RAMBLING TO THE SWEET 16: Loyola makes the most of their ‘March Madness’ chances

Big Tournament

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 21: Members of the Loyola Ramblers celebrate in the final minute against the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Tournament held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS – Here they are, again. If you’ve seen their history in the “Big Dance,” that shouldn’t be a surprise.

While they haven’t been in the NCAA Tournament as much as other schools, Loyola has done the most with their opportunities in “March Madness.” This year’s tournament is yet another example of the Ramblers’ prowess once they make it to college basketball’s biggest stage.

After an 11-point win over Georgia Tech in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, their seventh in program history. the Ramblers never trailed against top-seeded Illinois in a 71-58 victory. Off to the Sweet 16 goes Loyola for the second time in three years with Oregon State looming in the regional semifinal Saturday.

After those victories, the Ramblers have a 15-5 record and have won at least one contest in five of those appearances. In each of those years, Loyola made it all the way to the Sweet 16, doing so when the tournament was 25, 64, and 68 teams.

They set the tone with their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1963 when they entered the tournament ranked in the Top 5. That team won five games – four over Top 10 teams – to win the school’s only national championship and remains the only one for a Division I men’s basketball team in Illinois.

Loyola would win their first game of the 1964 tournament in the first round then lose in the Sweet 16 to Michigan. But back then there were third place games for the regional, so the Ramblers got another win in that tournament over Kentucky.

Their only “one-and-done” appearances were in 1966 (loss to Western Kentucky) and 1968 (Houston), then came a 17-year tournament drought.

But when Loyola got in the “Big Dance,” they made the most of it again. The fourth-seeded Ramblers beat Iona and SMU in Hartford to earn a trip to the Sweet 16 for the third time in school history. Unfortunately, they ran into Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas, the eventual NCAA runner-up, and lost 65-53.

Of couse the run that is on everyone’s minds as they head to another Sweet 16 is their memorable run as a No. 11 seed in 2018. Last second wins over Miami and Northwestern put them in the South Region semifinals where they kept it going in Atlanta.

In a region full of upstart teams, Loyola knocked off seventh-seeded Nevada then ninth-seeded Kansas State to advance to their first Final Four since 1963. In San Antonio, the Ramblers led by seven at the half against Michigan and by ten in the second half but wore down in the final minutes in a 69-57 defeat.

Can Porter Moser’s team take it that far again and continue the’s schools tournament success? Let the “Madness” continue.

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