For all the history that ties Chicago to the sport of basketball, Loyola is the first men’s college hoops team from the area to reach the NCAA Tournament in 14 years. The Ramblers won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to earn the No. 11 seed in the South Region and will take on No. 6 seed Miami (Fla.) in the first round.
Loyola’s return to March Madness is a reminder of how programs around Chicago have struggled in recent years. DePaul, once the city’s powerhouse, hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2004. That team got knocked out in the second round by a UConn group led by none other than Ben Gordon.
The same goes for the UIC Flames, who have endured a 14-year drought of their own.
The 2018 tournament represents the first chance for a Chicago-based team to make a run in a long time. Loyola may never be able to bring back the city’s college basketball glory years, but it’s a chance to highlight a part of history that’s been pushed to the back burner.
DePaul has had by far the most success of any program in Chicago. The Blue Demons have reached 22 NCAA Tournaments, including 10 in 11 years from 1979-89.
Their best finish came in 1979, when freshman Mark Aguirre led the team past top-seeded UCLA into the Final Four. Larry Bird and Indiana State knocked the Blue Demons out, but they rebounded to beat Penn in the national third place game, a part of the tournament that no longer exists.
DePaul would proceed to be a top team throughout the 1980s under Ray Meyer, then his son, Joey Meyer. The school earned No. 1 seeds to the NCAAs four times and reached Sweet Sixteens in 1984, 1986, and 1987. However, the team’s results from 1986-89 would be vacated by an NCAA ruling.
Since the end of the Meyer era in 1997, the Blue Demons have reached the tournament twice: 2000 under Pat Kennedy and 2004 under Dave Leitao, who returned the university in 2016.
The Ramblers are best known for the legendary 1963 team that won the national championship. They smashed their first-round opponent by 69 points, then stunned Mississippi State, Illinois, Duke, and Cincinnati to win the tournament.
The next year, Loyola returned to the NCAAs and won its Round of 25 game before losing to Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. The team would rebound with a win over Kentucky in the regional third-place game.
However, that’s where the story becomes less exciting. The Ramblers would return to March Madness in 1966 and 1968, but the team was eliminated in the opening round each time.
Loyola’s final trip to the NCAA Tournament before this year came in 1985, when Gene Sullivan led the team to the Sweet Sixteen. The Ramblers beat Iona and SMU before running into Patrick Ewing and Georgetown, which shut down their offense in a 65-53 loss.
The Flames have reached the NCAA Tournament three times: 1998, 2002, and 2004. In all three instances, the team lost its opening-round game. The closest it came to victory was a 71-63 defeat to Oklahoma in 2002. UIC has had a winning record in just one season since 2009.