Four miles south of Loyola’s Gentile Center home—just a quick L ride—is Wrigley Field, where the Cubs famously ended their World Series drought in 2016.
Six miles to the north—yet another easy L ride—is Welsh-Ryan Arena, where Northwestern famously made its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in 2017.
And now, in the center of it all in 2018, Loyola is joyously going to the Final Four for the first time since 1963.
How’s that for a hat trick?
These are very precious and amazing times on the North Side of Chicago.
“This is the way it’s supposed to be!’’ Ramblers coach Porter Moser shouted after making his way over the media table and into the third row to celebrate with his wife and four children at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
To people in maroon and gold, that was the feeling after Loyola, which had won its first three NCAA games by a record-tying four points, steamrolled past Kansas State 78-62 in the South Regional final.
In case anybody was getting jaded about the NCAA tournament and its tendency to be populated by traditional powers, Loyola’s unlikely march to the Final Four is another reminder of why we love March Madness.
“This is the way it’s supposed to be!’’ may mean sweet victory to Loyola fans.
It means “Crazy stuff happens!’’ to the rest of the world.
“We’ve waited 55 years,’’ Jerry Harkness, a stalwart on Loyola’s 1963 NCAA champions, told the Athletic’s Brian Hamilton. “And it’s beautiful that they won before I went into the hole in the ground. You keep waiting and looking for something to come about. This team is blessed.’’
Loyola will face Michigan in a national semi-final that will be relished in the Midwest.
Not only are the Ramblers—who join George Mason, VCU and LSU as the only 11 seeds to reach the Final Four—the little darlings of this tournament. The Wolverines, a No. 3 seed, are a team that fans everywhere except Ohio State will find easy to embrace.
Like Loyola’s Moser, Michigan coach John Beilein is a terrific coach and admirable leader. They don’t win by recruiting star-laden juggernauts. They find solid players and mesh them into formidable units.
Michigan has won 13 in a row. Loyola has won 14 straight.
That’s what you call playing your best basketball when it matters most.
Michigan will be making its eighth Final Four trip, its first since 2013.
This is Loyola’s second Final Four trip, its first since 1963, when it became the only school from Illinois to win an NCAA ttitle. The Ramblers have played in only one other NCAA tournament in the last 50 years.
How big a leap is this?
When Loyola plays in San Antonio on Saturday, more people will be in the arena than saw them play at home all season. Loyola’s entire home attendance was 36,073 for 15 games, an average of 2,405.
The last time the Final Four was contested at the Alamodome, 43,257 saw Kansas beat Memphis 75-68 in overtime on April 7, 2008.
That game also had its Land of Lincoln angles. Former Illini coach Bill Self won his first national championship in that game, defeating John Calipari and his precocious freshman guard, Chicago prep legend Derrick Rose.
The Cubs in 2016? Northwestern in 2017? Loyola in 2018?
What epic sports story will 2019 hold for Chicago?
It’s hard to imagine this trend continuing.
Here’s something delicious to imagine, though: The people in TV Land are hinting at a sitdown between Sister Jean and Charles Barkley to talk some Loyola hoops.
That would be the icing on the Ramblers’ Final Four cake.