You’d be hard pressed to find a crazier weekend of basketball than what we just witnessed for 96 hours. We saw history made, Sister Jean, massive comebacks, and epic failures.
Now, we move onto the Sweet 16, and although your bracket may be in ruins, there is still plenty of great basketball to watch, and plenty of stories to follow.
Loyola Chicago is the Cinderella, but don’t forget about Nevada.
Loyola Chicago has captured everyone’s hearts thanks to their penchant for buzzer beating threes and a 90+ year old team chaplain named Sister Jean. If you want to find the nation’s underdog, you don’t have to look any further. However, you have to give some (ok a lot) of credit to the Nevada Wolf Pack.
The No. 7 Wolf Pack have fought harder than anyone in this tournament to earn their berth into the Sweet 16. They came down from 14 against No. 10 Texas in an overtime win, and then doubled down with a 22-point comeback over No. 2 Cincinnati. Sister Jean and company are definitely the underdog in this game, but both teams are worth rooting for.
Can Kansas finally make the Final Four again?
Since losing the national championship in 2012, the Kansas Jayhawks have been your annual bracket busting underachievers. Bill Self and the Jayhawks have earned four No. 1 seeds (including this year), and two No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament since 2012, but have zero Final Fours to show for it.
Things are still going to be tough for the Jayhawks. The madness largely kept the Midwest Region unscathed. Clemson is playing some of its best basketball of the year, just recently demolishing Auburn 84-53. Kansas meanwhile struggled against No. 16 Penn for a bit, and barely squeaked by Seton Hall.
Sharpie Kentucky into the Final Four.
In a tournament of upsets, if the Kentucky Wildcats don’t make the Final Four, it will be an upset for the ages. The Wildcats are crazy athletic, like always, and perhaps a bit better than their seeding, but their path to the Final Four immediately opened up the moment UMBC took down Virginia. Add upsets to Arizona, Tennessee, and Cincinnati, and the highest seed the Wildcats can possibly play en route to San Antonio is a No. 7 seed. If Kentucky falters along the way, it is nothing short of a huge upset.
Syracuse is winning games the only moment it counts.
Give credit to the Syracuse Orange. Nobody outside of Syracuse fans will generally ever root for the zone-rooted display of somewhat basketball, and nobody was expecting one of the last teams let into the NCAA Tournament to even make a yelp. But that is what we have here again. Syracuse defeated TCU 57-52, and then upset No. 3 Michigan State 55-53 to reach a Sweet 16 match against Duke. Syracuse’s zone has demolished completely efficient offenses, and it will be interesting to see if Marvin Bagley’s first (and only) NCAA Tournament run continues, or if the Orange render another offense moot.
Zags now own the nation’s longest current Sweet 16 streak.
It hasn’t been pretty for Gonzaga, but they have ground out two hard fought wins to make the Sweet 16 for the fourth-consecutive year, the nation’s current longest streak. Granted, that is a long way from UCLA’s all-time record of 14-straight, but four-straight ties them for the sixth-longest streak of all-time.
If the Zags win against Florida State on Thursday, it will be the third Elite 8 appearance in four years for Gonzaga. Doing that is easier said than done. Florida State is one of the deepest teams in the NCAA Tournament, and they like to run the ball. Mark Few and company have the time off to prep the Zags (and more importantly, rest the Zags). You can’t easily pencil the Zags into the Final Four like you can Kentucky. Both Michigan and Texas A&M are tough outs, and the talent gap isn’t as wide (or existing at all there). Either way, it has been an entertaining, if not early heart attack inducing, run for the Zags, and we all hope it continues.