One of the greatest mysteries every March is how to pick the next Cinderella team to bust brackets and steal the nation's attention. We wondered if the following question might help solve that puzzle: how do teams fare the season after making their unexpected runs? Is it smart to pick a familiar Cinderella?
First, let’s look at how past Cinderellas have followed up since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. For the sake of this story, we'll define a Cinderella team as any 9-seed or lower to advance to at least the Elite Eight. There have been 21 total instances.
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- History shows it's unlikely schools can piece together another deep run in the tournament the year after exceeding expectations as a Cinderella. LSU (1986-87) is the only example on the list that reached the Elite Eight in consecutive seasons — as a double-digit seed both seasons, no less. Gonzaga (1999-00) and Florida State (2018-19) was the only other school to even reach the Sweet Sixteen the year after a Cinderella run into the Elite Eight.
- Nine of the 21 Cinderella teams missed out completely on the NCAA tournament the following season. Six went on to win one game in the tournament before falling in the Round of 32, including four of the last five schools on the list (not including last year's trio).
- Below is a breakdown of teams to go on Cinderella runs by seed since 1985. No school seeded No. 13 or higher has reached the Elite Eight in the tournament's current format:
|9 SEEDS||10 SEEDS||11 SEEDS||12 SEEDS|
- Four of the six Cinderella teams to reach the Final Four were 11-seeds, including Loyola Chicago in 2018.
- Two Cinderella teams entered the following years' NCAA tournaments as No. 1 seeds. Xavier earned the top spot in the West region in 2018 while Wichita State was No. 1 in the Midwest in 2014. Both bowed out in the Round of 32.
- The 2018 trio of Cinderellas was unprecedented. Before that season, the most 9-seeds or higher to advance to the Elite Eight in one season was two (1990, 2002). In addition, before 2016-18, there had never been any instance of a Cinderella run (as we define it) in three straight years under the current format.