NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament South Regional-Duke vs NC State

NC State's remarkable run to the 2024 Final Four makes the Wolfpack the sixth team to reach the last weekend of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.  NC State will look to become the first of those No. 11 seeds to advance to the championship game on Saturday when they face Midwest Regional Champion and No. 1 seed Purdue.

Here is a ranking of those teams based not on how they performed in the tournament, but rather their tournament resumes on selection Sunday.

1. 2006 George Mason

George Mason was the co-champion of the Colonial Athletic Conference with UNC Wilmington, which won the automatic bid.  The two teams split the regular season matchups but did not meet in the conference tournament.  The Patriots also had a non-conference win at Mo. 7  seed Wichita State in the Bracket Buster.  They were 8-6 against the top 2 quadrants and only had one bad loss.  The CAA regularly had at least one at-large quality team from 2006-11.  GMU was the fifth-to-last team in the field.  There were two at-large teams seeded each of 12th and 13th.  There has not been an at-large team seeded as low as 13 ever since.  This was the first team Jim Larranaga took to the Final Four.  He went again with Miami in 2023.

2. 2011 VCU

VCU went from First Four to Final Four in the first year of the First Four.  The Rams were a controversial selection because the ESPN analysts did not think they should have been in the field.  VCU was the third team from the Colonial in the field, with George Mason and Old Dominion.  The Rams went 2-3 vs. those two teams, but it was a non-conference win over UCLA at Madison Square Garden that ultimately put VCU in the tournament.  They were not the last team in.  Two other First Four teams were 12-seeds.

3. 1986 LSU 

This team predates my data on the RPI, which was still relatively new then.  Also, back then, the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament were played on pre-determined campus sites, which could have been a factor in selections. LSU was a host in the 1986 tournament and took advantage, beating 6-seed Purdue and No. 3 Memphis before advancing to the regional in Atlanta.  LSU had three future NBA players among their top six scorers and started the season ranked in the top 25.  However, a four-game losing streak in the middle of SEC play dropped the Tigers out of the polls.  LSU finished 22-11 overall and 9-9 in the SEC, good for a tie for fifth in the ten-team league.  The Tigers best non-conference win came at NIT participant Texas.  They are the only team on this list to beat the top three teams in their region on the way to the Final Four.

4. 2018 Loyola-Chicago

The Ramblers stormed through the Missouri Valley Conference, posting a 27-5 record overall and were in the top 25 of the RPI in the final year of its use.  It is not certain that Loyola would have qualified for the NCAA Tournament without the automatic bid, but it may have.  Like many non-majors, Loyola did not have a lot of quality opponents in their non-conference schedule, but they did win at eventual No. 4 seed Florida during the regular season.  The Ramblers are most remembered for their team chaplain, then 99-year-old Sister Jean, who accompanied them through the tournament.

5. 2021 UCLA

The Bruins became the second team to go from the First Four to the Final Four during the pandemic tournament in Indiana.  These teams are difficult to judge because the rankings are mostly useless.  Teams played fewer non-conference games than usual, so the data is not well connected.  Some teams played no non-conference games at all.  UCLA only played 26 total games and was 4-2 outside the Pac-12 with both losses coming in Quad 1.  They had two non-conference wins in each of Quad 3 and 4.  They were only 2-6 in Quad 1 and 3-3 in Quad 2.  

6. 2024 NC State

The Wolfpack are the only team in this group that was an automatic qualifier and definitely would not have qualified as an at-large team.   They finished the regular season 17-14 with just one quad 1 win at Clemson.  NC State picked up two more on their five-game run through the ACC Tournament to finish 22-14 overall.  However, they were just 3-8 against Quad 1 and 13-14 vs. the top three quadrants.  Normally, an 11-seed would indicate the bottom of the at-large pool, but with five bid-stealers in the field this season, including NC State, the lowest seeded at-large teams were No. 10 seeds.  The fact that they had to win five games in five days just to make the tournament makes their run to this point the most improbable.  Also, impressive.