NCAA Tournament: 3 of the Lowest Elite Eight Seeds Powered by Divine Intervention


Mar 24, 2023

The Princeton Tigers can join some pretty elite (pun intended) company if they can somehow keep their Cinderella run going as 10-point dogs against the Creighton Blue Jays on Friday. If Princeton can pull off the big upset, they will become just the second 15-seed to ever get past the Sweet Sixteen. Only ten teams seeded lower than 10 have reached the Elite Eight. 

With Princeton’s glass slipper still out of the box, it got us thinking about three of the lowest seeds to get past the Sweet Sixteen. While the Ivy League squad can join a group of just two, these three schools may have had divine intervention in common.

No. 15 Saint Peter’s Peacocks – 2022 NCAA Tournament

If Princeton needs motivation, they don’t need to look far into the Tournament’s history. Saint Peter’s broke brackets early last year out of the East Region. The Peacocks dumped Kentucky in the opening round before disposing of Murray State and recent annual fallen favorite No. 2 Purdue. North Carolina turned the Peacocks into a pumpkin with a resounding 20-point win before losing in the Finals to Kansas.

The small Jersey City Jesuit school had only been to the Dance three times before, and this version was the first in more than a decade to compete in the Tourney. Not only were they the first 15 to go that far, but it was the best run by a team seeded lower than 12.

The Peacocks left proud as the 2022 team was the first and only time the school got out of the first round.

No. 11 Loyola-Chicago Ramblers – 2018 NCAA Tournament

Loyola-Chicago may have had divine intervention on its side in 2018. The Ramblers sported Sister Jean,  a chaplain for the team and a legit Catholic nun in their corner. Then 98 years old, Jean Dolores Schmidt became a national celebrity cheering on her Ramblers as they rolled thru the first three rounds. Loyola eked by Miami (FL), Tennessee, and Nevada by a combined four points to get to the Elite Eight. Chicago’s cardiac kids then broke the hearts (and brackets) of No. 9 Kansas State with a 16-point beatdown to get to the Final Four.

All the prayers in the world couldn’t get the Ramblers past Michigan, who dumped Loyola on their way to a loss in the Finals to No. 1 Villanova. Regardless it was the second-best run in school history and the first time they reached the Elite Eight in 55 years when Sister Jean was a 43-year-old teacher at Chicago’s Mundelein College. That year Loyola won the National Championship over Cincinnati.

No. 11 Loyola Marymount Lions – 1990 NCAA Tournament

It was a Loyola on the other end of the country, getting some help from above 28 years before Sister Jean became a viral sensation. LMU, a small Jesuit school in California, went to the Dance for the third straight year in 1990 but had never gotten past the second round. Their fifth and final appearance in the Tournament was by far the most special.

A pair of best friends since high school growing up in Philadelphia powered the late 80s version to relevance. Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble were USC transfers leading the Paul Westhead run-and-gun offense that brought the LA Lakers a title in 1980. Just ask Jason Segel, who played Westhead in the hit series Winning Time.

The Lions were one of the highest-scoring teams in the country for three straight years, and Gathers and Kimble combined for over 88 points per game in the 89-90 season. Both men were about to be top ten NBA picks.

This sweet story turned bitter in the WCC tournament Semis. After throwing down a massive jam, Gathers collapsed, never to get up under his own power again. Just two hours later, the 23-year-old was pronounced dead because of a heart-muscle disorder. The rest of the Tournament was canceled, but LMU had an automatic bid as regular season champs of the conference.

Less than two weeks later, the Lions opened against a tough New Mexico State squad. Kimble dropped 45 points, one of those which was a lefthanded free throw, a tribute the righty made for his lefthanded fallen teammate.

Next up, Kimble and Co. faced defending champion and third-seeded Michigan as heavy dogs. Loyola put up 149 (37 for Kimble) in a 34-point win in a game that set Tournament records for points by a team and combined points in a single game.

In the school’s first-ever foray into the Sweet Sixteen, they traded their sharp shooting for gritty defense, coming away with a 62-60 victory over Alabama.

The other slipper would finally drop in a rematch against a Runnin’ Rebels team that Loyola lost to in their first game of the regular season. As a one-seed, UNLV would go on to win the entire Tournament, but LMU remains the most heartfelt Cinderella story in NCAA history.

The Rest of the Lowest of the Low Seeds to Reach Elite Eight

  • No. 11 George Mason Patriots – 2006 NCAA Tournament – Lost to No. 3 Florida in Final Four
  • No. 11 VCU Rams – 2011 NCAA Tournament – Lost to No. 8 Butler in Final Four
  • No. 12 Oregon State Beavers – 2021 NCAA Tournament – Lost to No. 2 Houston in Elite Eight
  • No. 12 Missouri Tigers – 2002 NCAA Tournament – Lost to No. 2 Oklahoma in Elite Eight
  • No. 11 Xavier Musketeers – 2017 NCAA Tournament – Lost to No 1. Gonzaga in Elite Eight
  • No. 11 Dayton Flyers – 2014 NCAA Tournament – Lost to No. 1 Florida in Elite Eight
  • No. 11 Temple Owls – 2001 NCAA Tournament – Lost to No. 1 Michigan State in Elite Eight
Thumbnail photo via Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

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