Going into Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament final it was assured that one Illinois school was going to break a lengthy NCAA tournament drought.
Top-seed Loyola and Illinois State fought to become a Cinderella story, but it was the Ramblers that locked up the tournament spot. Loyola hasn’t been dancing since 1985, which included a Sweet Sixteen run and a loss to Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown.
The Ramblers beat the Redbirds 65-49 to lock up the MVC tournament after going 15-3 in the MVC regular season to win the conference title. Loyola led 39-31 at halftime and used a run early in the second half to extend the lead and put ISU away.
Illinois State, which hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 1998, has now been to three of the last four and six of the last 11 MVC tourney finals and come up short each time. Last year the Redbirds went 28-7 and 17-1 in the MVC, but lost to Wichita State in the final. The Shockers moved to the American Athletic Conference this season and are ranked in the top 15 teams in the country.
Loyola, which moved from the Horizon League to the MVC in the 2013-14 season, got on the national radar with a win at Florida in early December. The Ramblers, which both ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS' Jerry Palm have project to be a No. 12 seed in the NCAA tourney, have a 28-5 record and are riding a 10-game winning streak.
Loyola is the first Chicago school to make the tourney since DePaul and UIC both made it in 2004. The Ramblers will be the only school to represent the state of Illinois with down years from Northwestern and Illinois.