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San Antonio Bound

Forget the best story of the tournament; Loyola is maybe the best story ever.

March 26, 2018 - 10:14 am

How was your weekend? No, I’m serious. How was your weekend? Because unlike everyone else who asks you that question today, I’m not doing it as a way to talk about my weekend, I’m doing it as a way to talk about Loyola of Chicago’s weekend. Because the Ramblers are having one of the best months ever. Forget the best story of the tournament; Loyola is maybe the best story ever.

The beat Miami from the ACC 64-62 in the first round. They beat Tennessee of the SEC 63-62 in the second round. They beat the Mountain West champ Nevada 69-68 in the Sweet Sixteen… three upsets and three buzzer beaters… and the story just kept getting better. But you know how this story goes and you know how it ends – going up against a tough defensive team that smothers them, grinds them down, figures out a way to win, and kills the dream. That’s what Kansas State did to UMBC and to Kentucky, and they were going to do the same to Loyola. And just about everyone expected it. This was the game where the Ramblers were supposed to run out of gas. This was the game where they were supposed to run out of magic. And divine intervention.

But that didn’t happen. And not only did they beat Kansas State, they beat them down.  Or in the words of Pat Tillman, that was a nice, swift, ass-kicking. A bludgeoning from the start. Up 12 at halftime, they never let K-State get a sniff. It was a clinic. Incredible ball movement, finding the open man, and hitting open shots. They flat carved the Cats. One team looked like the 11-seed who stumbled its way onto the big stage and it wasn’t the Ramblers. And after winning the first three games by a combined four points, they smashed their way to the final four by 16 points.

And that flattered K-State, because Loyola led by 23 at one point. Let me repeat that: Loyola of Chicago led their Elite Eight game by 23 points.

As Clayton Custer said: “We’re just a bunch of guys that everybody laughed at … When we thought we were going to play Division I basketball.” 

Not only are they playing Division I basketball, they’re the best thing about Division I basketball. And they’re dominating Division I basketball right now. This has been a rough year for college basketball’s rep, but Loyola is single-handedly redeeming it. And no one’s laughing now.

And don’t get this twisted. They’re no fluke. You can’t fluke your way to the final four.   You may get a lucky bounce along the way, but you can’t luck your way into winning four games in the the tournament. Just like you can’t luck your way into winning 30 gamers.

Don’t get me wrong, Sister Jean is still an international superstar,  and at times, it does seem like she has a direct line to the big man himself, but this win was about Ben Richardson, who scored 14 in the first three games combined, going off for 23, including 6 of 7 from deep. My man was on fire. Or to quote Custer: “Twenty-three in a bleeping game, bro?” 

Yep, twenty-three in a bleeping game, bro. And Loyola is going to the Final Bleeping Four, bro.

And now the questions, being how small they are and who they are, will they be awed and fall apart on the big stage. Or just be happy having reached the Final Four. Or both?  Not this crew. I can’t guarantee a win here, but I can guarantee they won’t crack and the moment won’t be too big for one. They’d be the first to tell you that the goal isn’t to play on Saturday night, the goal is to play Monday night. They’re one game away from that and two away from being national bleeping champions. And best of all, while the entire world is in awe that they’ve gotten this far, they’re not.

In fact, they’re walking around with a swagger that suggests they expected it. With a trip to the final four hanging in the balance, the impossible dream, these guys couldn’t have had any more swagger or been anymore dialed in than they were against Kansas State.  Again, these guys are no fluke. They’re a great defensive team, can shoot the hell out of it, attack the basket and most of all play extremely well together and fully believe and expect to win. And if they can continue doing all that, they can beat Michigan too. And if it happens, it won’t be a huge upset. Do that, and shock the world in the final and they’re officially the best story in the history of the world.