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NCAA Tournament: Root for these schools to reach Final Four

Mid-majors and unheralded programs would be fun to see vying for national championship.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt is Loyola-Chicago's beloved 98-year-old

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt is Loyola-Chicago's beloved 98-year-old team chaplain. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Tom Pennington

Did your NCAA Tournament bracket go bust? Is your alma mater done dancing this year? Are you still following March Madness anyway?

If you answered “yes” to all three questions, then welcome to the club.

I find myself in this position most Marches, and I tend to default to underdogs and other compelling narratives or individuals when it comes to finding teams that deserve my rooting interest. If you’re like me as we enter the Sweet Sixteen beginning Thursday, try pulling for this quartet of schools to reach the Final Four next weekend.

Loyola-Chicago (11, South)

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the Ramblers’ 98-year-old chaplain, is a treasure. My grandmother would have been her age this year and unfortunately she wasn’t nearly as sharp as Sister Jean is right now. I hope I can provide such astute basketball analysis at her age — if I even get there. How can anyone root against her and her school?

Besides, Loyola is the lowest-seeded mid-major remaining in the tournament. I can get behind that, no problem.

Gonzaga (4, West)

It’s been a long time since anyone considered Spokane, Washington’s mid-major hoops powerhouse an underdog. Case in point: the Zags’ first national championship game appearance last season — a 71-65 loss to North Carolina — came as a top seed.

Doesn’t matter. I’ll pretty much always be happy to see a school from outside the power conferences and that includes the Bulldogs.

Texas Tech (3, East)

Fun fact: The Red Raiders have never advanced further than this. They’ve been to the Sweet Sixteen five times before, but not since 2005. As the only school in this regional without an Elite Eight appearance, they get my vote.

Can’t say I would mind No. 5 West Virginia, either. The lowest-remaining seed in the East is led by Jevon Carter (17.4 ppg, 6.6 apg, 4.7 rpg), the sport’s CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year. Student-athletes who excel as both student and athlete rule.

Clemson (5, Midwest)

The Tigers are college football studs right now, but they’ve rarely been a men’s basketball program of note. They’ve only been seeded as high as fourth in the past (1987, 1997).

Plus, coach Brad Brownell is up against titans Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) and Bill Self (Kansas) — all of whom have won national championships. Brownell’s two tournament wins last week were his first.

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