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Elite Eight: Unlikely runs by state college programs

Florida was expected to be pretty good in basketball this year.

But Elite Eight? For a team with almost no NCAA Tournament experience? With a second-year coach (Mike White) who had only experienced March Madness as a player? After losing a top player (center John Egbunu) to a torn ACL, and drawing a trendy upset pick (East Tennessee State) in the first round?

That qualifies as highly improbable. With that in mind, here are eight other unlikely runs by state college programs (in no particular order):

1. Dunk City (2012-13): It's hard to top this one: A 10-loss FGCU team became the first 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16. It got there by upsetting college basketball royalty (second-seeded Georgetown), then beating seventh-seeded San Diego State with double-digit victories to become one of March Madness' most endearing Cinderella teams.

2. Jacksonville basketball (1969-70): The Dolphins didn't even make the NIT the previous year, and they were playing as an independent. No matter. Jacksonville — led by Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore — finished 27-2, eventually losing in the national title game to John Wooden's UCLA. The Dolphins were the smallest university (by enrollment size) to advance that far.

3. USF football (2007): The Bulls' football team had never been in the AP top 25 before this run. USF won its first six games (including at Auburn and at home over No. 5 West Virginia) to climb all the way to No. 2 in the country — still one of the pinnacles of USF athletics history.

4. UCF football (2013): It wasn't just the milestones along the way (beating USF for the first time, winning the American Athletic Conference and topping Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl). It was how the Knights did it. Seven victories were by one score, and six featured second-half comebacks.

5. Miami football (1983): After starting with a thud (a 28-3 loss at Florida) the Hurricanes rallied. Led by redshirt freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar, Miami won its next 11 games — including an Orange Bowl triumph over mighty Nebraska — to win its first national title.

6. Florida football (1984): The Gators were 0-1-1 after two games and fired their coach (Charley Pell) after three games after the NCAA charged Pell's program for more than 100 rules violations. Interim coach Galen Hall led UF to a 9-1-1 record and its first SEC title (which was later vacated).

7. Florida basketball (1994): The Gators had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times previously before Lon Kruger's 1994 run, on a team with little star power. Of UF's five trips to the Final Four, its first remains the biggest surprise.

8. Florida State basketball (1972): The Seminoles were coming off three years of probation but still found a way to make history. Guard Ron King and coach Hugh Durham took FSU to 28 wins before losing 81-76 to Wooden and Bill Walton's UCLA powerhouse.

Times staff writer Joey Knight and columnist Martin Fennelly contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

Elite Eight: Unlikely runs by state college programs 03/27/17 [Last modified: Monday, March 27, 2017 1:13pm]
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