Rambling to the NCAA Tournament: Three years later, can Loyola find the magic again?

Big Tournament

ST. LOUIS, MO – MARCH 07: Loyola players celebrate after winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game between the Loyola Ramblers and the Drake Bulldogs on March 07, 2021, at Enterprise Center, St. Louis, Mo. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

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INDIANAPOLIS – There are certain runs in the NCAA Tournament that capture the imagination of fans both of a team and those around the country.

Traditionally, this involved a “Cinderella” team that makes an unexpected run deep into March or early April. Storylines surrounding the team are coupled with their success on the floor to create a narrative that gets its own chapter in the tournament history books.

In 2018, Loyola created one of these moments.

With Sister Jean cheering them on, the Ramblers pulled upsets in their first two games against Miami and Tennessee with last-second shots. Then they knocked off Nevada and Kansas State in Atlanta to advance to their first Final Four since their 1963 national championship season.

Loyola put up a strong fight against Michigan in the national semifinal before things slipped away at the Alamodome as the Wolverines won it 69-57.

That’s didn’t dampen much of the spirit of the run, as Sister Jean became an international sensation and the Rambler’s program created a new era.

Three years and another dominant season in the Missouri Valley Conference, and Porter Moser’s team is right back in the madness again.

Loyola will play their first NCAA Tournament game since that Final Four contest three years ago against Georgia Tech at famed Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Friday. The eighth-seeded Ramblers will face Georgia Tech, who surprisingly won the ACC Tournament last weekend.

This Ramblers’ group has a better seed than the one three years ago and were clearly the best team in The Valley this season. Their 24-4 regular season record was good enough to win the conference regular season title and the Ramblers got three decisive wins in “Arch Madness” in St. Louis to lock up the tournament title, too.

While they won’t be traveling the country like they were in 2018, with the tournament completely in the Indianapolis area, at least they’ll have Sister Jean along for the ride. She was approved to go with the team for however long their run lasts in Indiana.

Once again, the Ramblers will have to be spoilers if they hope to make another long run. Top seed Illinois looms in the second round after their decisive win over Drexel in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Of course, they’ll have to get past a Yellow Jackets’ team that has won eight-straight games.

But they’ve shown the ability to win on this stage and do so a number of times. Now they get the chance again, hoping to bottle up the magic from three years ago once again.

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