One of the four following teams is going to play for the national championship one week from Monday: Gonzaga, Xavier, South Carolina or Florida. Remember that British soccer team that overcame 5,000-1 odds to win England's top football league last year? Well, Leicester City has nothing on this foursome, a motley crew that's one of the most unlikely groups ever to be left standing on one half of an NCAA tournament bracket.
On the other side of the bracket, the four remaining teams have 51 Final Four appearances and 17 titles. On this side, the numbers are five and two, respectively.
Five and two, all courtesy one team.
Add up all the seeds -- No. 1 (Gonzaga), No. 4 (Florida) No. 7 (South Carolina) and No. 11 (Xavier) -- and you get the second-highest in history for one side of the Elite Eight. The highest came in 2002 when No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 4 Indiana, No. 10 Kent State and No. 12 Missouri all made it that far.
Of course, there's one glaring difference between this year and those years: power teams in major conferences. Back in 2002, it was more of the same. Indiana has one of the best pedigrees in the sport, while Oklahoma and Missouri had fine basketball histories. They were "name" schools.
USA TODAY NETWORKKareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
Those numbers all come from the most (only?) decorated team of the pack -- Florida -- is an excellent basketball program that won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007 and is a constant presence in the second week of the tournament. This year, though, there were the No. 4 seed but the fifth-best team in the East, with No. 5 Virginia entering the tournament with better odds. This was Villanova and Duke's region. Mike White's team would need another year to marinate, or so we thoughts.
Then there's Gonzaga, a school with a century of irrelevance followed by 18 phenomenal years playing some of the most consistent basketball in the nation, but with no Final Fours to show for it and a footprint that only goes outside a Spokane radius for two weeks every March.
Xavier is a perennial tournament team with a number of Sweet 16s to its credit but has only come close to the Final Four once and, in that game, they lost by about 20 points. Again, to basketball lovers Xavier is a well-known quantity. Outside it? They're the school that gets mispronounced only slightly less than Louisville.
And then there's South Carolina, one of the most undecorated college basketball programs for any major conference team.
We'll take a look at each of the schools that will fight it out for the right to (probably) lose to Kansas or Kentucky in the title game. Since South Carolina is new to even the biggest college basketball fans, we'll focus on their fascinating history first.
Brad PennerBrad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
• Entering this year, South Carolina had four wins in its NCAA tournament history. In the past eight days, the team has three. Some schools with more tournament wins than SC had as of last Thursday: Lamar, Morehead State, Drake, Canisius, Holy Cross, Wyoming, Weber State, St. Bonaventure, Pepperdine, Rutgers, Dartmouth and NYU (yes, NYU). And if you want to get technical about it, South Carolina actually only had two NCAA wins in main-draw games. The school's other two victories came back when there were regional third-place games, which teams played after a round-of-16 loss.
• The Gamecocks had never been to the Sweet 16, let alone an Elite Eight. And the team's first-round win over Marquette was the first tourney victory for the school since 1973. They've never had more than 25 wins, a school record they tied Friday.
• Up until Friday's upset of Baylor -- this one is crazy -- South Carolina hadn't held a halftime lead in the NCAA tournament since 1971. It's especially odd since the team's four wins came in 1972 and 1973.
Brad PennerBrad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
• South Carolina's defense is one of the five most efficient in the nation, as rated by KenPom. The offense entered the tournament ranked in the 120s. Only six schools in the entire dance -- none better than a No. 13 seed -- were worse.
• In 2010, current South Carolina coach Frank Martin led Kansas State to its first Elite Eight since 1988 (a team led by future NBA star Mitch Richmond), which was also the last time the team had made three straight NCAA tournaments, which it also did under Martin. Despite Kansas State's middling basketball history, the school has two former coaches in the Elite Eight. In addition to Martin, Oregon's Dana Altman also has his team one win away from the Final Four. Altman was in Manhattan from 1990-94. There could have been three KSU coaches in this year's regional finals if Bob Huggins' West Virginia team had defeated Gonzaga. It's one of those "only in March" oddities.
•South Carolina star Sindarius Thornwell has siblings named Quantavious and Quasheka.
USA TODAY SportsRobert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
• The Musketeers didn't win a game between Feb. 9 and March 3. That six-game losing streak came after sophomore Edmond Sumner, the team's point-guard star who had per-game averages of 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds, was lost for the year with an ACL tear. Xavier was an excellent 18-6 before the injury but the team entered the Big East tournament at 19-12, with a seventh-place finish and .500 record in the Big East. It wasn't until a win over Butler in the conference tournament that Xavier moved off the bubble. Now, all that keeps it from the Final Four is a win over a team that's never been there. (Neither have the Musketeers, but you get the point.)
• Bill Murray's son, Luke, is an assistant at Xavier. Hasn't been a bad six months for the world's most famous Cubs fan and, now, college basketball's most famous parent of an assistant (admittedly a less noble distinction).
Kyle TeradaKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
There's a misconception that the Bulldogs have been a tournament disappointment. Before we get to that, let's back up -- way back. The school, which has had a basketball program since 1909, didn't make a postseason tournament appearance until the 1994 NIT. In '95 the Zags went dancing for the first time. Dan Monson took over in 1997, led the team, as a No. 10 seed, to the 1999 Elite Eight and then left for Minnesota. Mark Few was named coach in 1999 and has never missed the tournament. Ever.
Now, in those 19 straight tournaments, Gonzaga hasn't made it past the first weekend 11 times. That's a lot. But in six of those years they lost to a better-seeded team. In only one were they a No. 1 seed (prior to this season). The Zags were double-digit seeds as many times as a top-four seed (six each). Has Gonzaga disappointed in the tournament? By standard measures, I suppose. But for a small Washington school from the (usually) one-bid WCC to put together one of the longest streaks of tournament play, twice get a No. 1 seed and be an annual threat to do big things in March, it's anything but disappointing. That being said, there's still a big, fat zero in the team's "Final Fours" column. With South Carolina on tap, the path has never been, and probably will never be again, more clear. If Gonzaga loses this game then the naysayers will have their ammunition. And this time they'll have a point.
Kyle TeradaKyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
You know the Gators well. Before 1994, the team was basically South Carolina. They had three tournament appearances. But that year the school got its best seed (No. 3) and went to the Final Four. They went back again in 2000, with young coach Billy Donovan. Then, of course, Florida won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. There was little let-up, with four straight Elite Eight appearances from 2011-14. The team missed the NCAAs in Donovan's final season (2015) and successor Mike White's first season (2016). Now they're back in the regional finals and they brought three unexpected teams with them. Who emerges from the pack? One thing's for certain: If you think you know, then you definitely don't.