ACC In NCAA Tournament

League Champion NC State, As #11 NCAA Seed,
Joins Top Cinderella Stories Of March Madness

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

Bill Guthridge, Jim Boeheim, Hubert Davis and Kevin Keatts.

That’s the list.

They are the only head coaches who have taken an Atlantic Coast Conference team seeded #8 or lower all the way to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

Keatts, of course, has led 2024 ACC champion NC State — a #11 seed — to the national semifinals of this year’s Big Dance in Arizona.

Even prior to the Wolfpack’s Elite Eight victory over Duke, though, it already had made history in the Big Bracket. The Pack was just the 14th ACC squad ever to reach the Sweet 16 as a #8 seed or lower.

Below is the full list, with each team’s seed, head coach and ultimate result.

ACC In Sweet 16 Or Beyond As Low Seed (#8 Or Lower)

1990 UNC (#8, Dean Smith) — lost in Sweet 16
1994 Maryland (#10, Gary Williams) — lost in Sweet 16
2000 UNC (#8, Guthridge) — lost in Final Four
2005 NC State (#10, Herb Sendek) — lost in Sweet 16
2011 Florida State (#10, Leonard Hamilton) — lost in Sweet 16
2012 NC State (#11, Mark Gottfried) — lost in Sweet 16
2015 NC State (#8, Gottfried) — lost in Sweet 16
2016 Syracuse (#10, Jim Boeheim) — lost in Final Four
2018 Florida State (#9, Hamilton) — lost in Elite Eight
2018 Syracuse (#11, Boeheim) — lost in Sweet 16
2021 Syracuse (#11, Boeheim) — lost in Sweet 16
2022 UNC (#8, Davis) — lost in NCAA title game
2022 Miami (#10, Jim Larranaga) — lost in Elite Eight
2024 NC State (#11, Keatts) — ???

Only four of those 14 teams, including the 2024 Wolfpack, went on to reach the Final Four. Only one (2022 UNC) of the previous three ACC “surprises” reached the national championship game. The Tar Heels lost to Kansas in the title contest.

NC State (26-14) will face Purdue (33-4), the Big Ten’s regular-season champion, in the Final Four on Saturday (6:09 pm, TBS).

Here are a few more details on each of the ACC’s four “Cinderellas” that advanced all the way to the Final Four.

ACC’s “Cinderella” Final Four Teams
(#8 Seed Or Lower Only; With Coach/Top Players)

2000 UNC (#8 seed) — Bill Guthridge; Ed Cota*, Joseph Forte*, Brendan Haywood*, Jason Capel, Kris Lang
2016 Syracuse (#10 seed) — Jim Boeheim; Michael Gbinije*, Trevor Cooney, Tyler Lydon, Malachi Richardson, Tyler Roberson
2022 UNC (#8 seed) — Hubert Davis; Armando Bacot*, RJ Davis, Brady Manek, Leaky Black, Caleb Love
2024 NC State (#11 seed) — Kevin Keatts; DJ Horne*, DJ Burns, Mohamed Diarra, Casey Morsell, Michael O’Connell
* — All-ACC selection that season

Guthridge took #8 seed UNC to the national semifinals in 2000. The Tar Heels, who entered the NCAA Tournament with an 18-13 record, knocked off three nationally ranked opponents, including #1 seed Stanford in the second round, before falling to Florida at the Final Four.

Boeheim took #10 seed Syracuse to the national semifinals in 2016. The Orange, who entered the NCAA Tournament with a 19-13 record after a ninth-place tie in the ACC standings, upset #1 seed Virginia in the Elite Eight, then lost to UNC at the Final Four.

Davis took #8 seed UNC to the national semifinals in 2022. The Tar Heels, who entered the NCAA Tournament with a 24-9 record, upset three nationally ranked opponents — #1 seed Baylor (ranked #4 nationally) in the second round, #4 seed UCLA (ranked #11 nationally) in the Sweet 16, and #2 seed Duke (ranked #9 nationally) in the Final Four — before falling to #1 seed Kansas (ranked #3 nationally) in the national championship game.

Keatts’ team made the 2024 NCAA Tournament only because the Wolfpack won the ACC Tournament, earning the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance and breaking the Pack’s 37-year ACC title drought. Then he led #11 seed NC State to the national semifinals with victories over #6 seed Texas Tech (ranked #22 nationally), #14 seed Oakland, #2 seed Marquette (ranked #8 nationally) and #4 seed Duke (ranked #13 nationally).


NC State is not only the lowest-seeded ACC team ever to make the Final Four, it joined just five previous teams that made the national semifinals as a #11 seed. No team with a #12, #13, #14, #15 or #16 seed has ever made the Final Four.

All five of the previous #11 “Cinderellas” departed the Final Four without winning a game there. Below are the results of their national semifinal games.

Lowest-Ever Seeds (#11) In Final Four (Head Coach)

1986 — #2 Louisville 88, #11 LSU 77 (Dale Brown)
2006 — #3 Florida 73, #11 George Mason 58 (Jim Larranaga)
2011 — #8 Butler 70, #11 Virginia Commonwealth 62 (Shaka Smart)
2018 — #3 Michigan 69, #11 Loyola Chicago 57 (Porter Moser)
2021 — #1 Gonzaga 93, #11 UCLA 90, OT (Mick Cronin)
2024 — #1 Purdue vs. #11 NC State, Saturday (Kevin Keatts)

If the Wolfpack beats Purdue on Saturday night, it will become the lowest-seeded team ever to play in the national championship game. If the Pack can beat the Boilermakers and the UConn-Alabama winner, it would become the ultimate Cinderella, even compared to State’s famous “Cardiac Pack” of 1983.

The lowest-seeded teams ever to win the NCAA title were 1985 Villanova (a #8 seed), 2014 UConn (a #7 seed), 1983 NC State (a #6 seed) and 1988 Kansas (a #6 seed).

In the 44 years the NCAA Tournament has had a seeded field, a top-four seed has won the event 40 times (about 91 percent of the time). That trend will continue for another year only if UConn, Purdue or Alabama cuts down the nets in Arizona.

The Wolfpack, of course, has other ideas.