It is not the first- and it certainly won’t be the last -time that Chicago finds itself at the center of the sports world. On Saturday, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers will take on the Michigan Wolverines in the (NCAA DI Men’s Basketball) Final Four. The preceding sentence is one that I, and the sports world at-large, can’t believe is true.
The last team from Illinois to make the Final Four was the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) in 2005. And Loyola is actually the last team from Illinois to win a national title, in 1963. That Loyola team had a huge impact on U.S. society. There was an agreement at the time among many NCAA basketball coaches that there could only be one Black player on the floor at a time. The Ramblers often had multiple Black players in their starting five, ignoring prejudice and ultimately paving the way for the future.
Today’s Loyola-Chicago squad bears resemblance to that squad when you look at their camaraderie and perseverance on the court. The Ramblers play a stifling brand of disciplined defense. Through four NCAA Tournament games they are only allowing 63.5 points per game.
On offense, Loyola shares the ball, and they have five players scoring in double-figures. And as a team they knockdown an awesome 40 percent of their 3-point shots. Former Simeon standout Donte Ingram, and Algonquin native-Cameron Krutwig do most of the work on the glass (rebounding). Their tenacity helps the duo combine for over 12 rebounds a game, despite giving up considerable size to many of the teams they have faced.
This Loyola-Chicago team has captivated the nation. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and the great storyline of Sister Jean’s longtime support of the school just adds to this amazing tale. But for the basketball die-hards, Loyola is a team that defeated the Florida Gators AT Florida earlier this season, and many have felt all year that they are the mid-major program best positioned for a run. But no one thought a Final Four was within reach for this year’s team.
Saturday, at 5:09 PM central time on TBS, Loyola-Chicago and Michigan will play for the right to go to the NCAA DI Men’s Basketball National Championship. And if Loyola wins, they could add another chapter to a great story that is 55 years in the making.