This year’s NCAA tournament has been fraught with unpredictable drama and historic upsets. For the first time in the history of the sport, a sixteen seed in UMBC bombed threes and defeated a panicked University of Virginia one seed by twenty points. The likely first or second overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, DeAndre Ayton, saw his heavily favored University of Arizona lose in humiliating fashion to the University of Buffalo. And though both UMBC and Buffalo humbly bowed out in the second round, there remain a number of ‘Cinderellas’ looking to advance to the Final Four in San Antonio, Texas — especially in the South Region, where all of the top-four seeds have been eliminated.
Here are the surprise teams to keep an eye on in the Sweet Sixteen.
A darling on social media thanks to their two stirring buzzer beaters in rounds one and two, as well as their 98-year-old nun superfan Sister Jean, Loyola Chicago has erupted onto the college basketball scene this tournament. Coached by basketball journeyman Porter Moser, the retrievers win on offensive/defensive balance and swinging drive and kick ball movement. Their floor leader is junior Clayton Custer, who began his career at Iowa State, transferring to the Chicago Catholic school after his freshman year. Custer averages 13.3 points a game and 4.2 assists and hit the epic pullup midrange game-winner in round 2 against Tennesse. Other notable players are senior guard Dante Ingram, junior guard Marques Townes, senior forward Aundre Jackson and freshman big man Cameron Krutwig, all of whom average double digits in scoring.
They play the next team on this list Thursday night at 7:07. They are one of two eleven seeds in the sweet sixteen.
A distinctive feature on the Nevada Wolf Pack is that they are led by a pair of twins, Cody and Caleb Martin, who transferred over from NC State after two seasons there. The Martins’ score 32.8 points per game combined, 11.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists. Naturally, given that they are identical twins, it can be difficult to tell them apart. Cody tends to be more of a facilitator while Caleb looks to score. The brothers, however, are not the only stars on the team. Junior guard Jordan Caroline scores 17.7 points a game and grabs 8.7 rebounds. There is no shortage of offense on the Wolf Pack. Famed college basketball statistician has them as the sixth best offense in the country, ahead of storied programs like UNC, Kentucky and Gonzaga.
It is safe to say that they were under-seeded as a mere seven seed, proving the committee wrong on their exciting run.
The eighth-seeded Wildcats are coached by college basketball veteran Bruce Weber, who most famously took an undefeated Illinois team in 2005 all the way to the national championship game before losing to a loaded UNC team. Weber finds himself once again in the sweet sixteen with a slow, methodical, defensive Kansas State team that squeaked by Creighton and sixteen seed UMBC in rounds one and two, respectively. Their best players are a pair of high scoring junior guards in Barry Brown and Dean Wade, each averaging over 16 points a game.
They will play fifth-seeded Kentucky on Thursday night at 9:37.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is at once legendary and polarizing. A husband of controversy and purveyor of quiet bravado, Boeheim is the type of coach one either loves or hates. This years team, going into the tournament, was one of his most unheralded. Lacking star-power, the Orange won on grit through slow, deliberate offensive play and the iconic 2-3 zone. They are not a deep team, with the top three players, sophomore guard Tyus Battle, freshman forward Oshae Brissett and junior guard Franklin Howard eating up court-time and leading the nation in minutes played. They’ve had to play three tournament games to get here, defeating Arizona State in their First Four play-in game, upsetting six seed TCU in round one and stunning national championship hopeful Michigan State on Sunday.
They are the second eleven seed remaining and play goliath Duke on Friday at 9:37.
Our final Cinderella team is on a redemption mission. Stocked with NBA talent in the 2017 NCAA tournament, FSU underwhelmed with a second-round exit at the hands of eleven seeded Xavier. With Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon on to bigger and better things professionally, the Seminoles are scrappier and more cohesive. As opposed to last year, where underclassman Isaac and Bacon led the way, it is three upper-classman who lead the team, in senior forward Phil Cofer, senior guard Braian Angola-Rodas and junior guard Terance Mann. They avenged last year’s Xavier loss on Sunday, upsetting the one seed 75-70. Coach Leonard Hamilton has been with FSU for 16 years, and is hoping now is finally the time he breaks through and makes a final four.
FSU plays last year’s runner-up Gonzaga at 9:59 on Thursday night.