The Final Four is set. On one side you have two basketball powerhouses in Villanova and Kansas. On the other, a second-rate school with a shitty athletic program that somehow managed to luck their way into the Final Four, and the Loyola Ramblers. (And for those of you keeping score at home, my “Perfect Bracket” turned out to be not even close.) The Ramblers, and their #1 fan Sister Jean, are on an amazing run, becoming just the fourth 11 seed in NCAA tournament history to reach the Final Four. None of the other three managed to make it into the finals, so if Loyola can knock off michigan on Saturday they will be in unprecedented territory. And if that happens, we have a serious question to answer: Who is the bigger story of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, Loyola or UMBC?
The story of the opening weekend was hands down the UMBC Retrievers knocking off the #1 overall seed in the first round. We had never seen a 16 seed beat a 1 seed, and every year we asked “Is this the year?” Up until last Thursday, that answer had always been “no”. That all changed when UMBC came out of nowhere and routed Virginia in a 20-point victory. Not only did a 16 seed win for the first time in tournament history, they did so in dominating fashion. In their second round matchup against Kansas State, it looked like UMBC might pull it off again, bringing the score within a single possession several times late in the second half before ultimately losing by 7. It was an incredible performance to say the least. Still, is one victory, no matter how historic, enough to be a Cinderella story? The UMBC Athletics Twitter account sure seemed to think so:
Loyola, on the other hand, has been steadily working their way through the South region. Their first three wins were by a combined 4 points before their 16-point victory over Kansas State Saturday night. Now they’re in position to do something no other 11 seed has done in tournament history: make it to the championship game. The Ramblers have several things working in their favor. First of all, prior to this this year, Loyola has won the NCAA championship ever single time they’ve made it to the Final Four. That’s bad news for the other three remaining schools. Plus, Loyola has Sister Jean on their side, which makes them seem rather unstoppable if you ask me.
So when all is said and done, whose story will come out on top? Who will be considered this year’s Cinderella when we look back on the 2018 NCAA tournament? If you’re looking at it purely from a basketball accomplishment standpoint, a Final Four run tops a second round exit every single time. But the more impressive run doesn’t always equal the best story. The 16 seed over a 1 seed was one of those dream scenarios that seemed almost impossible. Throw in their Twitter account’s snarky responses to all the haters, their players’ obsession with the game Fortnite and the fact that they won in such convincing fashion and you’ve got yourself one hell of a “Story if the Tournament” candidate. But seeing a double-digit seed make it to the finals would be equally unprecedented, and much more noteworthy of an accomplishment. Any team can get hot and steal a victory, but to sustain that throughout the entire tournament takes so much more. And again, there’s Sister Jean. Right now I’d have to give my nod to UMBC as my Cinderella, but if Loyola can knock off the wolverines then the glass slipper is theirs as far as I’m concerned. And before you say it, the answer is “no”. We can’t have two Cinderellas. I don’t think Disney’s progressive enough to make that movie, and I’m not sure poor Sister Jean would be able to handle that.