San Antonio, Texas, is the site on Saturday afternoon, as the culmination of the 2018 NCAA Men’s hoop tournament, a.k.a. “The Final Four” takes place. And along with powerhouses Villanova, Kansas and Michigan is a fourth school. A tiny Catholic school in Chicago, that has captured college basketball’s interest the last three weekends, Loyola University-Chicago.
They will take to the floor just after 5 p.m. local time in the Alamodome attempting to defeat the Wolverines and advance to Monday night’s championship game.
The question we wonder for the sport and the state we cover: is this truly similar to the football unbeaten 13-0 season and Peach Bowl victory on January 1st by the UCF Knights?
Let’s quickly compare a couple of things:
Loyola is in downtown Chicago and has an enrollment of just over 16,000. They have a previous NCAA basketball title having won the 1963 Tournament in an overtime championship game win over Cincinnati. They play in a smaller conference, the Missouri Valley, and were only on national t.v., cable or otherwise, starting with the title game of that tournament four weeks ago.
The Ramblers are have become more of a household name by upsetting the likes of the Miami Hurricanes, Tennessee, Nevada and then advanced to the Final Four with a win over Kansas State.
UCF is in downtown Orlando and has over 66,000 enrolled. You are probably much more familiar with what UCF did last fall turning around a disastrous 0-12 2015 season into a wild, perfect 13-0 last year. The Knights were on television somewhere every week and their dramatic Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving win over USF to put them at 11-0 was one of the most watched regular season college football games of the year.
They won the American Conference championship game the following week in equally exciting double overtime over Memphis. And then, were selected and got matched up with SEC power Auburn in Atlanta at the Peach Bowl. Coach Scott Frost, QB McKenzie Milton and a defense led by LB Shaquem Griffin proceeded to stun the Tigers and complete the 13-0 season.
Loyola Chicago is definitely on a big stage Saturday, as more than 20 million people likely will be watching this match-up with Michigan. Their coach is named Porter Moser, their stars have names like Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, and of course, their 98 year old Catholic nun chaplin “Sister Jean” has become one of the most fascinating and hilarious parts of their advancing this far.
And finally, the one difference: despite UCF’s claims, if the Ramblers win, they will actually be playing for the 2018 NCAA title on Monday night. The Knights and their fans could only scream and bellyache about being left out of the 2018 College Football Playoff.
No.There will be no dispute, internet poll, etc., if Loyola wins twice more.
They will be standing on the stage Monday night have pulled off one of the greatest three weekends of upsets sports has seen in the last 50 years or so.
Now, it won’t be easy, as these are the toughest most pressure packed games, against the best opponents they’ve had to date.
But, UCF rose to the challenge at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta on New Year’s Day and thumped Auburn.
What will the Ramblers do Saturday, and maybe even, Monday?
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