19 Schools You Totally Forgot Made the Final Four
The Final Four is one of sports most beloved events, but for every Kentucky, Duke and UConn that makes it there are teams that appear so infrequently it just doesn't sound right (just look at this season when Oregon, South Carolina and Gonzaga join Final Four regular North Carolina).
In recent years, mid-majors like Wichita State, Butler, VCU and George Mason have all crashed the party and made it to college basketball's final weekend. And while those non-traditional powers advancing far has been a growing trend, there are some power schools that have gone all the way to the national semifinals, too.
We're talking about name schools that are not typically considered powerhouses. Sure, they may field good teams, but they're not what you think of when you ponder the sport's blue bloods. So, let's take a 40-plus-year walk down memory lane and look at some of these so-called "name" teams that made it to the Finals Four that you may have wiped from your memory.
2010 West Virginia
The Mountaineers have enjoyed a nice run on the court over the last dozen years or so, highlighted by a run to the national semifinals in 2010. The school lost to Duke, ending a dream season in which it set the record for most wins in program history (31).
Hook 'em Horns? More like hoop 'em Horns. Make no mistake: Texas is a football school. But the Longhorns can also hold their own on the hardwood. In 2003, national player of the year T.J. Ford led Texas to a school record 26 wins en route to its first Final Four since 1947.
People remember Marquette won the national championship in 1977, but they may forget that they advanced to the Final Four 26 years later. They may also forget that the star of that team was Dwyane Wade, whose stellar NBA resume has obscured his run in college.
The Cardinal boasted a formidable frontline in 1998, headlined by Tim Young and Mark Madsen, that propelled them to the Final Four. Stanford is no slouch on the hardwood, consistently putting out good teams, but, come on, did you really remember it went to the Final Four as recently as 1998?
The Utes have a rich basketball history and won the national championship in 1944. In more modern times, they made the Final Four 19 years ago, led by Andre Miller and Michael Doleac. That proved to be a landmark achievement for the program, which only has a pair of Sweet 16s since then.
Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin -- these are the teams that come to mind when you think "Big Ten basketball." In 1997, Minnesota took to the driver's seat and raced all the way to the front. The Golden Gophers went 31-4 before Kentucky knocked them out in the national semis. The postscript to the season is a bad one: the appearance in the Final Four was vacated due to an academic scandal.
1996 Mississippi State
Mississippi State? Yeah, we're not kidding. The Bulldogs went 26-8 in the school's finest season. It was the only Final Four appearance in school history. They haven't made it as far as the Sweet 16 since.
The Minutemen were college basketball's "It" team for a hot minute during John Calipari's tenure. He made his name by somehow turning the basketball backwater of Amherst into the center of the college basketball world and brought the school to the Final Four, an appearance since vacated. The team hasn't even come close to being as successful since. The same can't be said for Calipari, who's become a controversial success in his own right at Memphis and Kentucky, where he's won a title.
Baton Rouge is not a basketball netherworld. The Tigers have been to the Final Four as recently as 2006, but, by all metrics, the '86 squad enjoyed a more surprising performance, They became the lowest seed (11) to make the Final Four (VCU has since duplicated the feat) and knocked off the top three seeds in their region before their Cinderella run evaporated in the semis to eventual national champion Louisville.
1985 St. John's
Perhaps no school embodies the changes in college basketball over the years like St. John's. The Red Storm (known as the Redmen in '85) were one of the sport's premiere programs for years (it still ranks in the top 10 for most wins all-time), a run capped by a 1985 season in which it was one of a trio of Big East teams that made the Final Four. Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, Bill Wennington and Walter Berry starred on one of the greatest teams never to make the finals. The team suffered four losses all season -- three to Georgetown, including one in the Final Four. As college basketball's dynamics have shifted, St. John's has had trouble keeping up, having failed to have made it as far as the Sweet 16 since 1999.
The Hawkeyes are one of those programs that is always good, with an outstanding year thrown in every few seasons. The school has plenty of NCAA Tournament appearances, but only three Final Fours, the last coming 37 years ago when up-and-coming future Hall of Famer Lute Olsen coached it.
You can say the exact same thing about Purdue as you do Iowa: they're consistently good and it's not unusual for the Boilermakers to be ranked, but they're not synonymous with going far in the postseason (although they did reach the Sweet 16 this year). In 1980, the school notched its second -- and last -- Final Four.
1979 Indiana State
Okay, okay, Indiana State is not a name program, but we include it here because the 1979 season was a watershed year for college basketball. Larry Bird, who transferred to Indiana State from Indiana, led the Sycamores to the program's only Final Four, where they fell to a Magic Johnson-led Michigan State team in the championship. The game ushered in the Bird-Johnson rivalry and signaled the dawning of college basketball's breakthrough to the mainstream. Indiana State has only returned to the Big Dance three times since its magical run in '79.
It's ironic that 1979 was so significant because DePaul, a storied program dating back to the '40s, also appeared in the Final Four. The Blue Demons would go on to be regular participants in the tournament into the '80s, but fortunes have turned, much like they have at St. John's. The school has struggled mightily to be competitive in recent years, but in 1979, led by future NBA star Mark Aguirre, DePaul was on top of the college basketball world.
We led this piece by saying mid-majors have made deep runs in recent years. The Ivy League has won a few games in recent years, but can you imagine a scenario where the league sends a representative to the Final Four? Well, it happened in 1979. And it wasn't a fluke: the Quakers beat Iona and heavyweights North Carolina, Syracuse and St. John's before falling to Michigan State.
1978 Notre Dame
Like Texas, Notre Dame is a football school, but it has had plenty of success in basketball. The pinnacle of the Irish's fortune in hoops came in 1978 when it advanced to the only Final Four in school history.
Charlotte? Can you even guess its nickname? Charlotte -- then known as UNC-Charlotte -- stunned Michigan in the regional final to make it to the Final Four. Lee Rose, who also coached Purdue during its run in 1980, was the man on the sidelines during what is far and away the best season in team history. Oh, and the nickname is 49ers.
In the collegiate sports landscape, RU is more like R-who? In the prehistoric era before you could watch hundreds of games a week, an undefeated Scarlet Knights team steamrolled into the national semifinals where it fell to Michigan. RU hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991 and this '76 team still stands as the greatest team in school history.
1972 Florida State
Texas and Notre Dame taught us the drill: football schools can be good in basketball. The 1972 Florida State squad proved it, too. The Seminoles made it all the way to the national championship before falling to UCLA, the sport's premiere program. It's never been to another Final Four.