Now that March Madness has been officially reduced to its iconic Final Four, let’s let the smoke clear and see exactly what happened over the course of the past two weeks. Out of each of the four regions in which the original 64 teams to make ‘the dance’ are organized, number 1 seeds Villanova University Wildcats and University of Kansas Jayhawks prevailed in the East and Midwest respectively, while the number 3 seed University of Michigan Wolverines survived the West region’s bracket. And that’s about where the normal and unexpected comes to an end.
For those of you that don’t follow March Madness or tournament format sports in general, bracket prediction is the general basis under which people gamble for the NCAA tournament, essentially predicting the winners of each of the games based on a number of variables, not the least of which includes seeding – ranking within the bracket itself. To have a general balance of competition throughout the upper echelons of the tournament, lower seeded teams face off against higher seeded teams in the early rounds – and thus are usually removed from contention almost immediately due to the higher caliber teams that earned the higher seeds. Sometimes the way it plays out is higher seeded teams coast through the early rounds to get to the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8, ultimately working toward the Final Four and the national championship itself. Take Villanova for example. They started the tournament as the number 1 seed in their region against the number 16 seeded Radford University Highlanders (in case you’ve never heard of them, they’re in Virginia), beating them handily. Three games later, the competition got a little more stiff as they went through the number 9 seed Alabama Crimson Tide, the number 5 seed West Virginia Mountaineers, and the number 3 seed Texas Tech Red Raiders. Kansas followed a similar path, as did Michigan.
And sometimes you have what many begrudgingly refer to as a “bracket buster.” That one team that, despite all odds against them, ruins most of the fun for gamblers by throwing a huge wrench in the works and beats the teams that it’s expected to lose against in the early rounds.
Queue the Loyola University of Chicago Ramblers out of Chicago, Illinois. While they began the tournament nearer the middle of the pack than some, they were still a number 11 seed in their region facing off against the number 5 seed Miami University Hurricane…whom they beat, 64-62. And while this may not have turned as many heads as the number 16 University of Maryland Baltimore County upset over number 1 Virginia in the first round, the historic run of UMBC was cut down only a game later while Loyola persevered against number 3 Tennessee, then against number 7 Nevada and finally against number 9 Kansas State – winning its first three games by a combined total of 4 points before comfortably clearing the Elite 8 by a score of 78-62.
Now Loyola is primed to face number 3 Michigan in the Final Four round to see who gets to punch a ticket to the national championship.
So what does this all mean? What is the point I’m trying to make by praising this Cinderella story that may or may not turn back into a pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight? Historically speaking, no team that was seeded lower than 8 has ever won the NCAA men’s basketball national championship. The lowest seeded team to accomplish that feat was the Southeast’s number 8 seeded 1985 Villanova Wildcats who defeated the East region’s number 1 seeded Georgetown Hoyas. Strangely enough, that same Villanova team struggled through its first three games, winning them only by a combined 9 points, before defeating the number 2 North Carolina Tar Heels by 12 in the Elite 8.
Coincidence? Probably. But Loyola has gotten this far, haven’t they? Time to see if the glass slipper fits.