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You’re Nuts: Who is the biggest March Madness Cinderella?

The last few NCAA Tournaments have been absolutely bonkers. Which upstart team was your favorite?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Tennessee vs Loyola Chicago Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to another “You’re Nuts” basketball edition! We have quite the development this week, as Justin Golba finally notched his first victory in one of these pieces with last week’s recruiting Nuts piece. If you’re interested in reading the piece that brought him to glory, you can check it out at the link below.

Last week we debated which Ohio State player has exceeded their original recruiting rankings the most. Connor went with Duane Washington Jr., who was a three-star recruit and not even top-10 in his own home state. Washington Jr. has elevated his game to an All-Big Ten level, breaking through the ceiling many had set for him.

Justin went with former National POY Evan Turner, who was a four-star recruit but barely cracked the top 50 in the class of 2007. At No. 47, Turner was expected to be a good player, but nobody could have predicted how great of a career he’d end up having at Ohio State — ultimately culminating with his number hanging in the rafters at the Schott.

57% of the people went with Justin’s pick, and can you blame them? A National Player of the Year winner is hard to vote against. 31% of the people sided with Connor/Washington. 12% claimed there was a player elsewhere who surprised us more than either of those players, to which I must say — who?

Following Justin’s breakthrough win and no winner the previous week, our standings look like this:

After 6 weeks

Connor- 4
Justin- 1

This week we’re talking NCAA Tournament upsets. As always, if you agree with one of us, let us know in the comments below, or respond on Twitter! We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in particular, or anything college basketball-related!

Today’s Question: Which team is the biggest March Madness Cinderella of all time?


Connor’s pick: No. 16 UMBC Retrievers (2018)

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia vs UMBC Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, I’ll keep this brief because being the first — and only — 16-seed to win a game in the NCAA Tournament is enough for me to pick them as my biggest Cinderella ever. It does not matter that they lost their second game of the tournament, because they did something that no team had ever done... ever! The Retrievers of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, or UMBC, came into their first round game as a 20.5 point underdog to top-seeded Virginia. Sixteen seeds were 0-131 against 1-seeds heading into the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

The last time a 16-seed lost by three points or less to the 1-seed was in 1996, when top-seeded Purdue beat Western Carolina, 73-71. Nobody dreamed that the second place team out of the America East conference would give the mighty Virginia Cavaliers any trouble.

What made this game so special was not that UMBC won the game — but how they won. They didn’t just beat Virginia, they embarrassed them. The Cavaliers have been one of the slowest-moving teams under Tony Bennett, squeezing their opponents like an anaconda on the defensive end, while gradually extending their lead until a 10-point deficit feels more like a 30-point hole. But on March 16, 2018, the snake was simply unable to hold onto the mouse that was UMBC.

The Retrievers played Virginia’s game in the first half, battling to a 21-21 tie by the break. UMBC wasn’t lighting the world on fire offensively, but they were imitating Virginia’s style of play well enough to keep themselves in it. It also didn’t hurt that ACC Freshman of the Year De’Andre Hunter missed the game with a broken wrist that he had suffered during the ACC Tournament.

But then UMBC busted out in the second half, going on separate 13-4, 10-4, and 5-0 runs to help pad their lead to as many as 16 points during the second 20 minutes. Jairus Lyles was the catalyst of the whole thing, scoring 28 points on the ‘Hoos vaunted defense.

This game stands out to me because I vividly remember sitting on my couch watching, thinking, “Okay, this is when Virginia will flip the switch.”

No part of my brain thought UMBC would win the game, even as their lead swelled and time began to run out for Virginia. I’d watched their defense all year, I knew they could shut out UMBC for six or seven minutes. But then they just... didn’t?

UMBC continued making backbreaking shot after backbreaking shot. UVA would string together two or three buckets in a row, but it was never enough to get within striking range. What had never been done — and had not been close to being done in 20 years — was about to be done in absolute blowout fashion.

By the time the final horn sounded, UMBC had scored 53 points in the second half to wind up beating the ACC Champion Virginia Cavaliers by 20 points, 74-54. It was the only game all season in which Virginia allowed 70 points or more, which is simply remarkable. It was also their biggest loss of the season by margin — and just their third defeat on the year overall.

UMBC shot 54% from the floor overall and 50% from beyond the arc, both elite marks against a historically elite defense. Looking back, this game should not have played out like this. Nothing could have led someone to predict what UMBC had in store for Virginia that day, but that really is the beauty of college basketball.

And I think I picked Virginia to win it all that year in my bracket too, but screw it. This was way better.


Justin’s pick: No. 11 Loyola Chicago Ramblers (2018)

Hey I won! Yeah, I took the easy way out with the Evan Turner pick, but it is hard to blame me, I had to get on the board somehow. So, let’s keep that momentum rolling, shall we?

For this one, I am going with a team that touched the world’s hearts just three years ago: The Loyola Chicago Ramblers. When it comes to the Ramblers, likable good guy Porter Moser, and the fabulous Sister Jean, this team was the embodiment of the underdog, Cinderella story.

They hold a special place in my heart as well because they are one of the first Cinderella teams that I accurately predicted. They even went further than I thought, as I had them getting bounced in the Elite Eight. They had all of the intangibles to succeed in the tournament, and anyone who follows college basketball knew that Porter Moser can coach hoops with the best of them.

Let’s take a quick look back at the historic 2017-18 Loyola Chicago Ramblers.

An interesting fact about this team before they started the season was that they had lost seven players from their rotation the season prior. They weren’t a brand new team by any stretch, but they had some adjusting to do early in the schedule. However, it did not take them long to get going.

In the regular season, they went 32-6 overall and 15-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference. Three-star recruit Cameron Krutwig came in and shattered all expectations immediately and continued to do so all the way through this the 2020-21 season, which was his final campaign with the Ramblers.

Loyola Chicago started 7-0 and turned some heads in December when they defeated the then No. 5 team in the country, the Florida Gators, by a score of 65-59. This set a tone early that they were a team that could lock up on defense when they needed too.

They started just 1-2 in conference play, but then rattled off seven wins in a row once they got their footing. They also ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak and took 14 of their final 15 games. Every coach says that you want to be playing your best basketball heading into March, and there is no doubt that the Ramblers were.

In the conference tournament, they went 3-0 and interestingly enough, as the competition got harder, they won by more points. The Ramblers were in great shape heading into the Big Dance.

Loyola Chicago drew an 11 seed and over the next three games, became the new age cardiac kids. They defeated Miami in the first round by two points, Tennessee by one point in the Round of 32, and then defeated Nevada, in the Sweet Sixteen — also by one point.

They played the nine-seed Kansas State in the Elite Eight and demolished the Wildcats by 16 points. They eventually lost to Michigan (I know, they ruin everything) 69-57 in the Final Four, ending the dream season.

This team was my favorite Cinderella story because they had everything needed for a classic underdog tale. They were a fun, enjoyable, and likable team; they had a great story, tremendous history, and Sister Jean, and their games were always exciting and filled with drama. I mean, c’mon, they won three games by four points combined. That’s just insane.

But we can definitely agree on one thing: 2018 was bonkers.


Poll

Who is the biggest March Madness Cinderella?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    Connor: 2018 UMBC
    (6 votes)
  • 43%
    Justin: 2018 Loyola-Chicago
    (7 votes)
  • 18%
    Someone else/I’m picking this just to be difficult
    (3 votes)
16 votes total Vote Now