In 1983, it was North Carolina State University and Head Coach Jim Valvano. In 2006, it was George Mason University who shocked the world as a No. 11 seed. In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast University and Dunk City filled the SportsCenter Top 10 en route to the Sweet 16. And in 2018, the University of Loyola-Chicago took Sister Jean on a magical tournament run.
Ever since the NCAA Tournament expanded to include 64 teams in 1985, underdog teams have taken on the role of Cinderella. That year, Villanova University won the tournament as an eight seed, the worst seed ever to win it all. Few, if any expected the Wildcats to be the team wearing the figurative glass slipper at the end of the tournament.
Since 2012, at least one team to make the Final Four has been a seventh seed or worse. But as this year’s tournament heads into the Sweet 16, Cinderella has already vanished from the ball. Of the top-16 seeded teams, 14 made the third round. The only two Sweet 16 teams seeded worse than a fourth seeded are fifth seeded Auburn University and 12th seeded Pac-12 champion the University of Oregon.
While Oregon may be a double-digit seed, they are hardly a Cinderella team. The Ducks are the champions of a Power Five Conference and feature two five-star and three four-star recruits in their starting lineup, according to 247 Sports Composite ratings.
While there may be no traditional Cinderella darling dancing in the Sweet 16, there is still one team with an underdog storyline defying the odds to make a deep tournament run: the Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers.
The Tigers’ dramatic story began before the 2018-2019 season began. On Sept. 28,2018,juniorforwardWaydeSimswas shot and killed in an altercation just over a month before the Tigers tipped off their season in Baton Rouge.
Over the course of the season, LSU has carried its memory of Sims. The players wear a patch with Sims’ jersey number, 44, and hold two fours in the air every time the Tigers reach 44 points.
Then, with one game left to play in the regular season, LSU suspended Head Coach Will Wade after he refused to meet with school officials over potential NCAA violations. Talking heads like ESPN’s Dick Vitale called for the Tigers to recuse themselves from the tournament. Despite the added pressure from the national media, the Tigers have still played well enough to reach that mark under Interim Coach Tony Benford.
On the court, the Tigers have faced a grueling schedule, including 18 games decided by five points or less. LSU has won 13 of them, earning the nickname Cardiac Cats along the way.
This weekend, the Tigers take on No. 2 seed Michigan State University (MSU). Only 18.1 percent of brackets submitted to ESPN’s Tournament Challenge have LSU making the Elite Eight, compared to 66.1 percent who chose MSU.
The Tigers have not made a Final Four since 2006. In the 13 years since, LSU has only made the tournament two other times and has not made it past the second round in any of those appearances. The Tigers are not a perennial powerhouse schools like Duke University, MSU or Kentucky.
LSU has found itself in the face of adversity since before the season began. The battered and beaten step-sister of the basketball elite has been told repeatedly it does not belong at the ball. Now, the Tigers have proven they can dance and deserve their shot. They may not be a traditional Cinderella story, but this weekend, Prince Charming will come calling to see if the plexiglass slipper fits and the Tigers belong in the Big Dance.