Which Team Had the Most Impressive Run to the Final Four?

Which Team Had the Most Impressive Run to the Final Four? article feature image

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Before the NCAA Tournament started, if I told you Villanova, Kansas and Michigan would be in the Final Four you wouldn’t have been shocked. According to our simulations, the Wildcats, Jayhawks and Wolverines were three of the 11 most likely teams to win their regions.


Loyola-Chicago, on the other hand, is a stunner. The Ramblers had a 1.0% chance to reach the final weekend of the tournament before the Big Dance tipped. Using KenPom’s historical tournament probabilities, Loyola is tied with 2013 Wichita State as the third-most unlikely Final Four participant since 2006.

Few, including Sister Jean, expected Loyola to be playing in San Antonio but does that mean the Ramblers had the most impressive run to the Final Four?

No, not if we compare a team’s performance to the point spread in Vegas.

Though Loyola is a No. 11 seed, the Ramblers were never more than 4.5-point underdogs in any game this tournament. The team won its first three contests by a combined four points before blowing by Kansas State in the Elite Eight. On average, Loyola-Chicago exceeded the betting market’s expectations by seven points per game.

Villanova also covered the spread on average by seven points in this tournament, but the Wildcats were favored on average by more than 10 points in its four matchups. On paper, you’d say a No. 11 seed reaching the Final Four is more impressive than a No. 1 seed; however, by Vegas expectations Loyola and Villanova have performed the same.

In fact, even though the Ramblers are tied for the third-most unlikely Final Four team based on pre-tournament projections, Loyola ranks 23rd based on average margin of victory against the spread, since 2005

What this tells us is that Loyola was a long shot before the madness of March began but the team’s path to the Final Four has been easier than expected. The Ramblers avoided Cincinnati in the Sweet 16, and Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona in the Elite Eight. Had Loyola beaten any of these squads, likely as a sizable underdog, the team would be higher in the overall ranking of Final Four participants by average margin of victory against the spread.

Here is each Final Four participant’s average margin of victory against the spread in the NCAA tournament since the 2005.

Pictured Loyola’s Sister Jean