If this is the Final Four you were expecting — you’re in the minority.
The NCAA Final Four will begin this weekend with a couple of major wildcards. The presence of top-seeded Villanova and Kansas at this stage should not be a shock — but a No. 3 seed in Michigan and No. 11 Loyola Chicago playing each other for a shot at the National Championship game? Definitely unexpected.
Only 0.48 percent of brackets entered into ESPN’s March Madness challenge had Loyola Chicago in their Final Four, according to “SportsCenter.” Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean they correctly picked the entire Final Four; it means they got one of the teams right — the team that was least likely to make it to this stage.
Loyola Chicago has made it to this point thanks to three wins over Miami, Tennessee and Nevada. In each of those games, Loyola Chicago sealed its wins in the final 10 seconds, but their first round win over Miami was the most notable one; in it, Donte Ingram knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer just as time expired. You can watch the moment below:
Did Loyola Chicago have these late-game heroics because of the spiritual presence it has with them? During the tournament, the team chaplain, 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, has earned her share of national media attention. She has worked for the school since 1991 and has taken on a role as an honorary assistant coach with the men’s basketball team. She leads the team prayer before games, gives motivational speeches, and sends the players scouting reports of their opponents.
Loyola Chicago is definitely the big surprise team of the tournament, but Michigan’s making it to this point is partly a miracle as well. Sure, this team was among the Associated Press’ top 25 teams during the regular season, but it was ranked in the top four this season. Plus, it was nearly knocked out in the second round — except for a miraculous buzzer beater from a freshman bench player. You can watch below:
[lz_third_party align=center width=630 includes=https://youtu.be/1n4rqMnxaig]
Jordan Poole has played just 12.3 minutes per game this season (ranks eighth on the team), and yet he was somehow able to score that deep shot from a tough angle while guarded — with a perfect swish. Could someone have scripted that one any better?
It’s upsets like these that have people watching the tournament year after year. According to Variety, CBS’ tournament games this year were bringing in 4.98 million viewers, up 11 percent from last year (4.47 million). Certainly, the promise of competitive and memorable basketball games has a great deal to do with that spike.
Whatever happens in the Final Four this weekend, viewership is bound to be high — and we’re sure to be in for some more surprises.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.