Before the 2013 season, Wichita State was predicted to finish fourth in its own conference. The Shockers were coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006 but had lost five of the top six scorers from their 2011-12 team. They started the season hot, winning 19 of their first 21 games and earning a No. 15 ranking in the AP poll, but they cooled off somewhat during Missouri Valley Conference play, going 12-6 and finishing in second place. After losing to Creighton at the end of the regular season and in the league tournament, Wichita State entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed in the West.
The Shockers were led by a pair of steady seniors in guard Malcolm Armstead and forward Carl Hall, but most people remember this tournament as a coming-out party for freshmen Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Together with dynamic wing Cleanthony Early and lockdown defender Tekele Cotton, they would form the nucleus of a team that would take an undefeated record into the NCAA tournament the next season.
In the 2013 tournament, Wichita State made short work of No. 8 seed Pitt in the opening round. It then knocked off No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga in the Round of 32 and stopped another Cinderella, 13-seeded La Salle, in the Sweet 16. To get to the Final Four, the Shockers ground out a win over No. 2 seed Ohio State. Finally, the magic ended with a loss to eventual national champion Louisville in the Final Four.
For that amazing NCAA tournament run, SI readers voted 2013 Wichita State as the Best Cinderella of the Seeding Era. And the Shockers’ path to that title may have been more impressive than their March Madness performance 29 months ago. We seeded them No. 1 overall—a dicey proposition for a bracket of teams known for pulling out upsets—based on Basketball Reference’s Simple Ratings System, which compared each team’s strength relative to the season in which it played. And the Shockers withstood every challenge along the way.
In the opening round, Wichita topped 1998 Valparaiso (67% to 33%), famous for Bryce Drew’s buzzer-beating three-pointer that stunned Mississippi. (Valpo, the 16-seed in our bracket, was the Cinderella of Cinderellas.) In the next matchup, the Shockers dropped 2011 Butler (53% to 47%), which reached the national championship game as a No. 8 seed. And in the Final Four, they outpolled Steph Curry and his 2008 Davidson Wildcats (61% to 39%), which seven years ago had come within a bucket of beating Kansas and reaching the Final Four.
In the championship round, Wichita State faced Florida Gulf Coast, a.k.a. “Dunk City”, a reader favorite throughout the contest that had gotten to the final round despite beginning the bracket as a No. 14 seed. The Shockers won by capturing 68% of the nearly 50,000 votes cast.
The clock may have eventually struck midnight on the Shockers in 2013, but they’re a timeless team now as SI’s Best Cinderella Ever.