There have been six double-digit seeds to make the Final Four, and St. Peter’s – after a third straight stunning win Friday night, 67-64 over third-seeded Purdue in the East Regional semifinal in Philadelphia – is one win against North Carolina on Sunday from becoming the seventh.
Win or lose against the eighth-seeded Tar Heels, who dispatched East No. 4 UCLA, 73-66, it’s already worth considering whether the Peacocks’ run is the greatest Cinderella story since the NCAA expanded March Madness to 64 teams in 1985. The tiny school from Jersey City already is the first seed lower than 11 to reach a regional final.
One way to look at it is to add up the seeds that a team beat on its way to the Elite Eight. A pair of No. 11 seeds have beaten what adds up to “tougher” competition, but one was from the SEC, LSU in 1986, and the other was a semi-regular Midwestern power, Xavier five years ago.
Kent State in 2002 and Davidson in 2008 can match St. Peter’s with their wins over Nos. 2, 3, and 7 seeds, albeit in a different order. But there’s a huge difference between entering the tournament as a No. 10 seed and showing up as a No. 15 — a seed from which only two teams had previously even made the Sweet 16: Oral Roberts last year and Florida Gulf Coast in 2013.
These are the journeys of the double-digit seeds who have made regional finals.
11 – 1986 LSU (11): beat (6) Purdue, (3) Memphis State, (2) Georgia Tech, and (1) Kentucky*
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11 – 2017 Xavier (11): beat (6) Maryland, (3) Florida State, (2) Arizona, lost to (1) Gonzaga
12 – 2002 Kent State (10): beat (7) Oklahoma State, (2) Alabama, (3) Pittsburgh, lost to (5) Indiana
12 – 2008 Davidson (10): beat (7) Gonzaga, (2) Georgetown, (3) Wisconsin, lost to (1) Kansas
12 – 2022 St. Peter’s (15): beat (2) Kentucky, (7) Murray State, (3) Purdue, vs. (8) North Carolina on Sunday
15 – 1999 Gonzaga (10): beat (7) Minnesota, (2) Stanford, (6) Florida, lost to (1) Connecticut
15 – 1990 Texas (10): beat (7) Georgia, (2) Purdue, (6) Xavier, lost to (4) Arkansas
16 – 2006 George Mason (11): beat (6) Michigan State, (3) North Carolina, (7) Wichita State, and (1) Connecticut**
16 – 2018 Loyola Chicago: beat (6) Miami, (3) Tennessee, (7) Nevada, and (9) Kansas State***
16: 1990 Loyola Marymount (11): beat (6) New Mexico State, (3) Michigan, (7) Alabama, lost to (1) UNLV
16 – 2001 Temple (11): beat (6) Texas, (3) Florida, (7) Penn State, lost to (1) Michigan State
17 – 2002 Missouri (12): beat (5) Miami, (4) Ohio State, (8) UCLA, lost to (2) Oklahoma
17 – 2021 Oregon State (1): beat (5) Tennessee, (4) Oklahoma State, (8) Loyola Chicago, lost to (2) Houston
19 – 2011 VCU (11): beat (6) Georgetown, (3) Purdue, (10) Florida State, and (1) Kansas****
19 – 2014 Dayton (11): beat (6) Ohio State, (3) Syracuse, (10) Stanford, lost to (1) Florida
20 – 2022 Miami (10): beat (7) USC, (2) Auburn, (11) Iowa State, vs. (1) Kansas on Sunday
22 – 2021 UCLA (11): beat (6) BYU, (14) Abilene Christian, (2) Alabama, and (1) Michigan*****
23 – 1997 Providence (10): beat (7) Marquette, (2) Duke, (14) Chattanooga, lost to (4) Arizona
33 – 2016 Syracuse (10): beat (7) Dayton, (15) Middle Tennessee, (11) Gonzaga, and (1) Virginia******
*LSU lost to (2) Louisville in the Final Four.
**George Mason lost to (3) Florida in the Final Four.
***Loyola Chicago lost to Michigan (3) in the Final Four.
****VCU also beat USC in a First Four game, and lost to (8) Butler in the Final Four.
*****UCLA also beat Michigan State in a First Four game, and lost to (1) Gonzaga in the Final Four.
******Syracuse lost to (1) North Carolina in the Final Four.
Incredibly, this is the fourth time that Purdue has been an upset victim for a double-digit seed going to the Elite Eight, and this one really has to sting for the Boilermakers, who headed to Philadelphia as the East’s lowest remaining seed, in search of their first Final Four bid since 1980.
Instead, Purdue is heading home once again, still with only three Elite Eight appearances (1994, 2000, 2019) – they’ve lost more games to regional finals-bound double-digit seeds in the past four decades than they’ve gotten there themselves.
Upsets can happen, obviously, including bigger ones like UMBC becoming the first and so far only No. 16 seed to topple a No. 1, and the sprinkling of No. 15s, including St. Peter’s, who have knocked off 2s. To then make the Sweet 16 is even more special, but again, you understand how it happens, where a team gets a shock win and their next opponent kind of thought they’d be facing that presumed title contender.
Purdue had all week to study up on St. Peter’s, a team that lost home games this season to St. Francis (N.Y.) and Rider. The Peacocks didn’t play a team seeded higher than fourth in their conference tournament, cruising past Fairfield and Quinnipiac before a 60-54 squeaker over Monmouth in the final. Regular season MAAC champion Iona got bounced in the conference quarterfinals in Atlantic City.
That the Boilermakers, out of what was the deepest conference in the country this year in the Big Ten, couldn’t take care of business against a squad that went a respectable but hardly dominant 14-6 in MAAC play? That’s a lot more surprising than Steph Curry scoring 40 against Gonzaga, 30 against Georgetown, and 33 against Wisconsin to carry Davidson to the 2008 Midwest Regional final, or LSU being able to score a pair of upsets on its own home court in the first two rounds in 1986.
This being the second straight year that a pair of double-digit seeds made it this far, you could fairly ask if it’s gotten easier, if the gap between the very top teams and the teams from 48-68 has closed. Maybe it has, but as much as that can explain UCLA and Oregon State last year (another explanation: the 2021 Pac-12 was underrated) and Miami this year, St. Peter’s ranked somewhere between 95 and 161 out of 358 Division I teams this season.
It’s not particularly close. This run from St. Peter’s is the most surprising string of upsets we’ve seen one team pull off in the NCAA tournament, and they’ve got a shot at another one Sunday against one of the greatest programs in the history of the sport.