Wayne Tinkle and Oregon State are most surprising Cinderella in men’s NCAA Tournament

Two days before the biggest game of his career, Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle took time to speak with the sixth grade class at Loy Elementary School in Great Falls, Montana, taught by the husband of one of his oldest daughter's childhood friends.

"I really appreciated the opportunity," Tinkle wrote on Twitter, "and want to remind them, Character Counts!!"

If the list of Power Five head coaches who would speak with an elementary school class at any time of year is short and the list of those who would do so during the season is even shorter, the tally of such head coaches who would do so in the days leading into the Sweet 16 may consist of Tinkle and no one else.

"It’s just the kind of guy he is. It’s just who he is," his daughter Joslyn, who played basketball at Stanford and for the WNBA's Seattle Storm, told USA TODAY Sports. "Because he has always understood that this is more than about basketball, the game. This is about everyone involved and I think that’s what made this ride and this run so special. He understands it takes more than just him and his staff."

Of all the madness and unpredictability of this March, which already has seen a historic run of success from higher-seeded underdogs, there may be nothing more unforeseeable than this: Tinkle, in his seventh season at Oregon State, has the Beavers in the Elite Eight and one win from one of the most incredible Final Four trips in men's NCAA Tournament history.

"You look at all we've had to deal with in our time at Oregon State and especially this year, and our guys never wavered," Tinkle said. "And we've had some hiccups obviously along the way."

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Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle talks to forward Isaiah Johnson during a game against Stanford. (Photo: Darren Yamashita, USA TODAY Sports)

While the Cinderella label is always reserved for low-major programs who outplay their historic success and conference affiliation, from Gonzaga two decades ago through more recent upstarts in George Mason and Loyola Chicago, the glass slipper fits Oregon State despite the Beavers' Power Five credentials.

"Our team is blessed," said senior guard Ethan Thompson, the team leader in points, assists and steals per game. "We're thankful for the opportunity to be able to keep playing. And we are looking forward to it and we're just grateful that we're here."

This is what makes a team and program a tournament Cinderella:

►Once 2-2, 5-5, 10-10 and 11-11 after being picked to finish last in the Pac-12 during the preseason, OSU won three games in three days to take the conference championship and automatic postseason bid and has since pulled off a series of upsets in tournament play — against No. 5 Tennessee, No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 8 Loyola Chicago — to come within a victory of the program's first trip to the national semifinals since 1963.

►Before beating the Volunteers in the first round, Oregon State had gone 46 years without an NCAA Tournament win, the longest such drought by a Power Five program as recognized by the NCAA. (Tournament appearances and wins from 1980-82 were vacated by the NCAA.)

►Two coaches, Slats Gill and Ralph Miller, are responsible for all but three of the program's 18 tournament bids, counting those later vacated. Tinkle is the first coach since Miller, who retired in 1989, to lead the Beavers to multiple tournament appearances. OSU received an at-large bid to the 2016 tournament in Tinkle's second year with the program.

►Since the 1990-91 season, OSU has more 20-loss seasons, eight, than 20-win seasons, two. Over the same span, the Beavers have finished with a winning record in Pac-12 play just once.

►Tinkle's team is the first No. 12 seed to reach the Elite Eight since Missouri in 2002 and just the second overall.

►Oregon has lost 12 games on the year while the remaining seven teams in this year's Elite Eight have combined for 31 losses.

"If they want to call us Cinderella, the underdog, it’s working for us, so we’ll take it," Joslyn Tinkle said. "I think it provides a chip on all of our shoulders."

Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg

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