By Rafael Bandayrel
Four teams have been left standing out of the field of 68. It took every bit of effort for these teams to make it deep into the March Madness tournament.
But before the Final Four duke it out for college basketball supremacy, here are the reasons why these teams made it to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament semi-finals:
4. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers
The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers’ deep run is the fairy tale of this season. Everybody wrote them off in their brackets as fans and experts alike never believed they would make it out the first round.
No game came easily for the Ramblers as their victories over Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada were all decided at the last possession.
As absurd as it sounds, Loyola made it to the Sweet 16 by sinking three game-winners in three different games. Lighting does not strike the same place twice, so the saying goes. And if we are to believe the saying, believing that Loyola-Chicago made the final four out of sheer luck is the really absurd statement.
3. Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines won the last five games of the regular season, won the Big Ten tournament and have strung together a 13-game winning streak as they make the eighth Final Four appearance, second under coach John Beilein.
Center Moritz Wagner has been playing phenomenal as he averages 14.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. Meanwhile, the backcourt of Charles Matthews and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman have been producing solid numbers as well.
Michigan’s brand of rough and gritty basketball has been their identity and while their defense is not perfect, they have the ability to out-gun any of their opponents.
“Coach [John Beilein] is always on us about being dogs – junkyard dogs – and playing with those teeth, being tough and not fun to play against,” senior forward Duncan Robinson said told ESPN. “That’s how we have to play to win.”
2. Kansas Jayhawks
The Kansas Jayhawks are the embodiment of the modern basketball team by winning big with a small line-up. Their road to the final four is the most difficult as they had to deal with the Marvin Bagley-led Duke Blue Devils to advance from the Elite Eight.
Guard Malik Newman’s incredible performance is to thank for their victory against Duke. Newman amassed 32 points, including all 13 of Kansas’ points in overtime. He also hit the shots that matter, including the go-ahead three-pointer with less than two minutes remaining in overtime.
The Jayhawks are in a grove as they won the Big-12 tournament and made their first Final Four since 2012. And if they continue playing the way they do, they just might win their first national title since 2008.
“Our kids operated under duress this year,” Coach Bill Self said per ESPN, “and most years because of the streak. And it’s not so much the pressure we put on ourselves; it’s what the outside people always want to talk about.
1. Villanova Wildcats
One thing Villanova has that most teams do not is the experience. In an era of one-and-done superstars, the Wildcats have seasoned ballers that can be relied on when the tough moments come.
Juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, together with Donte DiVincenzo are spearheading the juggernaut Villanova. And when all three are clicking, they are an impossible match-up for anybody.
The Wildcats overwhelm their opponents with their superior offense and even West Virginia – a team known for their tremendous defensive capability – succumbed to the number-one seed.
Villanova’s dominance reminds us why they are tournament-favorites in the first place. Their previous performance also suggests that a repeat of 2016 could be the likeliest scenario of this year’s tourney