CHISportsNation

Wow.

What a run it has been for both of these teams! This is what college basketball and March Madness is all about! An 11 seed and a 9 seed facing off to go to the Final Four!

Now, if you step back and take a look at each of these team’s road to the Elite 8, one could argue that neither of them has had a relatively tough schedule so far. As for both of these teams, they have been the beneficiary of several lesser seeds upsetting the big guns.

#9 Kansas State

Now, I’ll give some credit to the Wildcats for making it this far without their leading scorer, 6’10” forward, Dean Wade.

But…

Kentucky was their toughest opponent yet, and they weren’t even having a “Kentucky-like” season! In spite of the 5-star recruits, and the legendary coach in John Calipari, Kansas State was able to overcome some tough odds and beat a very talented team.

But…

They only beat #8 Creighton by 10 points, and #16 UMBC by only 7 points. I’m sure we can expect Coach Webber to send a nice gift basket to the UMBC Basketball program for taking down #1 Virginia, and opening up an easier path to the Final Four. Like I said, top scorer Dean Wade has been out for some time now. He’s only played 8 minutes so far in the tournament, so we can expect to see a little more out of him on Saturday.

#11 Loyola (Chi.)

This was probably the most underrated team in the tournament. Despite going 15-3 in their conference, beating #5 Florida in December, winning 14 of their last 15 regular season games, and winning the MVC Tournament. They still barely made it in. Keep in mind, that the MVC isn’t an easy conference! Only 2 teams in the conference finished the season with an overall record below .500, and one of those teams still had 8 conference wins.

I would definitely say that the Ramblers have had a harder schedule to get where they are. Taking down #6 Miami (Fl.) on a last second 3, beating #3 Tennessee on a 15 footer that got a shooters bounce. Then, knocking off a great Nevada team with a clutch 3. One thing that has stood out to me about all of these games is the fact that Loyola was either winning, or right in it till the end of each one. Also, each game-winning shot has come from a different player!

I think the main reason why I’ve fallen in love with this team is because of their balance. Everyone rebounds, everyone plays tough defense, everyone takes care of the ball, and they all take smart shots. I’m a big fan of old school basketball. Giving it your all on the defensive side of the ball, and then working it around and either hitting someone on a nice cut, or blowing past your guy in a 1 on 1 situation.

The only knock on Loyola right now is their size. If Dean Wade is healthy enough to play 15+ minutes on Saturday, Cam Krutwig is going to have a difficult task at hand trying to shut him down. Even though I think their size might be the biggest hurdle on Saturday, their guard play has been outstanding. They held Nevada’s quartet of 6’7” guard-forwards Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, and Kendall Stephens to 19-47 from the field, while also forcing the Martin brothers into committing 7 turnovers.

Team defense has been the key to Loyola’s march through March and it was evident in Thursday night’s game. As a team, Nevada shot only 41% from the field and was 7 for 27 from behind the arc. The only time the Wolfpack shot well was from the free throw line where they hit 13 out of 14 shots.

I think this game should be another great matchup between two well coached teams. Whoever comes out on top will be dancing in the Final Four as an underdog.

Have we seen this before?

Reminiscing of previous brackets, some comparable teams of the past are 2017 South Carolina, 2016 Syracuse, and Butler in 2010 & 2011.

If you couldn’t remember, last year’s South Carolina team made the Final Four as a #7 seed and had to take down #2 Duke, #3 Baylor, and #4 Florida before losing by 4 to #1 seed Gonzaga in the Final Four.

The Syracuse team that got to the Final Four during the 2016 NCAA Tournament didn’t have to face a team better than a 7 seed until the Elite 8 when they took down #1 seed Virginia.

I remember watching the great Butler runs with young Gordon Hayward, guard Shelvin Mack and forward Matt Howard. The 2010 team was a #5 seed and they took out #1 Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen, #2 Kansas State in the Elite 8, and #5 Michigan State in the Final Four before the epic game against #1 Duke in the National Championship. What would have been a fairy tale ending to their season had that last-second, half-court shot by Hayward gone in to beat a great team like Duke.

Then, one year later, after Gordon Hayward left for the NBA, they made it back to the Championship but this time as an 8 seed. This time, they had to take down #1 Pittsburgh, #4 Wisconsin, #2 Florida (in OT), and then faced off against coach Shaka Smart and #11 VCU before being taken down by #3 UCONN in the Championship.

Not since the first time the NCAA Tournament field has expanded to 64 teams in 1985, has a #8 seed or higher ever won the National Championship. Could this be the first year for a higher seed to win it all? I can’t wait to find out!

 

Photo Courtesy of  (David Goldman/Associated Press)

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