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Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | October 10, 2018

The best NCAA tournament runs by a First Four team

In each year of the First Four’s existence, one team from the First Four — and one team only — has advanced past the first round of the NCAA tournament. 

To be fair, half of the teams that make it out of the First Four are 16-seeds, but as UMBC showed last year, beating a 1-seed in the first round isn’t impossible.

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Let’s take a look at the best First Four runs in the eight-year history of the round:

2011 — VCU

VCU set the bar pretty high in the inaugural First Four. The Rams went to Dayton as an 11-seed, beat USC 59-46 to earn a first-round matchup with 6-seed Georgetown. Here’s what the next four games looked like for VCU:

VCU 74, (6) Georgetown 56
VCU 94, (3) Purdue 76
VCU 72, (10) Florida State 71 in overtime
VCU 71, (1) Kansas 61

That’s an average winning margin of 11.8 points per game in the regional. Not bad for one of the lowest-ranked teams of the tournament. Butler would end this dream run with a 70-62 win in the Final Four.

2013 — La Salle

The Explorers finished the season 24-10 but lost in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament to Butler. Still, they received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, making their first appearance in 21 years. They made the most of it.

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After taking down Boise State in the First Four, they squeaked by 4-seed Kansas State 63-61 in the first round, then toppled 12-seed Ole Miss with a last-second go-ahead basket in the second round. They would lose to 9-seed Wichita State, who would go on to the Final Four. La Salle is still the lowest-ranked team ever to make the Sweet 16 from the First Four.

2018 — Syracuse

In a stacked Atlantic Coast Conference that sent a tournament-high nine teams to March Madness, Syracuse finished in a tie for 10th place, but managed to receive an at-large bid to the tournament, landing as an 11-seed in the First Four with a matchup against Arizona State. After winning that game, the Orange pulled off back-to-back upsets against 6-seed TCU and 3-seed Michigan State, winning all three games by a combined 11 points.

This was starting to look eerily like 2016, when Syracuse entered the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed before winning four straight (the last two by nine combined points) to reach the program’s sixth Final Four. But it was not to be. In yet another tight matchup, Syracuse fell 69-65 to 2-seed Duke in the Sweet 16.

2014 — Tennessee

After a string of six straight NCAA tournament appearances, Tennessee had missed the postseason twice in a row heading into the 2013-14 season. An early-season loss to UTEP in the Battle 4 Atlantis didn’t help the fears of a third straight short year, but after a strong end to the regular season, Tennessee received an 11-seed at-large bid all the same.

The first game of the NCAA tournament, against Iowa, almost ended the journey before it started. Tennessee didn’t lead for the entire game until a 3-pointer with 3:05 left in regulation put them up 59-57. The Volunteers missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, but outscored the Hawkeyes 14-1 in overtime to move to the first round. There, they dismantled 6-seed Massachusetts 86-67 and beat 14-seed Mercer (who had knocked off 3-seed Duke in the first round) by 20 before a one-possession game with 2-seed Michigan ended the run.