It’s tough to make the Final Four as any seed. It’s tougher if you’re an 11-seed, though. You’re playing a six-seed in the first round and possibly a three in the second. And it only gets more difficult from there.
With all that said, only an 11 has made the Final Four as a double-digit seed. And it’s happened four times if you include Loyola-Chicago, who will compete this weekend. (Correction: As the esteemed Matt Zemek pointed out to me on Twitter, Syracuse made the Final Four as a 10-seed in 2016. As you can probably tell, I’ve completely blocked this out of my memory.)
We’ve also had VCU and George Mason make the Final Four as No. 11 seeds. Believe it or not, however, it wasn’t a mid-major that did it the first time. That honor belongs to a school in the Southeastern Conference.
The LSU Tigers entered the NCAA Tournament in 1986 as an 11-seed in the Southeast Region. To make the tournament after such a rough season is a miracle in itself. They lost 11 games during the regular season, and almost surely would have been on the outside just two years prior, when the field was just 48.
LSU lost to Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky (three times if you include the SEC Tournament), and even lost a non-conference game at Georgetown.
During a two week stretch in early February, LSU lost four of six — and that’s not even counting the Jan. 29 loss to Kentucky. The possibility was there that they weren’t going to make it.
While it was a positive for LSU just to make the Tournament, the Tigers were rewarded further when they got to stay home and play in Baton Rouge. Their opponent in the First Round was sixth-seeded Purdue.
Boilermakers head coach Gene Keady was not pleased with essentially playing a road game. The home court advantage worked out in the end as LSU knocked off Purdue in double overtime 94-87.
In the second round, they’d take on Memphis State. Anthony Wilson helped LSU leap into the Sweet 16 by sinking a short-range jumper at the buzzer to defeat Memphis State, 83-81.
Their next trip would be to the Omni in Atlanta. This time, home court advantage would favor their opponent, the two-seed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets were a Final Four favorite.
Unfortunately for them, the Omni wasn’t good enough to serve as home court advantage. LSU pulled through to defeat Georgia Tech, 70-64.
Who awaited the Tigers in the regional final? None other than Kentucky, the same team that beat them three times already in the same season.
It took a little work and something that LSU Head Coach Dale Brown called a “Freak Defense” that helped the Tigers make the fourth time a charm. LSU edged out Kentucky 59-57 to make it to the Final Four.
The defense employed by LSU worked as they allowed just two field goals to Kentucky in the final five and a half minutes.
LSU trailed by four during the second half. During that time, both Ricky Blanton and Don Redden stepped up to score the remaining 12 points LSU needed to win.
The Tigers next stop would be to Dallas as they took on Louisville in the National Semifinals. While there was much excitement over those two facing off. Everyone considered the main event to be the other semifinal, Kansas vs. Duke.
LSU’s run came to an end as the Freak Defense fell apart in the second half. Louisville won, 88-77. The difference in the game was a 17-1 run in the second half by Louisville.
Louisville shot 64 percent in the second half. Meanwhile, LSU only shot 35 percent at that point. The Cardinals went on to win the national title, defeating Duke in what was the first of four-of-five unsuccessful Final Four trips for the Blue Devils, 72-69.
Even though LSU didn’t win, Dale Brown’s Bayou Bengals proved that you don’t need to be a top 3 seed to reach the Final Four. It goes to show that nothing can stop a team when it gets hot; all it needs is the opportunity. That’s the beauty of the 64 (and now 68)-team NCAA Tournament.