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Associated Press photo by Eric Gay

Cinderella's ceiling

Sports | College basketball upstarts who don't win it all rarely achieve lasting fame or second chances

Issue: "Clutching two, dropping four," April 23, 2011

For the second consecutive year, the Butler Bulldogs busted the brackets of NCAA tournament prognosticators throughout the country. The class of the little known Horizon League became the class of the nation-almost. Butler's surprising run of upset victories hoisted the team to back-to-back appearances in college basketball's title game. But this Cinderella script is more glass ceiling than slipper-at least so far. The Bulldogs' pair of championship moments both ended in defeat-this year to Connecticut on April 4.

So it is for scores of underdogs, many climbing to the precipice of athletic greatness only to fall backward into a chasm of soon forgotten runners-up. Most every fan can recount Villanova's shocker over Georgetown or Muhammad Ali's stunning upset of Sonny Liston. But who remembers 11th-seeded Louisiana State knocking out top-seeded Kentucky to reach the 1986 Final Four? Who recalls the 8th-seeded New York Knicks storming to the 1999 NBA Finals?

No, for Cinderellas who fail to complete the script of a storybook ending, there is often no happily ever after. Butler's repeat run is anomalous. History offers little hope of a third chance for the Bulldogs or even a second chance for this year's other Final Four overachievers, the 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth Rams. Here's a look at how other Cinderella teams fared in the seasons that followed:

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1986 Cleveland State: The 14th-seeded Vikings became the lowest seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. A one-point loss to Navy ended the run and began a 23-year stretch without an NCAA tournament appearance.

1986 Louisiana State: The 11th-seeded Tigers turned in the most stunning run of upsets in NCAA tournament history with victories over No. 6 seed Purdue, No. 3 seed Memphis State, No. 2 seed Georgia Tech, and No. 1 seed Kentucky. A Final Four loss to Louisville finally sent LSU home, but unlike most Cinderella teams did not end the wild ride. The Tigers returned to the tournament in each of the following seven seasons, climbing as high as the Elite Eight.

1997 UT Chattanooga: The 14th-seeded Mocs reached the Sweet 16 with major upsets over Georgia and Illinois, but could not best fellow Cinderella Providence, a No. 10 seed. It would take eight seasons before UT Chattanooga returned to the NCAA tournament.

2002 Missouri: The 12th-seeded Tigers played like favorites to reach the Elite Eight before falling to No. 2 seed Oklahoma. Missouri returned to the tournament the following year as a No. 6 seed, but was quickly dispatched in the round of 32. After that, it took the Tigers six years to get back to the dance.

2006 George Mason: The 11th-seeded Patriots stunned the country with a thrilling run of upsets en route to the Final Four. But a 73-58 loss to Florida in the semifinals sent the Colonial Athletic Association powerhouse into a bit of a tailspin. The Patriots did not win a single NCAA tournament game for five years, only ending that drought this March with a win over Villanova.

The other Final Four

While millions of Americans tuned in for the conclusion of the NCAA tournament, another Final Four drew most of the world's attention. The Cricket World Cup, which takes place every four years, played out against a backdrop of fierce national pride and political intrigue.

Pakistan stunned the world with its run to a semifinal match against India. The contest, which India won en route to World Cup victory, proved a boon to strained relations between the South Asian countries. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani accepted the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to watch the match together.


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