By Miguel Gonzalez
So, who exactly are the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers?
Are they the team that shattered millions of brackets and miraculously emerged out of the South region filled with perennial powers like the University of Virginia, University of Kentucky, University of Arizona and the University of Cincinnati?
Are they the team that captivated the nation with the warming, enchanting spirit of Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt?
Are they the team destined to win its first NCAA championship since 1963, when they became the first team to start an all-African-American lineup?
Perhaps, but Loyola-Chicago is no cinderella — they’re just an exceptional basketball squad capable of beating anyone.
Unlike powerhouse schools with potential NBA lottery picks, Loyola-Chicago is a cohesive group of amateurs that thrive under the spotlight. Loyola-Chicago has proven to be a breath of fresh air compared to players sporting massive egos like Duke University’s Grayson Allen and University of Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton.
For example, junior guard Marques Townes once helped Fairleigh Dickinson University to a 2016 NCAA tournament as the 16th seed. As a sophomore, Townes showed potential when he scored 13 points and recorded three assists in an losing effort against past cinderella Florida Gulf Coast University. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations, Townes grew to be an essential staple and sunk a crucial three-pointer during Loyola-Chicago’s 69-68 win against Nevada in the Sweet 16.
Another glaring example is senior guard/forward Donte Ingram. After three seasons of disappointment in the Missouri Valley Conference, Ingram has become a strong contributor to the team. In the 78-62 victory over Kansas State, Ingram dropped 12 points.
Then there’s redshirt junior guard Clayton Custer, who first started as an ineffective bench player at Iowa State University. After sitting out his sophomore year, Custer flourished with Loyola-Chicago, as he averaged 11.6 points per game and completed 46.4 percent of his shots from the field.
Custer is a stellar student-athlete as well. This season, he was named on the CoSIDA All-District V selection with a 3.52 grade point average.
With these team-orientated players, Loyola-Chicago burst onto the March Madness scene and outperformed higher seeded teams like the University of Miami, University of Tennessee, University of Nevada and Kansas State University.
Former President Barack Obama took notice of Loyola-Chicago’s success, tweeting “Incredible to have a Chicago team in the Final Four. I’ll take that over an intact bracket any day! Congratulations to everybody @LoyolaChicago – let’s keep it going!”
With a trip to the championship game on the line, Loyola-Chicago will face its ultimate counterpart, the University of Michigan. What sets Michigan apart from Loyola-Chicago’s previous opponents is its sheer talent and experience. During this past decade, Michigan has reached the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and the national championship. Despite its consistency, Michigan has not won the national title since 1989. The team is certainly no stranger to the sheer unpredictably of March Madness.
Will Loyola-Chicago become the ultimate cinderella or succumb like past cinderella teams like George Mason and Butler? Regardless of the outcome, Loyola-Chicago has caused pure madness in this year’s NCAA tournament.