The South, the most unpredictable NCAA Tournament Bracket, lived up to its improbability as Loyola-Chicago and Kansas State pulled off upsets to advance to the Elite 8. Those two unlikely contestants will compete on Saturday to see who goes to the Final Four.
Loyola-Chicago knocked off Nevada 69-68 in the first game Thursday evening. The No. 11 Ramblers held off a frenzied comeback from the No. 7 Wolfpack. They were 1.5-point underdogs entering the game and won outright.
No one thought the Ramblers would get this far, not even the team’s matriarch, Sister Jean. The 98-year-old team chaplain had the squad failing to make the Sweet 16 in her bracket.
Marques Townes told reporters after the Nevada win that it was fun to prove the team’s spiritual leader wrong.
“We knew what our goal was,” the Ramblers guard said. “We just have been doing this all year. I’m sorry for Sister Jean, for busting her bracket, but yeah, we’re just happy to be in this position.”
Loyola-Chicago has won its three games by a combined four points — defeating No. 6 Miami, No. 3 Tennessee, and No. 7 Nevada. They’ve been underdogs throughout the tournament, but are 1.5 favorites when they face No. 9 Kansas State.
Coach Porter Moser said his team just has this desire to keep winning.
“When you have that winning gene, the guys, they keep believing,” Moser said. “We’ve just talked about putting it in the bank. Next one. We’re hungry. We’re greedy. We want more.”
Kansas State, Kentucky Shocker
The battle between the two Wildcats teams was expected to go Kentucky’s way. They were the highest ranked seed left in the South at No. 5, but were stunned by No. 9 Kansas State, 61-58. They were favored by 5.5 points.
Kentucky coach John Calipari had warned his players about “drinking the poison,” believing the team had an easy path to the Final Four. In Thursday’s game he had no antidote for his players as they discovered the sickness associated with overconfidence.
“We didn’t play particularly well for us but still had a chance to win,” Calipari said. “The game was physical.It got us a little out of rhythm and [that] wears you down.”
Michigan Looks Like Contender
The lowest seed remaining on the left side of the bracket is No. 3 Michigan, who is playing like a top seed. They were a 2.5-point pick over Texas A&M and destroyed the Aggies, 99-72.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy was stunned after the game, telling reporters that it seemed surreal.
“Felt like we ran into a buzz saw,” Kennedy said. “Michigan, the first 8 to 10 minutes, played about as well as anybody we played against this year. It seemed like everything they shot went in.”
The Wolverines also have the best odds of the team’s remaining to win the e NCAA Tournament. They are a 3/1 pick by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
They will face Florida State in the other Elite 8 game on Saturday. Surprisingly. they are only a 4.5-point favorite over the No. 9 Seminoles. FSU did take down No. 1 seed Xavier.