By Aaron Beard The Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. — Welcome to a Final Four filled with past national champions just the way the NCAA selection committee drew it up, right?
OK, maybe not.
Sure, there’s plenty of the expected with 1-seed Villanova making it to San Antonio in pursuit of the program’s second title in three seasons. Kansas is the other 1-seed to navigate its way through a maze full of upsets as it pursues its first title since 2008.
And plenty figured No. 3 seed Michigan had a good shot to get to the Final Four as the Wolverines chase their first title since the Glen Rice-led group won the program’s first in 1989.
But Loyola-Chicago? Consider the 11th-seeded Ramblers the representative for all the low seeds UMBC, Marshall and Buffalo, to name a few that pulled off the big stunners in an upset-filled and memorable March.
And yes, the Ramblers do have a national championship, won way back in 1963 during the Kennedy administration.
Now it’s time to prepare for next Saturday’s first national semifinal (Loyola vs. Michigan ) featuring the upstart against the surging power-conference team in an undercard to the heavyweight matchup of top seeds in the nightcap.
It’s a particular relief for Kansas, which had a No. 1 seed for the third straight season and lost in the Elite Eight the past two seasons including in 2016 to Villanova as the Wildcats marched to the national title.
“You think about it, hey, in their careers all we’ve been is the No. 1 overall seed, the No. 2 overall seed and the No. 3 overall seed and haven’t gotten to a Final Four,” coach Bill Self said after Sunday’s overtime win against Duke in Omaha, Nebraska. “So that means that these guys have done so well to put us in a position but we hadn’t kicked the door in yet.
“I’m happy for us, staff, school, everything, but I’m more happy for these guys because they deserve to experience what the best of college basketball is and that will be what takes place Saturday and Monday.”
FORESHADOWING?: If you’re into good omens, note that Kansas won its last title in San Antonio by beating North Carolina and Memphis under Self a decade ago. And that was the program’s first since Danny Manning and The Miracles won the 1988 title as a No. 6 seed ‚Äî now an even 30 years ago.
So maybe years ending in eight bring a bit of luck for the Jayhawks?
RANKING THE SEEDS: Villanova was the No. 2 overall seed behind Virginia on Selection Sunday, putting the Wildcats as the headliner followed by Kansas at third. Michigan was No. 11 and Loyola-Chicago was No. 46.
WINNING UGLY: Villanova and Michigan should arrive in Texas with an extra bit of confidence after winning games when they shot poorly.
The Wildcats shot just 33 per cent and made 4 of 24 3-pointers (.167) in Sunday’s East final against Texas Tech . The Wolverines shot nearly 39 per cent but made just 4 of 22 3s (.182) in Saturday night’s West final against Florida State .
On top of that, they combined to make 4 of 27 3s after halftime (.148). Yet here they are.
TITLE HISTORY: Top seeds have hoisted the trophy on the final Monday night of the season in 18 of the past 26 NCAA Tournaments, while No. 3 seeds have won three times (Syracuse in 2003, Florida in 2006, Connecticut in 2011) in that span.
Villanova remains the lowest-seeded team to win a title as a No. 8 in 1985.
NOT SO WILD AFTER ALL: With all the upsets, it sure looked like the Final Four had a chance to be filled with surprises. It didn’t end up that way.
The sum of the seeds for the four teams is 16, the highest since 2014 (18). But it was a far cry from joining the four other years since the tournament began seeding teams in 1979 that the combined total was at least 20: 1980 (21), 2000 (22), 2006 (20) and 2011 (26).
The last two of those were the most recent to feature an 11-seed before Loyola-Chicago’s run, with George Mason getting there in 2006 and VCU doing it in 2011. The only other Final Four to feature a No. 11 seed came in 1986 with LSU, though the combined seed total was 15 on the strength of 1-seeds Duke and Kansas, and 2-seed Louisville (the eventual champion behind freshman Pervis Ellison) joining the Tigers in Dallas.
ACC’S MISS: The Atlantic Coast Conference was trying to get a team into the national-title game for the fourth straight year but ultimately fell short of the Final Four.
Duke won the championship in 2015. Rival North Carolina lost to Villanova in the 2016 title game before coming all the way back and winning the 2017 title against Gonzaga. And 10th-seeded Syracuse was a surprise semifinalist in 2016 after upsetting No. 1 seed Virginia in a regional final.
IMPROVED NUMBERS: ESPN said none of the 17.3 million entrees had the Elite Eight teams correct in its Tournament Challenge picks contest. But 550 people correctly had the Final Four teams.
Villanova was the most popular pick to get there, winning the East Region on 58.4 per cent of the submitted brackets.