If you had the Syracuse University men’s and women’s basketball teams both reaching the national semifinals in your bracket, you officially won the March Madness pool. This was the case Sunday, first, as the fourth-seeded women’s team defeated eight-time champion Tennessee two days after upsetting South Carolina in the Sweet 16, immediately followed by the 10th-seeded Orange men’s upset of No. 1 Virginia.
Ironically, this is the 12th time in NCAA history the men’s and women’s basketball teams from the same school advanced to the Final Four in the same season. Notre Dame, Maryland, Baylor, and Texas A&M were probably the likeliest to do so in 2016, with an outside chance to West Virginia, Seton Hall, Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Texas- but Syracuse! Appearing in the first Sweet 16 in program history, the women faced a South Carolina team that steamrolled through the SEC and appeared to be a lock for the Final Four. Two weeks ago, the Gamecocks men’s team sat on the same bubble as Syracuse and had about the same prospective before being left out and sent to the NIT. The Orange men came into the tourney at 19-13 (9-9 in the ACC) and losers of five of six. It’s safe to say, of the dozen occurrences, this is the biggest surprise.
The perennial favorite associated with the male-female double is Connecticut, grabbing both championships in 2004 and 2014, the women’s 2009 undefeated season being accompanied by the men’s Final Four as a No. 1 seed, and the 2011 men’s NCAA title teamed with the women’s national semifinal loss to Notre Dame in Maya Moore’s final game. While the 2004 Diana Taurasi and Emeka Okafor teams were preseason favorites, the 2011 Kemba Walker and 2014 Shabazz Napier men’s title teams were hardly the juggernaut of the women’s. The 2011 group came into the Big East tournament as the nine seed and won five games in five days, the last four over ranked teams, for the title, to get a three seed in the Big Dance. After a 2013 postseason ban, the 2014 Huskies were a seven seed and upset Michigan State and overall number one Florida before grinding out a win against Kentucky in the final.
The first team to appear in both was Georgia in 1983. Many would think Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins was on that men’s team, but that was his rookie year with the Atlanta Hawks and Vern Fleming was the team’s star. Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards was a freshman for the women, and Katrina McClain didn’t arrive in Athens until 1984. Not only was 1983 the men’s only Final Four, it was the first tournament berth in program history, and the 1996 Tubby Smith-coached team that lost to Syracuse is the only other one to reach the Sweet 16, the same year the women lost to Tennessee in the championship game.
Duke was the second school to record the double in 1999, with both teams losing in the final. The men’s team may have been one of the best to never cut down the nets, while the women’s team’s upset of Tennessee in the regional final prevented Chamique Holdsclaw and Tennessee of what UConn and Breanna Stewart are attempting this year, four titles in four seasons.
Oklahoma and Texas reached both for the Big 12 in 2002 and 2003, all as either one or two seeds. Sherri Coale’s Sooner team was the No. 2 team in the polls for most of the season, while it was the men’s first in 14 years- and last for another 14 years until now. The 2003 Final Four was the first for the Longhorn men since 1947 and women since 1987.
Michigan State placed both in 2005, with the No. 1-seeded women marching towards the championship game, and the fifth-seeded men being a classic example of the tough, lower-seeded Tom Izzo teams that find their stride in the tournament. In 2006, the LSU women advanced to their third of five-consecutive Final Fours, and were joined by a fourth-seeded men’s team, making its first trip since 1986 when it was an 11 seed. Louisville’s men won the national title in 2013, with the fifth-seeded women shocking senior Brittney Griner and Baylor, 82-81, in the Sweet 16, before falling to UConn in the title game.
To see if the magic continues for the Orange, the men face heavily-favorited North Carolina Saturday in Houston, while the women will face lower-seeded, but peaking at the right time Washington Sunday in Indianapolis. And with all of the realignment and destruction of rivalries in recent years, how fitting would it be that Villanova and Connecticut could be waiting for them in the finals.