INDIANAPOLIS The first time a mid-major turns every medium into confetti, it’s a sweet story. Courageous outsiders that everyone can support. So much the better if a nun who pushes 100 and provides the team with gratitude reports is ready for the ride.
When it happens again three years later, it ceases to be a gimmick. Another good story, but one that must be taken very seriously.
Just ask the top seed Illinois.
Loyola-Chicago has made it known that his run to the Final Four in 2018 was no fluke, toppling the Illini a fashionable choice to make the title game, if not win the entire NCAA Men’s Tournament. decisively Sunday afternoon. Given the upheaval that has already occurred, this is the first time that four top-seeded teams or worse have reached the second round, there is no reason Loyola should not be among the top-seeded. last teams standing.
The eighth seeded Ramblers will face the winner of Oregon State-Oklahoma State next weekend in the Sweet 16.
We feel like we’re one of the best teams in the country, and I think we’ve shown that in the last two games, said Cameron Krutwig after the 71-58 win. You can’t help but think that you are one of the best teams in the country. You have to think that and you have to play like that, and we can’t wait to move on to the next one.
We certainly think it was one of the best teams in the country, but you have to support it with your game.
No problem there.
GOOD, BAD, MID:A deeper look at the upheaval of the Ramblers in Illinois
Illinois has two of the best players in the country, Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, and no shortage of additional weapons. But Loyola never allowed the Illini to get comfortable. He scored the first basket of the game and dictated the pace and pace for the remainder of the game.
Even when Illinois managed to make runs, Cockburn converted a three-point game and scored on a monstrous dunk to get the Illini in a few digits at halftime, Loyola didn’t buckle, resisting pushing and starting to stick to his game plan again. Cockburn finished with 21 points, but Dosunmu had just nine. It was his fewest points since Jan.5, 2020, and the 58 points were a season low for Illinois.
He’s not just a 48-hour scout, we’ve been working our entire season on defense, Krutwig said. I guess people forgot or something, but we were the country’s first defense this year. I guess people think it might be an E major or something, but we play hard, play the right way, and we follow the scout and follow the pattern.
Krutwig and Lucas Williamson are the only players left on the 2018 Final Four squad, but the foundation is the same: stingy defense, selfless attack, and unwavering faith. And I’m not just talking about the influence of Sister John, who harassed Loyola and NCAA officials until they allowed her to come to Indianapolis, her first trip away from the facility where she was. has been living since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ramblers are not flashy. You won’t hear them talking about garbage or see them slowing down in front of the cameras. That joke behind Krutwig while doing his post-match interview? Coach Porter Moser had to tell them to do it, urging them to soak in every moment of this incredible experience.
I wanted them to stay out and enjoy it because it’s etched in your memory, that moment right there, and to feel all the work that you have done, all the effort that you make to stay together, the sacrifices that you make, especially this year, the sacrifices we made this year, said Moser. I just didn’t want to rush into the locker room. Stand out and enjoy.
But Loyola doesn’t have starry eyes and is just happy to be here. It might be a mid-major, but the Final Four round taught Krutwig and Williamson that they can play with anyone, and they helped Moser pass that on to the rest of the squad.
This is what makes them so dangerous. When Moser or one of his players says they believe they can beat someone, whether it’s Drake, his rival from the Missouri Valley or the seeded Illinois, it’s not a cliché or a boxed response.
I’ve said it before as Loyola’s coach: It’s amazing what happens when a bunch of young men believe, Moser said. It wasn’t just the switch they flipped in the past 48 hours. These guys have invested in what we do and they believe in it. It’s just a great bunch of guys who believe.
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Gonzaga was the little school that could. A warm and fuzzy story about a small school in the Pacific Northwest that would wreak havoc every two years.
Now look at the Zags. They are a true national powerhouse, NCAA finalist in 2017 and No.1 four times in the last eight tournaments. They are the No.1 seed this year and are looking to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to go undefeated.
If a team like Gonzaga can do it, it’s no exaggeration to believe that Loyola can too.
If they can beat Illinois, Sister Jean said last week, they can beat anyone.
Three years ago, this idea might have seemed absurd. But Loyola made it a reality, impossible to deny.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.
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