By WC Peters
The Final Four is set for this coming weekend in San Antonio, Texas. Kansas, Michigan, Villanova, and Sister Jean’s team Loyola of Chicago make up the four teams left vying for the National Title. From the start, this tournament has been a wild ride filled with twists and turns every round. The four seeds left are two one seeds (Villanova and Kansas), a three seed (Michigan), and an eleven seed (Loyola of Chicago). Villanova has been the most dominant on the way to the Final Four, as they have won each game by at least twelve points. Kansas has had a little rougher path, as they have won their last three games by four points after winning their opening round game against Penn by 16.
Michigan and Loyola have had decidedly different paths to the Final Four on the other side of the bracket. Third-seeded Michigan won their opener by 14 over the Grizzly of Montana and then it took a last-second three to beat Houston to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. In their Sweet Sixteen game against Texas A&M, who just got done blowing out North Carolina in the second round, Michigan shot the lights out and won the game easily 99-72. They played Florida State for the right to go to San Antonio and beat them by 4. The Cinderella of this ball is without a doubt the Ramblers of Loyola and their unofficial mascot, 98-year-old Sister Jean. The Ramblers started off the tournament by upsetting the Hurricanes of Miami in the first round and then beating the third-seeded Tennessee Volunteers to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Ramblers met the upstart Nevada Wolfpack, who was coming off an upset of their own over two-seeded Cincinnati. Loyola held on to beat them 69-68 to advance to play the winner of Kentucky and Kansas State. In the Elite Eight vs the Wildcats of Kansas State, the Ramblers never trailed and sailed into the Final Four by a score of 78-62.
This year’s tournament has been one of the most exciting that I can remember. Every round there has been upsets and games going down to the wire. There have been monumental comebacks, i.e. Nevada rallying from 22 points down to beat number two Cincinnati. No region was more topsy-turvy than the South Region. In the first round on Thursday, Arizona was blown out by MAC Champion Buffalo, and this was after Loyola already beat the Hurricanes on a half-court buzzer beater. Friday was pretty ho-hum until Friday night when history happened and for the first time, a sixteen seed upset a one seed as UMBC blew out number one overall Virginia. This tournament has captured my attention every week and every round. Admittedly, I am not much of an NCAA basketball fan until the Sweet Sixteen when the best of the best teams are still alive, but this year’s drama has really kept my attention. In my humble opinion, the NCAA Tournament is the most overrated event of the year. Sure there are the upsets, but then the cream usually rises to the top and one of the Blue Bloods wins the National Title. This year though, game after game, especially the second round, goliath went down and it was must-see TV. Even my wife was turning to the best reality show going.
I told guys earlier in the week that this year feels like one of those years where Michigan will play Kansas for the National Title and Kansas will probably win it all. The reason I say Kansas will win it is that 90% of the time I pick Kansas in my bracket and obviously I did not this year, so you’re welcome Bill Self and congratulations! I actually think Michigan has a great chance to win the title also. John Beilein is the best coach left in the tournament and they have some dudes that can shoot. When they get hot, watch out! I think all of America will be rooting for Loyola and Sister Jean, and most think Villanova is the best team left as do I, but this tournament is not going to have the best team win it. That would be a terrible way to end this great tournament. My official pick is the Kansas Jayhawks over the Wolverines. Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk, KU!!!!