In the midst of a chaotic 2018 NCAA Tournament, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers became the darlings of the United States, reaching the Final Four as an 11-seed after winning games by the skin of their teeth.
Donte Ingram, Clayton Custer and Marques Townes all hit clutch shots in the closing seconds of their victories over Miami, Tennessee and Nevada to get to the Elite 8, where they dominated Kansas State to reach the Final Four. Despite losing to Michigan 69-57, team chaplain Sister Jean and the Ramblers became one of the most beloved Cinderella stories in the history of March Madness.
It would take three years for the Ramblers to return to March Madness as in 2019 and 2020, they came up short in Arch Madness at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. In 2019, the Ramblers returned three of their five starters from the 2018 team and won the Missouri Valley regular season championship. However, they disappointed in the tournament, losing 53-51 to the Bradley Braves. The Ramblers finished second in the Missouri Valley in 2020 with 2018 starting center Cameron Krutwig being the only starter remaining from their Final Four team. They once again fell short in the conference tournament, losing 74-73 in the quarterfinals in overtime to Valparaiso.
Krutwig returned for one last chance at another March Madness run in 2021. Loyola has not disappointed this season and lived up to their high expectations, winning the regular season title and the conference tournament. They faced fellow NCAA Tournament contender in Drake, winning two of their three matchups with the most recent one being a 75-65 win over the Bulldogs in the tournament championship game. They head into the NCAA Tournament on a hot streak, winning 17 of their last 18 games and bolstering a record of 24-4. They are projected by bracketologists to receive a seed anywhere from the 8-10 range, which would be higher than their 11 seed in 2018.
So with Loyola-Chicago back in the NCAA Tournament, this begs the question: can the Ramblers make another run at the Final Four?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Before looking at any team statistics that prove this team is legit, let’s take a look at their personnel.
Krutwig has locked down the center spot for the Ramblers since his freshman year in 2018, giving them consistency inside the paint. This season, he has been spectacular in leading the Ramblers back to the tournament with 15.0 points per game (PPG) and 6.7 rebounds per game. Despite being a center, he has become a reliable go-to scorer with an impressive 57.9 field goal percentage (FG%).
Also, the Rambler have a collection of players that can all step up when needed to support Krutwig as six different players average between 8.2 and 7.0 PPG, meaning on any given day, any combination of these players can step and make huge shots, leading the Ramblers to victory. For example, in their first win over Drake, forward Aher Uguak scored 20 points in their 81-54 win back on Feb. 13, proving the amount of depth the Ramblers have at their disposal.
What makes the Ramblers special in the grand scheme of the NCAA Tournament is their FG%, their assist/turnover ratio and their lockdown defense. The Ramblers are fifth (heading into Mar. 12’s action) in all of college basketball in field-goal percentage with a 50.5% mark. While they are only tied for 50th with Murray State and Notre Dame in 3-point percentage with a 36.8 success rate, the Ramblers are tied for fourth with Wofford in two-point percentage with a mark of 58.7%. They shoot high-percentage shots and convert more than half the time, making them tough to stop.
The Ramblers also play unselfish basketball and are good at not giving the ball away. The Ramblers’ 1.32 assist/turnover ratio ranks 29th in college basketball. They are tied with many teams for 74th in fewest turnovers with 11.9 while being tied with Bellamarine for 39th in assists per game with 15.8. With their emphasis on team basketball, the Ramblers should rarely beat themselves with costly mistakes.
The team stat that takes the take when it comes to the Ramblers’ Final Four potential is their top-ranked defense in all of college basketball. In 28 games played, the Ramblers have allowed 55.5 PPG, which is 2.1 PPG fewer than the second-ranked defensive team, the Houston Cougars, allow per game (57.6). The Ramblers are tenacious on defense, making teams earn their points and hit tough shots to stay in the game.
Overall, with their smart shot selection, their unselfish and discipline playstyle and their lockdown defense, the Ramblers are a threat to make another run at the Final Four during the 2021 NCAA Tournament. When the brackets come out on Selection Sunday, fans should hope the Ramblers are not in their favorite school’s bracket.