Loyola Athletics Men's basketball 2017-18 Year in Review

A season to remember

How the Loyola Ramblers went from college basketball unknowns to the most talked about team in the nation

As the buses rolled down Sheridan Avenue, reality had not yet sunk in. The members of the Loyola men’s basketball team had just come off an unbelievable six days in Dallas, where they went from being an upset pick to a serious contender in the NCAA March Madness tournament. And yet everything still seemed surreal: the chartered plane, the video of the Chicago Cubs players wishing them luck, the thunderous reaction to their not one, but two, last-second victories, and now, a police escort leading their bus back home to the Lake Shore Campus, where hundreds of fans gathered to welcome them home.

When they got close enough to see the campus, the players moved to the bus windows and pulled out their phones to record the fans decked out in Rambler scarves and Loyola gear. The crowd stretched across campus, cheering “L-U-C” as the bus approached.

Little did the team know just how much they had captured the attention of the Loyola community, not to mention the entire city of Chicago. Even the former U.S. president was rooting them on via Twitter.

While the players had been focused on what was happening in Dallas, back home students, faculty, and staff had packed watch parties on the Lake Shore, Water Tower, and Health Sciences campuses. Alumni gathered in Rogers Park, downtown Chicago, and in cities around the country to cheer on their team. And many of those fans packed the quad on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the hope of getting an autograph or taking a selfie with one of the players.

Inside the bus, the team was floored. “No way!” they said as they looked at the size of the crowd. "Where were all these people at the beginning of the season?"

A momentous ride

To the outside observer, it was a season that started like any other. But Coach Porter Moser, who has led the Ramblers since 2011, knew early on that this year could be something special. “All summer long we were like, ‘Why not us?’” he told the Washington Post after the team clinched its spot in the Final Four. “This is not something where it just started. These guys have been investing a long time in how hard they worked and how hard they believed.”

To most of the sports world, however, the Ramblers being in the NCAA tournament—much less getting to the Final Four—seemed far-fetched. The team started the season playing in front of the usual small-but-enthusiastic crowds in Gentile Arena, with just over 1,100 fans turning out for the first pre-season exhibition game. Then they won their first seven games in a row, most by a comfortable margin. Then came the stunning upset on the road of No. 5 ranked Florida. People started to take notice. Loyola was a team to be reckoned with.

But the team never looked ahead. Their mantra remained “one game at a time,” as they focused on preparing only for the next team on the schedule. And one by one, those teams went down in defeat.

Slowly but surely, the crowds grew. Average attendance crept to roughly half of Gentile’s 5,000-seat capacity. There were nearly 3,600 fans at a game against Missouri State in early February. And by the final game of the season, Gentile was sold out with a packed house of 4,963. And the Ramblers didn't disappoint their home crowd, as they lost only one home game throughout the entire season.

The fanbase grows

Attendance in Gentile Arena for home games this season

Compares attendance in Gentile Arena for first and last home games this season

Playing on a bigger stage

Moving on in their bracket, the Ramblers had to adjust to playing in a much larger buildings with much larger crowds than what they were used to in their home arena. Here are the capacities of some of the arenas they played in:

5,000

CHICAGO: Gentile Arena

20,000

DALLAS: American Airlines Center

70,000

SAN ANTONIO: Alamodome

On to the big dance

By the time the regular season ended, Loyola had posted its best record since the 1948-49 season, 26-5. They’d already clinched first place in the Missouri Valley Conference, entering the annual Arch Madness conference tournament in St. Louis as the No. 1 seed. Wins over UNI and Bradley sent the Ramblers to the finals, where they earned a 16-point victory over Illinois State to capture the MVC Championship. And with it, a guaranteed spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985. (Read more about Arch Madness)

Students all across campus got caught up in the excitement of seeing Loyola suddenly recognized on a national stage. Students like senior education major Armeen Sayani gathered with friends to watch games on the big screen in the Damen Student Center and Gentile Arena. "It was amazing to be a part of," Sayani said. "The way that it brought our school together was very, very cool to see... I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to senior year!"

We just find ways to win. Different guys, different nights. That’s what’s special about this group.
–Coach Porter Moser

Created by Culture

The name Loyola University Chicago was unfamiliar to many basketball fans when the post-season began. After all, it had been 33 years since the Ramblers sent a team to March Madness. Only the most ardent sports fan would likely know that Loyola had once taken home the NCAA Championship—making them the only Illinois school ever to do so—way back in 1963. But for most fans, and even for many Loyolans, the dramatic journey to the Final Four seemed to come from nowhere. From ESPN to Sports Illustrated, the New York Times to the Washington Post, and Good Morning America to NBC Nightly News, Loyola was suddenly the talk of the nation. But one question seemed to persist: Where did this team come from?

There are, of course, numerous reasons why the Ramblers went from virtual unknowns in basketball to the talk of the sports world. But perhaps the most important one was written right across their shirts: “created by culture.”

Inside the team’s locker room stands a wall with the words “Loyola Culture” emblazoned across the top. The wall is filled with sayings from Coach Moser’s playbook that he’s drilled into the players: Fake a pass to make a pass. Turn the tide. Make it hurt. When the ball moves, you move. All have deeper meanings that speak to the team’s approach to the game and the culture Moser has built.

Beyond the team’s intense attention to detail in the way they study film and prepare for their opposition, their culture is rooted in teamwork. No player takes center stage; each game throughout the playoff run had a different star, each time another Rambler took the winning shot or made a key play. They share the ball, they work together, and they always support one another.

“That’s what so special about our team,” senior guard Ben Richardson told the Washington Post. “We’ve got so many unselfish guys, and we have so many weapons. Like we’ve been saying, it can be anybody’s night, you know?”

Media attention explodes

61,000

Media mentions during March Madness

38.7K

Online

14.5K

On TV

7.8K

On radio

More than basketball

The Ramblers’ culture is, of course, about much more than just basketball. The Jesuit values of Loyola are ingrained in these players, and it shows on and off the court. It is the way they carry themselves and treat others. It’s the fact that they’re serious about their studies, being part of an athletics program at Loyola that ranks first in the nation in Graduation Success Rate of student-athletes. It’s their special relationship with Sister Jean, who leads them in prayer before games and offers advice to each of the players.

Sister Jean's integral role on the team became itself a topic of conversation throughout the media, as everyone wanted to hear from the 98-year-old sister whose spiritual presence is matched only by her savvy when it comes to the game of basketball.

“Her presence and her aura, when you see her, it’s just like the world is just great because [of] her spirit and her faith in us and Loyola basketball... She’s the biggest Loyola fan I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
— Junior Marques Townes (Associated Press)

Sister Jean by the numbers

98

Age (Birthday: August 21, 1919)

57

Years at Loyola (24 with team)

16,000+

Bobbleheads sold

38,595

Media mentions*

23,612

Likes on Loyola's Instagram*

*During March Madness

Behind the scenes

Perhaps what most defined the team through their historic March Madness run was their camaraderie behind the scenes. They took every game seriously, but still found opportunities to joke around in the locker room. Before the second-round game against Tennessee, center Carson Shanks grabbed a microphone and conducted mock interviews with some of his teammates. Before another game, freshman Cameron Krutwig did his best Will Ferrell impression during an on-camera interview while his friends tried to crack him up from off screen. And in the short slivers of free time they had at night, the players gathered in a hotel room to play FIFA on an Xbox One that freshman Dylan Boehm had brought along for the trip.

“It’s amazing what you can do when you get a group of people who believe and are really tight. I’ve said that since day one,” Moser said in a post-game press conference following the team’s second round win over Tennessee. “We have a close-knit culture, and the guys in the locker room pull for each other, they share the ball, and it is just amazing. We all, we really believe.”

Capturing hearts

The team may have been surprised to see the gathering of fans when they returned home from Dallas, but as the tournament wore on there was no denying that they’d become national stars. Every major media outlet was talking about Loyola’s Cinderella story, as they knocked off one big name team after another: No. 6 seed Miami. No. 3 seed Tennessee. No. 7 seed Nevada. And finally, No. 9 seed Kansas State, earning the Ramblers the distinction of being only the fourth No. 11 seed in NCAA tournament history to make the Final Four.

Back home, the watch parties grew more crowded. City buildings lit up the Chicago skyline in maroon and gold to show their support. Billboards featuring the players and Sister Jean greeted drivers on the Kennedy Expressway. No matter where you went in Chicago, March Madness—and Rambler madness—had enveloped the city.

Though the players tried to remain focused, it was hard to escape their sudden celebrity status. When the team was in Atlanta, they learned that NBA superstar Russell Westbrook was staying at their hotel—but it was Westbrook who wanted to meet them. NBA legend and broadcaster Charles Barkley also made it known he was rooting for the Ramblers, and made it a priority to meet Sister Jean during the Final Four. When the team arrived in San Antonio, they walked past giant photos of themselves plastered in the hotel and the arena. There was no doubt that the Ramblers had arrived.

“It’s been a blast so far. I think it’s brought us all together.”
—Justina Birden (Sophomore, Broadcast Journalism major)

The whole country is watching

Alumni and fans joined official watch parties in 26 cities to cheer on the Ramblers.

The Final Four

When Loyola’s incredible run finally ended at the hands of No. 3 seed Michigan in the Final Four, fans around the country who’d been cheering on the Ramblers were heartbroken. But the loss couldn’t take away all that Loyola had gained—the national notoriety, the legions of new fans, the increased awareness of the incredible things happening at Chicago’s only Jesuit, Catholic university. And a season that will live on in the memories of everyone.

How the Final Four game played out

Before the season ended for the Ramblers, the team stood its ground against the formidable Michigan deep into the second half*.

A15:00 Loyola led 29-22 at the end of the first half.

B21:00 Loyola led by 10 points six minutes into the second half.

C23:40 Michigan tied the game 47-47 with 6:20 remaining.

D25:00 The Ramblers collapsed in the last 5 minutes, allowing Michigan to win 69-57.

* A college basketball game has two halves, each lasting 20 minutes with a 15-minute halftime period.

“Obviously this is something that will keep us connected for the rest of our lives, I love all these guys like brothers. We're all family, the players, the coaching staff. And I won't forget this.”
— Senior Donte Ingram, speaking to media after the Final Four game

Athletic Scholars For the past two years, Loyola has sat at the top of the class when it comes to Division I student-athletes. Read more

98 years in the making Find out why Sister Jean is an icon of Loyola basketball—and why some are calling her the MVP of this year’s tournament. Read more

History firsthand The 1963 Ramblers forever changed Loyola—and college—basketball by breaking down racial barriers. Read more