By Oliver Mauntel
Loyola has marched on a familiar path en route to their first Final Four appearance since 1963. With a 28-5 record, including 15-3 in conference play, the Ramblers breezed through both the regular season and the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. In the Big Dance, however, Loyola has embraced life on the edge.
Donte Ingram nailed a deep three-pointer at the buzzer to sink Miami in the first round. Clayton Custer’s runner hit every imaginable part of the rim before dropping with 3.6 seconds remaining against Tennessee. In the Sweet 16, Marques Townes’ three-pointer with 6.3 seconds left sealed the win over Nevada. In the first three rounds, Loyola’s margins of victory over Miami, Tennessee, and Nevada combined for a total of four points. In the Elite 8, Loyola fans could take a deep breath, at last. The Ramblers coasted to a 78-62 win over Kansas State. Up next, Loyola faces Michigan. Should they advance, they will take on either Villanova or Kansas.
Loyola’s journey is very similar to Butler’s in the 2009-10 season. Coincidentally, Loyola and Butler were both members of the Horizon League at that time. The Bulldogs also rumbled through the regular season, going 28-4 overall and 18-0 in Horizon League play. After a smooth first round victory over UTEP, Butler also lived on the edge. Four of Butler’s final five games were decided by four points or less. In fact, three of those games were decided by two points each. The one exception: Butler’s Elite 8 victory against Kansas State. Sound familiar? Butler squeaked by Michigan State in the Final Four, before losing to Duke in heartbreaking fashion in the national championship game.
The route Loyola has taken thus far, as well as the route that remains, is strikingly similar to the route Butler took eight years ago. Regular season domination. Nail biting finishes in the NCAA Tournament. Elite 8 win against Kansas State. Final Four date with a Big 10 opponent from Michigan. (Potential) national championship meeting with a blue blood program.
Butler was unable to finish the job in 2010, but their emergence on the national stage propelled them to success even to this date. As a fellow Catholic mid-major school, Butler has provided the blueprint for Loyola to sustain success following this historic season.