By Don Collins
The month of March has provided the upfront and in your face approach to shattering what conventional wisdom says is possible. Every year around this time, millions of brackets are filled out in anticipation of the annual tournament. Every year, the games provide thrills, chills, sometimes spills, but above all else, entertainment.
The 2018 version of the tournament has been difficult to describe in my opinion. On one hand, the lack of a clear-cut consensus team to pick as the favorite can make some deem this year a “weak” tournament. This sentiment was never more present than the impossible coming to the forefront of not just plausible, but reality when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County upset #1 overall seed Virginia. The better team doesn’t always win, but the advantage Virginia has over UMBC should have resulted in a 30-point victory for UVA. But it didn’t.
Instead, opening weekend was a tone setter for defying expectations. That brings me to the now solidified Final Four. This year it consists of Michigan, Villanova, Kansas and Loyola-Chicago. It is not hard to pick which school doesn’t belong with the rest. The Ramblers have been on a war path so far in the tournament, but they represent for me a very interesting scenario.
By all accounts, this magical run has been what I consider the greatest sporting story in the city of Chicago since the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. At a time when the winter teams from the area are the worst they’ve been in quite some time (looking at you Bulls and Hawks), Loyola has stolen the show. When a Chicago team goes on a run, the only thing for a native to do is to cheer for the hometown team, right?
The Ramblers picked an awesome time to go on this run. This coincides with my favorite college basketball team making their run at the chip. Yes, if you didn’t know, I am a Kansas fan. My bracket every year has those Jayhawks winning it all. Yup, you read that right, every year since I filled out my first bracket and got every Final Four participant right along with the champion, I’ve picked them to win the whole thing.
Unwavering faith and belief in my team has become something of a running joke both in society and amongst my friends. Kansas is one of the few teams whose only goal in a season involves winning a title. Fair or not, anything less is seen as a disappointment. So, the future Hall of Fame head coach, Bill Self, has had his legacy called into question and many players leave “less accomplished” somehow because they didn’t survive until the very end in the past decade.
Kansas, in a weird twist of fate, has become an underdog of sorts when it comes to March Madness. Not a true one, of course, because they have the talent to go on a run every year. No, they defy much different expectations: the impossible ones that deem your successes failure simply for failing to hoist a trophy.
On a personal level, these two being in the Final Four is nothing short of exciting. My best friend, Gia, is a Loyola alum and to see her alma mater’s history altering ways bring pure happiness to her has been flat out amazing. Normally, anything that’ll put a smile on her face is pre-approved in my book. So, even though it’ll eliminate the team I had facing Kansas in the championship game, I’ll be pulling for Loyola to upset Michigan this weekend. But if Kansas then takes care of business against Villanova, a respected bunch of guys with championship pedigrees themselves, things get interesting.
The duality of the situation is so intriguing to me. Basketball is not the thing that Gia and I usually bond over, but here we are in the middle of March dedicating time to discussing this highly improbable event. Both of our teams, for wildly different reasons, aren’t supposed to be here. Loyola, an 11-seed, was supposed to be bounced a few games ago. And Kansas? Oh, they were supposed to choke around the same time, wilting under the pressure of March.
But, here we are. What was deemed the worst group Bill Self has had in the past decade is knocking on the doorstep of doing what none of his other teams have done since 2008. And the little team from Chicago is still on their path to making history.
Sports are truly one of a kind. They have the power to connect in ways you never thought possible. So, G, I hope that Sister Jean’s team continues this wonderful run. I also hope my team wins it all, but we can cross that bridge when we get there.