Rambling to the Sweet 16: From No. 11 to Final Four? It’s happened before
CHICAGO – From the minute they clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the dream is always there.
It’s a bit more realistic for some more than others, but the thought of stepping on the floor at the Alamodome with around 70,000 people cheering runs through the head of the players on all 68 teams.
Right now it’s a little stronger of a notion for Loyola than it was about a week ago.
Two thrilling upsets over sixth-seed Miami and then third-seeded Tennessee on Tuesday have the Ramblers back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1985. Their run through Dallas which now leads to a trip to Atlanta has been part of a wild NCAA Tournament where two of the top seeds are gone and the South Region doesn’t even have one of the top four seeds left.
Hence the optimism is high for Ramblers fans as they approach the region semifinals at Phillips Arena Thursday. They’ll be facing seventh-seeded Nevada, who stunned second-seed Cincinnati with a 22-point comeback on Sunday for their first Sweet 16 in 14 years. On the other side of the bracket features fifth-seeded Kentucky against ninth-seeded Kansas State, with the winners of the games meeting Saturday for a trip to San Antonio.
In theory, the Ramblers still appear to be the biggest underdog in Atlanta since they remain the lowest seed. But the way they’ve won has put the thought of “destiny” in the heads of longtime and bandwagon fans. Also, it’s not like it’s not happened before.
In fact three teams have gone from the 11th seed to the Final Four – with two of them doing so in the last 12 years.
LSU – 1986
The first 11th seed to make the Final Four was LSU, who enjoyed their star-crossed run in the Southeast Region after going 9-9 in the SEC.
They didn’t have an easy road either, knocking off sixth-seeded Purdue, third-seeded Memphis State, second-seeded Georgia Tech before upsetting top-seeded Kentucky in the Regional Final. Oddly enough, that came in Atlanta, where the Ramblers play this weekend.
Their run would eventually end in the National Semifinal where they lost to eventual champion Louisville 88-77.
GEORGE MASON – 2006
Ten years later, another 11th-seed caught the tournament by surprise, and this was even more of an upset than before.
Jim Larranaga’s George Mason team caught fire in the Washington D.C. regional as they knocked off sixth-seeded Michigan State and third-seeded, defending champion North Carolina to advance to the Sweet 16. Like Loyola will have on Thursday, the Patriots faced a seventh-seed in the Sweet 16 in Wichita State and beat them by eight points.
Then in the final against heavily favored, top-seeded UCONN, George Mason rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to force overtime and won it 86-84 for their first appearance in the Final Four.
In Indianapolis, eventual champion Florida bought the run to an end with a convincing 15-point win over the Patriots.
2011 – VCU
The last No. 11 seed to make it to the Final Four took the long way, which oddly enough took them through Chicago as well.
VCU had to win five games instead of the usual four to earn their spot in the National Semifinals since they were in the group of four teams forced to play their way into the regular bracket in Dayton.
After knocking off USC in the 11th seed play-in game, the Rams started a rather dominating run at the United Center with back-to-back 18 point wins over sixth-seeded Georgetown and third-seeded Purdue to get to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio.
There they were able to sneak by fellow upstart Florida State, who also pulled off two upsets in Chicago to reach the Sweet 16, by a point in the Region Semifinals before they knocked off top-seed Kansas 71-61 to reach the Final Four in nearby Houston.
Like the other two teams, VCU’s run ended in the National Semifinals as they lost to Butler 71-62.