If you forgot about Sister Jean, YouTube gave you a reminder about the darling, now-99-year-old chaplain for the Loyola Chicago basketball team by featuring her in a Super Bowl commercial.
And that might be the last we see of Jean Dolores Schmidt on the national stage. Not because the inspirational face behind the team’s improbable Final Four run last spring isn’t trendy enough anymore. (Who wouldn’t want to see her as a guest analyst during Selection Sunday when she turns 100?) But because Loyola Chicago has fallen from college basketball consciousness this season.
The Ramblers can still receive an automatic NCAA bid if they win their conference tournament. That could easily happen, since Porter Moser’s team (15-9 overall) is in first place in the Missouri Valley with an 8-3 record. But there likely will be a new Cinderella story this March, a new team from outside the Power Five conferences trying to get to Minneapolis.
Gonzaga, a 2017 Final Four team, spent two weeks this season at No. 1 after beating Duke. Nevada has been a dominant top-10 team almost all season with only one big hiccup, a 27-point loss to New Mexico. Those two don’t count as Cinderellas, though.
More mid-major buzz this season comes from Buffalo, Houston and Furman, teams that have spent time in the AP Top 25 alongside Nevada and Gonzaga.
Furman made headlines first when it upset defending national champion Villanova in mid-November, but the Paladins fell out of the Top 25 after suffering their first two losses in back-to-back games against LSU and East Tennessee State in late December. They’re now fourth in the Southern League, behind another mid-major buzzworthy team: Wofford, which has an 11-0 conference record.
No. 23 Buffalo was ranked as high as 14th. Houston, led by former Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson, was 12th in the poll this week with a 21-1 record. Three more teams are trying to crack the Top 25: Lipscomb (19-4, 10-0) of the Atlantic Sun Conference, North Texas (19-4, 7-3) of Conference USA and Hofstra (19-4, 9-1) of the Colonial Athletic Association.
There is star power from non-power conferences, too, names that could shine in bright lights during March Madness. On that list are All-America candidates and future NBA draft picks such as Murray State’s Ja Morant (potential No. 1 selection), Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, Nevada’s Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline and South Dakota State’s Mike Daum.
We can imagine some of these players and teams making noise in the race to Minneapolis. But as Sister Jean taught us, there’s also a chance we’ll learn some new names next month we never saw coming.
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller