By Matt Citak
The 2018 NCAA Tournament can be described as nothing short of madness. History was made in several ways, as a No. 16 seed upset a No. 1 seed for the first time, while two No. 9 seeds made it to the Elite Eight, a feat that had never been accomplished before. With three more games to go, and a somewhat surprising Final Four, there’s likely more chaos to come.
No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago still dancing
From their Cinderella run to Sister Jean’s smiling face, the Ramblers have won over the country’s heart. Entering the tournament as a No. 11 seed, Loyola-Chicago has pulled off upset after upset to ensure their spot in San Antonio next weekend.
After beating No. 6 seed Miami and No. 3 seed Tennessee by a combined three points, the Ramblers had another extremely close game against No. 7 seed Nevada on Thursday. Leading by one with six seconds remaining, Marques Townes drilled a three-pointer in front of his own bench to give Loyola-Chicago a four-point lead. Nevada would make a three-pointer to bring the game back within one, but with only two seconds remaining on the clock, it came a little too late.
Saturday’s Elite Eight matchup against No. 9 seed Kansas State was not nearly as close, as the Ramblers shot 57.4 percent from the field and 50.0 from the three-point line while cruising to a 78-62 victory. Loyola-Chicago is in just their second Final Four in school history. For those needing quick refresher course, their first appearance in 1963 resulted in a National Championship.
Michigan keeps winning streak alive
Michigan entered the tournament as one of the country’s hottest teams, winning nine consecutive games, including a Big Ten Tournament Championship. The Wolverines needed some last-second heroics from Jordan Poole to make it into the Sweet 16, but the team followed that up with two performances strong enough to punch their ticket to their first Final Four since 2013.
The Wolverines absolutely dominated No. 7 seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, defeating the Aggies 99-72. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 24 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, but the entire team played great basketball. Michigan shot 61.9 percent from the field, while finishing with a 58.3 shooting percentage from long range.
Their Elite Eight matchup against No. 9 seed Florida State did not come as easy. Michigan seemed to lose their shooting touch, finishing with a 38.8 shooting percentage from the field. Things didn’t get any better from behind the three-point line, as the Wolverines made only 18.2 percent of their threes. But at the end of the day, the Wolverines did just enough to outlast the Seminoles, setting up a Final Four battle against Loyola-Chicago.
Villanova makes second Final Four in three years
Any concerns about just how good this Villanova team is have been put to rest. The Wildcats cruised into the Sweet 16 after two big victories over No. 16 seed Redford and No. 9 seed Alabama. Things got a little tighter this past weekend, but Villanova continued its superb play, beating two very good teams to ensure the school’s second Final Four appearance in just three years.
First up was No. 5 seed West Virginia and their tough, full-court press. While the Mountaineers wreaked havoc for their first two opponents, their press couldn’t stifle the Wildcats’ offense. Jalen Brunson poured in 27 points, while three other starters hit double-figures, as Villanova shot 50.0 percent from the field on their way to a 90-78 victory.
The 2016 National Champions enjoyed their fourth consecutive double-digit victory on Sunday, defeating No. 3 seed Texas Tech 71-59. It wasn’t the prettiest day for Villanova’s offense, as the team shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from deep, but the Wildcats did enough to book their trip to San Antonio.
Kansas enjoys first Final Four in six years
The Jayhawks had to sweat through their first two games of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. No. 16 seed Penn led for a large portion of the first half of the opening game before the Jayhawks turned things around in the second half. Then No. 8 seed Seton Hall caused headaches for Kansas until the final buzzer, even as Bill Self led his squad to a 83-79 win. Things didn’t get any easier this past weekend.
First up was a talented No. 5 seed Clemson. The Tigers mounted a second-half comeback against the Jayhawks that fell just short, as Kansas came away with a 80-76 victory in the Sweet 16. Malik Newman went 4-for-7 from long range, finishing with a team-high 17 points, as Self led his team to their third straight Elite Eight appearance.
The toughest test for Kansas came yesterday against Coach K’s mighty Duke squad. In a back-and-forth battle that featured 18 lead changes and 11 ties, the Jayhawks outlasted the Blue Devils in overtime, winning, 85-81. Newman once again led Kansas with 32 points, shooting 11-of-12 from the free-throw line. The Jayhawks will battle the Wildcats in San Antonio in a clash of the two remaining No. 1 seeds.
ACC features zero teams in Final Four
Heading into the Round of 64, it seemed inevitable that the Atlantic Coast Conference would have at least one representative in the Final Four. Virginia was the top overall seed in the tournament, while Duke and North Carolina were considered two of the best teams in the country.
Overall, the ACC had nine teams in the Big Dance — Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Syracuse. After the opening weekend, four of the conference’s teams remained. While Virginia and North Carolina were both on the losing sides of big upsets, Duke, Clemson, Florida State and Syracuse made it to the tournament’s second weekend. But the ACC’s good fortunates would not last long.
Duke fended off Syracuse to make it to the Elite Eight, while Florida State pulled off the upset against Gonzaga, leaving the ACC with two of the eight teams remaining. However FSU fell to Michigan on Saturday before Duke lost to Kansas on Sunday, leaving the ACC with zero teams in the Final Four for the first time since 2014.
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Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.