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The last time Baylor reached a men’s Final Four in 1950, the tournament featured just eight teams and was won by the City College of New York Beavers.
For Houston, it has been just 37 years since the Cougars were last on the biggest stage in college basketball. Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon were Houston stars the last time UH basketball was this big. It’s been so long since that was the case that Drexler tried, and failed, to bring Houston back to prominence as its head coach… more than 20 years ago!
While there are still two more tickets left for this year’s Final Four, it is obvious that the last teams standing this year will have a unique flavor compared to previous tournaments. That’s perhaps not surprising in a year in which Kentucky, Duke and Louisville missed the NCAA men’s tournament entirely and Michigan State and UNC spent much of the season in the bubble. Simply based on 2020-21, there is nothing surprising about Baylor and Houston dancing on the third weekend of the tournament. But depending on the past of each show, it’s the whole story.
That trend will continue Tuesday regardless of who wins the Gonzaga-USC and Michigan-UCLA matchups. While the Bruins and Wolverines are historically great shows with a long tradition, neither has won it all in the last 25 years. They each have a sophomore coach many bet on: Mick Cronin for not winning enough in March at Cincinnati and Juwan Howard for not training at all in college before arriving in Ann Arbor. USC, a soccer school, hasn’t been to a Final Four since 1954. And then there’s Gonzaga, once a brave Cinderella who now looks a lot like a blue blood, just three wins away from the first undefeated men’s national championship. . from Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers from 1975 to 1976, and what would be the show’s first national title, period.
So while it is still possible (perhaps even likely) that the Final Four will feature three seeded No. 1s and one No. 2, there is nothing unusual about the teams still vying for the national title. In a tournament with as many NCAA defined upsets (five or more seed lines of separation) as the event has ever seen, there is another loser story to be told through the lens of these new school favorites.
Just take the two teams that have already locked themselves in their seats at the table. The Baylor program, one with no history of success, rose from the ashes of a national scandal and NCAA punishments to become respectable and now elite under Scott Drew. Houston gave Kelvin Sampson another chance to coach after he was left without Bloomington due to NCAA violations. Sampson, in his seventh year, has led UH to the Final Four after inheriting a program that had not won an NCAA tournament game since Phi Slama Jama.
These may not be helpless by seed. But these programs certainly are. And in a sport that hadn’t seen three men’s Final Fours in a row without one from Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina. since 1962, that’s a sign of progress in itself.
Kelvin Sampson was supposed to be cutting nets for Indiana. Instead, he’s back in Hoosier State, leading Houston to the Final Four. (By Pat Forde)
In an exciting Elite Eight game between UConn and Baylor, the most memorable and controversial sequence wouldn’t come until the final moments. (By Emma Baccellieri)
Aari McDonald’s big night put Arizona into the first Final Four in the history of the women’s program. (By Michael Shapiro)
Do you agree with the decision not to fouls in the pivotal ending sequence of the UConn-Baylor Elite Eight clash?
The best we saw
Scott Drew got soaked in a classic water bath after leading Baylor to his first men’s Final Four since 1950 …
… and then got revenge with … confetti ?!
Choose them: Elite Eight
SI’s Molly Geary makes picks for Tuesday’s men’s and women’s games:
(Women): No. 1 South Carolina over No. 6 Texas: The Longhorns were impressive in a Maryland upset, but will they have enough left in the tank to defeat the Gamecocks?
(Women): No. 1 Stanford over No. 2 Louisville: The Cardinal has yet to really be tested in this tournament. Louisville will be tough, but the overall favorite will prevail.
(Men): No. 1 Gonzaga over No. 6 USC: The Trojans present some unique challenges for Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs will find a way.
(Men): No. 11 UCLA over No. 1 Michigan: We had to pick up a surprise somewhere, right? The Wolverines look formidable again, but the Bruins’ march in March has been full of surprises.
We’re not exactly taking chances here, but after COVID-19 canceled the long-awaited Gonzaga-Baylor meeting in December, we’ll finally get it (and the answer to: who would win?) The night of April 5. . –Molly geary
On the buzzer
After moving to Baylor, the UConn women have achieved THIRTEEN consecutive finals. The last time they lost before the Final Four (on March 26, 2007 at Elite Eight vs. UCLA), the number one song in America was “Glamorous” by Fergie, the number one movie was Blades of glory and MySpace was all the rage. –MG
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.