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Loyola-Chicago Ramblers Road To The Tournament

Ryan Mayer

Let's get this out of the way up top. You had no idea Loyola-Chicago had a basketball team prior to this year, did you?

It's okay, it's been awhile since the Ramblers have made noise on the hardwood... 33 years to be exact, since they last made their NCAA Tournament. They actually won the whole thing back in 1963.

This year's team likely isn't up to that task, but they could certainly make some noise once the tournament starts. Let's take a look back at the Ramblers' season.

Preseason Expectation: Since joining the Missouri Valley Conference in 2013-14, the Ramblers had yet to finish with an above-.500 conference record entering this season. Despite that, Porter Moser's squad entered the year picked as the number three team in the conference, even receiving one first-place vote. Things were a little different in the MVC this year, with Wichita State leaving the league for the American Athletic Conference.

Two Ramblers players, senior forwards Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson, made the conference's preseason first team all-conference team. Ingram and Jackson were joined by junior guard Clayton Custer as three returning starters for Coach Moser's squad. With the league a little more up in the air after the departure of the Shockers, Loyola looked to be in good position to challenge for their first league title.

November 10th: The Ramblers kicked off the season with a battle against their former Horizon League foes, Wright State, and they got things started right with an 84-80 win. Donte Ingram poured in 21 points, with Clayton Custer and Marques Townes adding 18 and 16 respectively. The win kicked off a streak of seven straight wins to begin the season for Loyola.

November 19th-25th: At the Savannah Invitational, Loyola faced four games in the span of six days, meeting Samford, Mississippi Valley State, UNC-Wilmington and Kent State. While that's not exactly a murderers' row of opponents, the performances that Loyola put up were impressive nonetheless. They won each game by at least 13 points, including a 24-point victory over UNC-Wilmington, last year's CAA conference champion.

December 6th: After a loss to Boise State and a win over crosstown rival Illinois-Chicago, the Ramblers faced a big road test against the fifth-ranked team in the nation, the Florida Gators. The Gators entered the game on a two-game losing streak and LUC made sure that continued, handing Mike White's squad a 65-59 loss in front of the Gators' home fans.

They held the Gators to just 2-19 shooting from three-point range and 22-46 from inside the arc. Forward Aundre Jackson poured in 23 points, while missing just two shots (10-12), as the Ramblers improved to 9-1 and picked up their biggest win of the season.

January 7th: Loyola exited the non-conference portion of their schedule sitting comfortably at 10-2, with the only losses coming to Boise State and Milwaukee. Then they lost two of three to open conference play, and things seemed to be going off the rails a little bit. A big match-up against Northern Iowa on the road loomed. The Ramblers won a defensive struggle 56-50, kicking off another seven-game winning streak that spanned three weeks and put them squarely in the running for the top spot in the Missouri Valley.

February 3rd: The Ramblers lost the first game against preseason favorite Missouri State when the two faced off at the end of December and the Bears took home a 59-54 win. Now, on their home floor, Loyola had the opportunity to avenge the previous loss. They did so in dominating fashion, with a 97-75 win that included 10 threes. Six players scored in double figures for the Ramblers, with Clayton Custer leading the way with 23 and also adding six dimes. The victory kicked off another seven-game win streak (seeing a trend here?) to end the regular season and send the Ramblers to Arch Madness in St. Louis as the top overall seed in the conference.

March 2-4th: Arch Madness has been known to take down an MVC favorite or two over the years, and it nearly happened to LUC in their first game. Northern Iowa trailed by just one point, 40-39, with 6:30 left in the game. But from there, the Ramblers managed a 9-2 spurt over the course of the next three minutes and change to open up a big enough lead to allow them to hang on down the stretch, 54-50. The next two games against Bradley (62-54) and Illinois State (65-49) saw the Ramblers clinch their first bid to the Big Dance in 33 years. As of publishing, the Ramblers are projected as a 12-seed, according to CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm, and would face Kentucky in the first round.

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