What could possibly make this year's Final Four better? If we invited more than one Cinderella.
Yes, the four major surprises of the NCAA tournament -- or at least the four mid-majors still kicking, surprises or not -- are in four different regions: No. 12 Cornell in the East, No. 10 St. Mary's in the South, No. 5 Butler in the West, No. 9 UNI in the Midwest. None of these teams could possibly eliminate the others unless they met on April 3 in Indianapolis.
Remember when George Mason made the Final Four? It was awesome, right? I want that to happen again. Except I want to multiply it by four. Let's get greedy!
Actually, let's get the opposite of greedy; CBS and the NCAA have to be quietly praying this dream/nightmare scenario doesn't happen. As much fun as it would be for us college hoops die-hards to watch four unlikely mid-majors duke it out on the final weekend of the tournament, I'm betting the casual fan would prefer a Syracuse, Duke, or Kentucky be mixed in. Then again, given that the NCAA seems determined to expand the tournament whether fans of the sport actually want it or not, my heart will not bleed for the Association. This would be the perfect coda to the 64-team format, and the perfect way to snare some tiny measure of revenge at the NCAA for changing one of the few things in this world that need not be changed. It needs to happen.
What are each team's chances of actually making it to the Final Four? They vary from "eh, it could happen" to "um, not so much." Butler is the least surprising of any of these teams to have made it to the Sweet 16, but the Bulldogs might have the toughest path; even if they survive their date with a hot No. 1-seeded Syracuse team Thursday, Butler will have to face the winner of Xavier-Kansas State, and neither opponent would be easy. (Just think: If Butler had handled its nonconference schedule a bit better in November and December -- Butler scheduled tough to stockpile some respect after they won the Horizon League, and it didn't go quite as planned -- the Bulldogs might have nabbed a No. 2 or No. 3 seed, and would look much better on the other half of the bracket somewhere.) Same goes for Cornell, which drew an infinitely talented Kentucky team that has absolutely blitzed its two opponents thus far.
St. Mary's actually seems our most likely Final Four candidate. The Gaels easily handled Villanova, match up pretty well with a more athletic Baylor team, and could legitimately give Duke problems in the Elite Eight. UNI got a really favorable Sweet 16 draw with a Kalin Lucas-less Michigan State team, but to get to Indy, the Panthers will likely have to take down Evan Turner & Co. I would never want to doubt King Ali and the Cedar Falls Giant Killers ... but Ohio State looked pretty good in Milwaukee this weekend.
Still, though, this is eminently possible. We could actually have four legitimate mid-majors from four sub-Red Line conferences in the Final Four. Seeing as your bracket is shot anyway (I believe I'm coming in right around the 15th percentile of most pools, which, ugh) would you care to join me in rooting for what would quite possibly be the best Final Four in the history of Final Fours?* There's plenty of room on this bandwagon.
Omar, Ali, Jeff, Gordon -- care to make some room for our newest members? Hop on, y'all. Next stop, April. Hopefully, anyway.
*The only concern I have about this Final Four is that if every team left in the tournament is an underdog, none of them are. Which means that the Final Four wouldn't have that same sort of let's-go-little-guy feel; every team would be a little guy. Do I think that's a reason why this wouldn't be awesome? No. But I bet others would.