By Thomas Jeffrey
Let’s be honest for a second. A lot of people had Loyola Chicago, who received their first tournament bid in 33 years, defeating Miami in the first round. But not many people had the Ramblers going all the way to the Final Four. Well Loyola did just that (with the help of Sister Jean) and now they have a date with Michigan in San Antonio.
From the jump, Loyola Chicago seemed like a team that could upset a higher seed in the first round. They played great defense, had tremendous guard play, and earned an impressive non-conference victory over Florida. Also, they seemed like a Cinderella team that the nation could get behind due to their long absence from the tournament and their beloved team chaplain, Sister Jean. The Ramblers lived up to their label by beating Miami thanks to a Donte Ingram buzzer beater. They were on to the round of 32.
Beating Miami was not an easy task for Loyola, and their next opponent would be even more difficult. The Ramblers had to square off against three seeded Tennessee, a team that was the SEC champion and had just won their first game by 26 points. The Volunteers also had Grant Williams, the SEC player of the year, at their disposal. Not too many people had Loyola winning this one but as it turned out to it was a very entertaining, down to the wire game. And, to the surprise of many, Loyola pulled off the upset thanks to another buzzer beater, this time from Clayton Custer. The Ramblers had punched their ticket to the Sweet 16.
Loyola Chicago and Sister Jean were facing the Nevada Wolf Pack, a team that just had a thrilling comeback win over Cincinnati. The battle for a spot in the Elite 8 was on the line, and it was the third barn burner for the Ramblers in a row. The game was going back and forth, but Loyola was executing on offense, shooting 56% from the field. In the final seconds Loyola was leading by one when Marques Towns hit a clutch three to go up by four, earning his team a spot in the Elite 8.
The South region was pretty crazy. Virginia and Arizona both lost their first games, so it looked like Kentucky had a cakewalk to the Final Four. However, Kansas State, a nine seed, defeated Kentucky in the Sweet 16, so they were the ones squaring off with the Ramblers with a spot in the Final Four on the line. Loyola must of have been tired of close games because the Ramblers dominated the Wildcats from start to finish, advancing to their first Final Four since 1963. After the game Sister Jean stated, “Be careful San Antonio. The Ramblers are on their way.” I will agree, they most definitely are on their way Sister.
Loyola Chicago, the Cinderella of the South, has surprised everyone. In ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, only .48% had the Ramblers in the Final Four. Now Loyola has every American not living in Michigan on their side. Watch out Wolverines. The Ramblers are coming… and they are coming hot.