CHICAGO (CBS) — The Loyola Ramblers dance to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 33 years on Thursday.
The 28-5 Missouri Valley Conference champions are underdogs in the opening round against the 6-seed Miami Hurricanes.
Loyola hasn’t played in the tournament since 1985, when eventual NBA first-round draft pick Al Frederick Hughes led them to the Sweet 16.
As the team’s marching band welcomed them to Dallas for their first shootaround on Wednesday, the players knew full well they would need to rely on their stifling defense and unselfish play to help the 11th seeded squad shut down the powerful Hurricanes.
For senior forward Aundre Jackson, arriving in Big D was a homecoming.
“It was an amazing feeling. As soon as I saw that we was in Dallas, I jumped up and screamed, and ten seconds later I was on the phone calling my mom, telling her that I was coming back home to play. I’ve had a lot of people that want to see me play college ball, and now they get that chance to. So it’s a great feeling,” Jackson said.
The Ramblers also feature two Chicago Public Schools graduates – senior guard Donte Ingram, a Simeon alum; and freshman guard Lucas Williamson, who went to Whitney Young.
“It’s an unselfish team. Each of us. We’ve got like six guys on our team that can score 20 each night, but we do a great job of spacing the floor, moving the ball. We don’t really care who scores. So I think that’s a great thing, and why we are such a big threat,” Ingram said.
The Ramblers enter the tournament riding a 10-game winning streak. They’re considered one of the more likely Cinderella teams in the Big Dance.
For the players, all of the armchair prognostications are just distractions they intend to tune out.
“Just have our blinders on; you know, just block everything out, and just focus on us. Focus on our togetherness. Just look forward to this next game, and what we have to do to win this game,” junior guard Marques Townes said.
While the Ramblers are known for their defense, their offense also is formidable. They’ve been shooting 50 percent from the field as a team.
Loyola remains as the only Illinois school to ever win a men’s basketball championship, defeating Cincinnati for the national title in 1963.