Through the first two rounds, this year’s NCAA Tournament has already lived up to its “March Madness” nickname. From UMBC’s historic win over Virginia to bracket-busting upsets of favorites Xavier, North Carolina, Michigan State and Arizona, the 2018 tournament has produced many “Cinderella stories.” With the Sweet 16 beginning Thursday, five unexpected participants will look to continue their tournament runs and advance to the Elite Eight.
No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago
After 16-seed UMBC’s second round exit, there is no doubt that the Ramblers are the fan favorite of the Sweet 16. As each game passes, it becomes clearer and clearer that this team is one of destiny. After last-second wins against No. 6 seed Miami and No. 3 seed Tennessee, the Ramblers will travel to Atlanta for a date with No. 7 seed Nevada on Thursday night. However, the greatest part about this story may not have anything to do with on-court activities. Stealing the hearts of college basketball fans across the country is 98-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean. The Missouri Valley Conference champions have used their “good luck charm” to drive themselves into a Sweet 16 appearance. In a region that, for the first time ever, lacks a top-four seed, the Ramblers could easily find themselves scheduling a trip to San Antonio at the end of the weekend.
No. 11 seed Syracuse
If there is one team in the tournament that has silenced all of its doubters, it is the Syracuse Orange. Originally announced as a First Four play-in team, many critics claimed that the Orange was not deserving of a spot in this year’s tournament. After defeating Arizona State in the First Four matchup, Syracuse traveled to Detroit and comfortably took down TCU. In the second round, the Orange knocked off region-favorite Michigan State to advance to another Sweet 16. Next up for the Orange are the Duke Blue Devils, who are currently favored to win the Midwest region. After failing to score more than 60 points in its first three matchups, the defensive-minded Orange will have to rely more on its offense if it plans to defeat the dynamic, high-scoring Devils and make it to San Antonio.
No. 7 seed Nevada
Nevada’s road to the Sweet 16 has been the most difficult of all of the 2018 tournament teams. In the first round against a Texas team bearing a potential top-five pick, the Wolfpack erased a 14-point second-half deficit to force the game into overtime and won an 87-83 shootout. Two days later, the Wolfpack eclipsed its first comeback and defeated No. 2 Cincinnati in a game in which it trailed by 22 points with 11 minutes left. The comeback was the second-largest in NCAA Tournament history. Ahead for the comeback kings of the 2018 tournament is a matchup with Loyola-Chicago. The winner of this game will face the winner of the Kansas State and Kentucky matchup for a chance to go to San Antonio for the Final Four.
No. 9 seed Florida State
Florida State has proven itself to be as dangerous as any team left in the tournament after impressive wins against Missouri and Xavier. Coming into the tournament, Florida State faced a Missouri team that, with the return of Michael Porter Jr., quickly became a favorite pick for a Cinderella run. However, the Seminoles dismantled the Tigers and stayed in Nashville for a matchup against No. 2 seed Xavier. Despite trailing by 12 points in the second half, the Seminoles were able to climb back and knock out the Big East regular-season champions 75-70. Next on the schedule for the Tallahassee team is a Thursday night matchup against last year’s tournament runner-up, Gonzaga. With a win, the Seminoles would face the winner of the Michigan and Texas A&M game in the Elite Eight.
No. 9 seed Kansas State
The luckiest team in the tournament this year is the Kansas State Wildcats, who defeated Creighton and UMBC to get to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010. After defeating the Bluejays by 10 in the first round, the Wildcats faced the No. 16 seed Retrievers, who were coming off the first-ever upset of a No. 1 seed in the first round. Despite having the support of the entire country, UMBC was unable to keep up with Kansas State offensively, even though it only allowed 50 points. Though its low-scoring grind has helped Kansas State reach the Sweet 16, the team will have to play significantly better in its Thursday night game against current South region favorite Kentucky to earn a trip to San Antonio.