Florida Atlantic joins elite group of most-surprising Final Four teams in NCAA Tournament history
No. 9 Florida Atlantic is the latest overlooked, out-of-nowhere tournament team to get hot at exactly the right time and march all the way to the Final Four.
This has become more and more common in recent years. Of the nine teams to reach the national semifinals as a No. 9 seed or higher, six have occurred since 2013.
Getting there is one thing; winning one game, let alone two, is something else. The highest seed to win the national championship is No. 8 Villanova in 1985.
But this run places FAU among the most unexpected Final Four teams since the tournament expanded that same season. Ranked by seed, here are eight teams that have shocked the nation by advancing from off the radar to the national semifinals:
No. 8 Villanova (1985)
Villanova likely would not have made the tournament one year earlier, when the bracket had just 53 teams. But the Wildcats took advantage of the expanded field and earned a No. 8 seed after going 19-10 during the regular season and losing in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. To win the national championship, Villanova beat No. 9 Dayton, No. 1 Michigan, No. 5 Maryland, No. 2 North Carolina, No. 2 Memphis and, in perhaps the greatest upset in NCAA men's tournament history, No. 1 Georgetown.
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No. 9 Florida Atlantic (2023)
The Owls have looked the part of a Top 25 team all season and even earned that distinction in the second half of the year, rising as high as No. 20 in the USA TODAY Sports men's basketball coaches poll. That FAU landed as a No. 9 in this year's tournament is likely more a reflection of the selection committee discounting Conference USA and questioning the team's dearth of Quad 1 wins more than anything else — though the Owls have made that seeding look silly during this Final Four push.
No. 10 Syracuse (2016)
The only Jim Boeheim-coached Syracuse team to earn a lower seed was the 2018 squad, which made the Sweet 16 as a No. 11. Two years earlier, the No. 10 Orange rebounded from losing five of six to end the regular season to make the fifth and last Final Four of the Boeheim era. Included in that run was an upset of No. 1 Virginia, which doesn't reach the heights of Villanova's win against Georgetown but ranks among the biggest tournament shockers of the past decade. Syracuse fell to North Carolina in the national semifinals in Houston.
No. 11 LSU (1986)
These Tigers finished tied for fifth in the SEC and dropped three of four to end the regular season. Then LSU was nearly bounced in the first round by No. 6 Purdue, eventually pulling out a rare double-overtime win. Then the Tigers beat No. 3 Memphis 83-81. Both those subregional wins came on their home court, a practice that was eliminated afterward.
They then beat No. 2 Georgia Tech 70-64 and No. 1 Kentucky 59-57 — avenging three losses to the Wildcats during the regular season. While they'd lose to Louisville in the Final Four, the Tigers earn bonus points for playing and beating the highest possible seed in every round until the national semifinals.
No. 11 George Mason (2006)
An at-large tournament pick after losing to Hofstra in the Colonial Athletic semifinals, George Mason more than validated the committee's faith by becoming then just the second No. 11 to reach the Final Four. Playing in nearby Washington, D.C., in the Elite Eight, the Patriots knocked off No. 1 Connecticut, which had six players who would go on to play in the NBA, including four selected in the first round of the draft. Mason was coached by Jim Larrañaga, who 17 years later has Miami playing for the first Final Four bid in program history.
No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth (2011)
The prime example of a team clicking just as tournament play got underway, Virginia Commonwealth became the first to reach the Final Four when starting in one of the First Four games. And outside of an overtime win against No. 10 Florida State in the Sweet 16, the Rams made it look easy: VCU beat No. 11 Southern California by 13 points, No. 6 Georgetown by 18 and No. 3 Purdue by 18. In the Elite Eight, the Rams led No. 1 Kansas by 17 points in the first half of an eventual 71-61 win.
No. 11 Loyola Chicago (2018)
The Ramblers' run almost ended in the first round against No. 6 Miami; the Hurricanes lost on a last-second 3-pointer from Loyola's Donte Ingram. In the second round, Loyola beat No. 3 Tennessee by a point, 63-62. The Ramblers then topped No. 7 Nevada by a point, 69-68, in the Sweet 16. Facing off with No. 9 Kansas State in the Elite Eight, Loyola led by 12 at halftime and won 78-62. A loss to Michigan at the Final Four would end their storybook season.
No. 11 UCLA (2021)
Like VCU 10 years earlier — only as one of the proudest programs in the country, not an overlooked mid-major — UCLA reached the semifinals coming out of the First Four, winning a pair of overtime games along the way. That luck run out against Gonzaga in the Final Four, a 93-90 overtime loss. But after going 17-9 during the regular season and finishing fourth in the Pac-12, this run helped set the tone for coach Mick Cronin's tenure and has been followed by back-to-back Sweet 16 bids.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida Atlantic joins NCAA Tournament's unlikely Final Four teams