Cinderella Loyola-Chicago Team Highlights March Madness

If you had Loyola-Chicago in your Final Four, stand up and take a bow. You might be the only person in America who did.

But that’s why we all love March Madness. Nothing ever goes as expected. When the games start, you can throw the seeds out the window.

So, in this weekend’s Final Four, we'll have two No. 1 seeds—Villanova and Kansas—in one semi-final, with a No. 3 seed (Michigan) vs. a No. 11 (the aforementioned Loyola-Chicago) in the other.

We also have Loyola’s 98-year old chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, who’s become such a celebrity that her newly-minted bobble head is selling like hotcakes. Ironically, Sister Jean’s own NCAA bracket had her team losing in the round of 16.

Some of us are old enough to remember when Loyola won the NCAA title back in 1963, a year before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. In those days there was an unwritten rule among coaches that no more than two black players could be on the floor at the same time.

Loyola coach George Ireland bucked the establishment and started three or four African-American players. In the Mideast Regional semi-finals his Ramblers met Mississippi State, whose coach and players defied a Mississippi law prohibiting the state’s schools from playing against integrated teams.

Loyola beat Mississippi State in that game and went on to defeat two-time defending national champion Cincinnati in overtime to win the NCAA title. In many ways that Loyola team paved the way for Texas Western—with an all-black starting five—to win the NCAA championship three years later over an all-white Kentucky team.

Loyola’s ’63 championship was not a huge upset. The Ramblers finished 29-2 and were ranked in the top five throughout the season. But if they win it all this year, it might go down as the biggest shocker in tournament history.

Consider that Loyola came into the NCAA Tournament unranked. That its coach, Porter Moser, was fired at Illinois State. That its top players, Kansas natives and lifelong best friends Ben Richardson and Clayton Custer, weren’t recruited by either Kansas or Kansas State despite leading Overland Park’s Blue Valley Northwest H.S. to two state titles.

That backstory made the Ramblers’ Elite Eight victory over Kansas State especially sweet for Richardson and Custer. And if they can somehow get past Michigan in Saturday’s semi-final, how fitting would it be for these improbable heroes to match up against Kansas in the national championship game Monday night?

Stranger things have happened in the NCAA Tournament.

Bracketology: Like everyone else who filled out a bracket, mine is a total mess. The only saving graces: I did have North Carolina going out early, and I picked Villanova to win it all. At this point, of course, I’m rooting for Loyola-Chicago.

Ratings, or Lack Therof: More bad news for the Pac-12, which failed to get a team past the first round. The ratings for the league's championship game on FS1 were (this isn’t a typo) 0.35, translating to about 600,000 viewers. By comparison, the audience for the Mountain West championship game was 1.6 million. It may seem hard to believe, but the Mountain West’s New Mexico vs. San Diego State matchup outdrew the Pac-12’s Arizona vs. USC affair by almost a three to one margin. (The fact that both Arizona and USC have been implicated in the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption may also have been a factor).

National Exposure, or Lack Thereof: Along the same lines, consider some recent comments by Stanford women's coach Tara VanDerveer. VanDerveer is truly one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, male or female. And she is a good soldier who rarely has a discouraging word to say about an opponent, administrator, or media entity. But she seems misinformed about the Pac-12 Network.

In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Tara gave a “shout out” thanking Commissioner Larry Scott and the Pac-12 Network for allowing “the rest of the country” to see the great women players in the Pac-12. Unfortunately, the Pac-12 network isn’t seen by the rest of the country. It’s seen in fewer than 20 million homes, almost all of them in the Far West.

Play Ball: The Major League Baseball season opens for the two Bay Area teams tomorrow, with the Giants facing the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, and the A’s hosting the Angels and Mike Trout in Oakland.

Both teams were optimistic at the start of training camp, the Giants having bolstered their lineup with the acquisition of veteran stars Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, the A’s boasting a truckload of promising young prospects. But a raft of injuries to frontline pitchers have dampened the outlook for both teams. The Giants have lost ace Madison Bumgarner—again—to a freak injury, while the status of $62 million closer Mark Melancon remains in doubt, and No. 3 starter Jeff Samardzija is out a month with a pectoral strain. The A’s have lost starter Jharel Cotton to Tommy John surgery (replacement of a torn elbow ligament), and top prospect A.J. Puk is facing the same procedure.

Which brings up a question. Why are so many pitchers—both in the majors and in college—having Tommy John surgery?

Mark Marquess, who coached Stanford for 41 years before retiring at the end of the 2017 season and previously played four years in the Chicago White Sox organization, believes it stems from overuse. “It seems like half the pitchers today are having Tommy John surgery,” Marquess says. “You have to wonder if it’s because baseball has become a year-round sport. In the old days, we’d play baseball in the spring and summer, football in the fall, basketball in the winter. Now kids have to play baseball all year, starting from the time they join a club team. Pitchers have to throw all year. That puts tremendous stress on their arms. They have no time to rest or recover.”

As usual, the man makes a lot of sense.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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