When we’re talking about the greatest Cinderella story in college basketball history, the name that most people are going to cling to is Butler.
You remember those Bulldogs, right? They made it to back-to-back national title games out of the Horizon League, and on paper, that sure makes them seem like an underdog, right? But the thing you have to remember about those Butler teams: They had two players on their roster — Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward — that spent this season as starters for the Utah Jazz, and they were coached by Brad Stevens, the man who somehow got the Boston Celtics to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
So I’m not sure I can call them a Cinderella.
I will, however, call the 2006 George Mason team that made a Final Four a Cinderella just like I will call the 2011 VCU team that reached the Final Four (from the First Four!) a Cinderella. VCU, at that point, was a really good mid-major program in the CAA, not an Atlantic 10 powerhouse. Mason was actually VCU’s rival in the CAA at the time, and the year they got the Final Four most believed they didn’t even deserve to get into the tournament. Period!
But neither of them are my favorite Cinderella.
FGCU become the seventh No. 15 seed to upset a No. 2 seed in the first round back in 2013, and they then became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16. They did so by beating down both Georgetown and San Diego State, to the point that they were showing off with alley-oops with a couple of minutes left in the game:
Awesome. I loved every second of it.
And it pales in comparison with the run that Leicester City has been on this season. The Foxes are currently up seven points on Tottenham with five games left in the season, which is a nearly* insurmountable hole to dig out of.
It’s impossible to make a direct comparison between Premier League soccer and college basketball simply because the structure of the two sports are so different. But think about it like this: Coastal Carolina somehow gets a spot in the ACC and goes on to win the league’s regular season title by three full games. Leicester was 5,000-to-1 to win the league before the season, the same odds that British sportsbooks were giving gamblers that wanted to bet on Elvis being found alive.
And therein lies the biggest difference. What Leicester is doing is not a “Cinderella run”. Being a Cinderella implies that you aren’t the best team, that you can lightening in a bottle, pull off a couple of upsets against the biggest names in the sport and find yourself on a stage you never imagined you would be on.
Leicester is the best team in the Premier League, and it’s not all that close.
So they aren’t a Cinderella.
But they are likely* to end up being the most unlikely champion and the most amazing story in sports in my lifetime. You can watch their title chase on Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. on NBCSN or the NBC Sports Live Extra app.
*(I say “likely” and “nearly” because, as a Spurs supporter, I’m quite certain that Tottenham will end up winning the league. We got ’em right where we want ’em.)