The Sweet 16 of March Madness!

No offense to your brackets, but, for me, this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been a bit of a dud for those of us always pull for a few big surprises. 

Sure, the Oregon Ducks have been on a massive roll through the Pac-12 tournament and the first two games of the NCAA tournament. 

Sorry, Oregon.  Your Pac-12 conference Ducks are just not the same type of feel-good small school story as last year’s Loyola-Chicago Ramblers team and their now-99 year old good luck charm, Sister Jean

This year’s final 16 teams are pretty much the expected teams among the big boys of basketball.  There are some good stories, but the sports journalists will have to work a bit harder this year.

Heading into Thursday and Friday night’s games, we have all four #1 seeds left, all four of the #2 seeds remaining, and all four of the #3 seeds still in the tourney? 

Yawn. 

All of the top 12 teams are standing this year after two games!  Add two #4 seeds (Florida State and Virginia Tech), a #5 seed (Auburn) and #12 Oregon, and there’s this year’s Sweet 16. 

However, did you know that Sister Jean’s Loyola-Chicago Ramblers had won the National Championship back in 1963? 

Did you also know that Loyola-Chicago has one more National Championship in their basketball trophy case than this year’s #1 seeds Virginia and Gonzaga, #2 seed Tennessee, #3 seeds LSU, Purdue, Texas Tech, and the University of Houston, #4 seeded Virginia Tech, and #5 Auburn?

So, despite the blue bloods like Kentucky (8 national titles), North Carolina (6), Duke (5), Michigan State (2), and others like Michigan and Oregon with one trophy each, there are ten other extremely hungry teams in the remaining field of 16 who still have the chance to win their first men’s basketball championship.

The good news about this weekend’s basketball schedule is that ANYONE left in this field could still win it all. 

The two “worst” remaining teams (#12 seed Oregon and #5 seed Auburn) both won their conference tournaments to get into the field and are playing a frenetic style of basketball with full-court pressure, sharpshooting three-point bombs, and are scoring points at pinball wizard speed. 

What about LSU, you ask?  Can you imagine the “holier-than-thou” national media screaming about a team which suspended its coach (Will Wade) who won’t even talk to his bosses about a reported wire-tapping of a possible payoff to the family of one of their current players? 

LSU was already playing hard as they dedicated this season to honor one of their players (20-year old Wayde Sims) who was shot and killed in Baton Rouge back in September.  His father (Wayne Sims) had played on the LSU basketball team in the 1980’s for Coach Dale Brown.

This year’s Tigers’ team has nothing to lose at this point.  They have plenty of talent but need to play their best games now if they want to advance. 

If the allegations about Coach Will Wade turn out to be true, LSU’s team should be be approaching each game as if it may be the last NCAA tournament game of their college careers.  The NCAA would likely place LSU on a lengthy suspension from post-season play if the worst is confirmed.

Gonzaga would be a great story, too!  Coach Mark Few has taken this small university in Spokane, Washington to national prominence in the past two decades.

The Zags have made the NCAA basketball tournament for 21 consecutive seasons!  They appeared in the national championship game two years ago but lost to North Carolina.

Gonzaga’s overall NCAA tournament record is now 33-21 and now equates to 61% winning percentage.   By contrast, the Duke Blue Devils lead this year’s field with a combined men’s tournament record of 111-36 (75.5%) followed by North Carolina, which sports a 123-45 tournament record (73%). 

So, your statistical best chances to win it all remain with Duke and North Carolina in a potential finals match-up this year.

I feel hopeful that at least one or two “spoiler” teams will emerge from the pack by the end of this weekend to prevent the Final Four from becoming the second-ever match-up of four #1 seeds in history.     

It isn’t called “March Madness” for nothing! 

Loyola-Chicago, Sister Jean, and their San Antonio Mission

Cinderella has officially arrived at the big dance!  The #11 seed from the South region of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament has crashed the party of basketball’s blue bloods and will bring their ever-growing legion of fans from around the nation and the world into San Antonio next Saturday for the Final Four.

The Ramblers of Loyola University-Chicago are going to the big dance for the first time since 1963.

A week prior to the start of this year’s March Madness, your ever-observant SwampSwami successfully (for once!) deemed Loyola-Chicago as his sleeper pick in this year’s field.  Moral – it’s better to be lucky than good, because I also picked Virginia to win it all (oops).

https://swampswami.com/march-madness-lord-ive-become-a-ramblers-fan/

What I wasn’t aware of at the time of the prior article was the secret weapon of Loyola-Chicago, Sister Jean.  By now, everyone knows that this 98-year old basketball-happy nun offers-up a prayer for the team before every game.

When asked after an earlier win about how she motivates the Loyola team prior to tip-off, the team’s inspirational beacon said, “I told them that we were going to win, that we could do it & that God would be on our side.”

I seem to recall a couple of Chicago-based musicians whose mantra was that they, too, were on a mission from God.  Jake and Elwood (aka The Blues Brothers) didn’t do anything the orthodox way.  But they really had that positive Chicago swagger and, wow, could they dance!

This Saturday, the University of Michigan (winners of the West Region) will stand between America’s college basketball darlings and their chance to play for the 2018 national championship.

Hey, Michigan.  Did you know that the city which is home to this year’s Final Four, San Antonio, is also known for their five historic Spanish missions (including The Alamo)?

Beware, Wolverines.

Your Chicago-based opponent is rambling into town on yet another mission!