The term Cinderella team is used to refer to situations in which competitors achieve far greater success than would reasonably have been expected. Each year in the NCAA Tournament, we usually find a Cinderella-esque team that has busted brackets, sometimes even our own. But by this point, everyone’s bracket is busted, and America latches on to the Cinderella team, hoping they cap off the impossible. Cinderella is not only alive, but flourishing during March Madness this year, as she is living through the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers.
The 11 seed out of the South Region of the NCAA Tournament never had high expectations from the “experts.” Most had them getting ousted by the six seeded Miami Hurricanes in the first round. But the glass slipper seemed to fit perfectly that day, as Donte Ingram sunk the game winning three with 0.3 seconds left in the game to lift Loyola over Miami, 64-62. Their first win in the Big Dance since 1985.
Just two days later, the Ramblers were pitted up against the three seed Tennessee Volunteers, who were fresh off of a 73-47 walloping of the 14 seed Wright State Raiders. Again, no one gave the Ramblers out of the Missouri Valley Conference a chance against the Vols, out of the traditional powerhouse that is the SEC.
The Ramblers actually led for the majority of the game, particularly the second half, and all they needed was to seal the deal and keep playing their brand of basketball. With four minutes remaining, the Ramblers led 58-48, and then again at 60-51 with just over three minutes remaining. Victory seemed imminent. But Tennessee would go on an 11-1 run over the next two and a half minutes to take a 62-61 lead with just 21 seconds remaining.
The following possession, the ball was in the hands of the MVC Player of the Year, Clayton Custer. Custer drove, pulled up from mid-range, the ball hit the front of the rim, bounced up, and dropped in. 63-62 Loyola with 3.6 seconds remaining. Jordan Bone of Tennessee then took the ball, chucked up a three to try and win the game, but it was no good. Loyola to the Sweet 16.
In all unlikeliness, the Ramblers would meet the seven seed Nevada Wolf Pack in the Sweet 16, just last night. Loyola was once again playing solid basketball under head coach Porter Moser. They built themselves a four-point lead at the half. Early in the second half, it seemed Loyola was going to take this one and run with it all the way to the Elite Eight. They built up different leads such as 40-28, 44-34, 48-38, 55-45, and such. But Nevada pulled off a 14-4 run to tie things up at 59 with four minutes remaining. It was going to be going down to the wire once again.
Loyola would hold a one-point lead after Cody Martin of Nevada knocked down two free throws with 36 seconds left. The Ramblers were running the shot clock down, trying to give Nevada as little time as possible once they got the ball back. Marques Townes would throw up a three with one second left on the shot clock and he drilled it, with just 6.3 seconds left. 69-65 Loyola. Caleb Martin would actually hit a three for Nevada with 1.8 seconds left. But Nevada had to commit two fouls and could not get them done in time, a 69-68 win for Loyola.
Loyola is now in the Elite Eight and will be facing the ninth seeded Kansas State Wildcats tomorrow evening at 5:09pm on TBS. It is the first ever nine vs. 11 seed Elite Eight game in NCAA Tournament history. The South Region has been an obscure one, as it is the first region in NCAA Tournament history where none of the top four seeds of the region reached the Sweet 16. It was also home to the first ever win for a 16th seed over a one seed. What a year in the South region.
But whether it’s the years of practice put into their craft or the will of the all-powerful Sister Jean, Loyola has turned into must watch television for the remainder of the tournament. Three games, all going down to the wire, and all of them being one or two-point victories. That is how the game with K-State is likely to shake out as well. Loyola is seeking their first Final Four appearance (second overall) since 1963, when they won it all. Kansas State is seeking its first Final Four appearance since 1964 (5th overall). Either way, one of these long streaks is coming to an end tomorrow night. You will want to tune in.