored opponents.

Can you give examples of Cinderella runs in NCAA history?

Yes! One example is the University of Utah’s Cinderella story in the 1944 NCAA tournament when they replaced the Arkansas Razorbacks due to a car crash. They went on to win the national championship, led by Herb Wilkinson’s clutch shot in the final. Another example is the Dayton Flyers’ unranked Final Four run in the 1967 NCAA tournament, where they defeated higher-seeded opponents to reach the semifinals.

Who is Lorenzo Charles and how does he relate to a Cinderella run?

Lorenzo Charles played for the NC State Wolfpack. In 1983, as a No. 6 seed, the Wolfpack embarked on a remarkable Cinderella run in the NCAA tournament. In the championship game, Charles grabbed an airball and dunked it just before time expired, securing NC State’s win and cementing their place in NCAA history.

What makes Cinderella stories in the NCAA tournament so captivating?

Cinderella stories in the NCAA tournament captivate fans because they depict the triumph of the underdog, showcasing the spirit of competition and the unpredictability of sports. These stories inspire hope, passion, and the belief that anything is possible, regardless of a team’s initial odds or rankings.

How do Cinderella runs impact NCAA history?

Cinderella runs create memorable moments and leave a lasting impact on NCAA history. They remind us that in the world of college basketball, upsets can happen, expectations can be shattered, and underdogs can prevail. These Cinderella runs add excitement and make the tournament a thrilling spectacle every year.

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