Rambling to the Tourney: A lookback at Loyola’s “Big Dances” of the past
CHICAGO – If you’re just learning about the Windy City’s Division I NCAA Tournament team in 2018, you’re probably not alone.
Many college basketball fans are getting to know what Loyola basketball this season is all about, discovering first their long “March Madness” drought.
Thirty-three years came and went without the Ramblers making the NCAA Tournament. In fact, they only made one postseason tournament in that time – the CBI which they won in 2015.
Needles to say that more than a few fans are catching up on a proud history of Loyola basketball that existed primarily before 1985. As the 11th seeded Ramblers gets ready to head to Dallas for their South Region first round game against sixth-seeded Miami, there is one fact that fans will enjoy about the team: When they make the NCAA Tournament, they have a tendency to stay for a bit.
Prior to this season, Loyola has qualified for five Division I men’s basketball championship tournaments, and in three of those they’ve made it to the final 16 of the tournament.
That includes the last time the Ramblers made the “Big Dance” back in 1985, when the Alfredrick Hughes-led team defeated Iona and SMU as a fourth-seed in the East Regional. Unfortunately Loyola couldn’t keep pace in the Regional Semifinal against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown, losing to the eventual NCAA runner-up Hoyas 65-53.
The most famous run in the tournament naturally comes in 1963, when the Ramblers captured the State of Illinois’ only Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship. Then a 25-team tournament, Loyola knocked off Tennessee Tech, Mississippi State and then in-state rival Illinois in the Mideast Region to clinch a Final Four.
George Ireland’s team made the trip down to Freedom Hall in Louisville for the Final Four, where they beat Duke in the Semifinal and then Cincinnati in the title game 60-58 for the championship.
While significant for the Ramblers, the run was also significant due to the Mideast Region semifinal victory over the Bulldogs. Known as the “Game of Change,” Mississippi State went against a state law that prevented teams from playing against integrated schools, and took the floor with Loyola on March 15, 1963 in East Lasing, Michigan.
The historic contest has been discussed in numerous articles and was even the subject of a documentary, and considered a key moment in ending segregation in college basketball.
In 1964 the Ramblers once again reached the final 16 of the tournament but got there with only one first round win over Murray State. They would lose their second game to Michigan that year and then suffer first round defeats against Western Kentucky in 1966 and then Houston in 1968.
What kind of history will the Ramblers make in 2018? That’s the beauty of the tournament – you simply don’t know. But at least some new fans of Ramblers’ basketball are educating themselves on a unique “March Madness” history of Chicago’s only Men’s NCAA Tournament team in 2018.