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The 25 Best Loyola Men’s Basketball Teams of All Time: Part 5 (The Top 5)

No. 5

The 2020-21 Loyola Ramblers:  The Peak of The Moser Years

25-5, 16-2 Missouri Valley (1st Place), Sweet 16

Coach Porter Moser put Loyola back on the college basketball map with a total rebuild that began in 2011 and culminated in a Final Four in 2018. But the team sputtered a bit in 2019 and 2020, losing at Arch Madness in the semi and quarter-finals.  So after a Final Four, there was a one-and-done NIT and an unlikely postseason chance as a pandemic shut down sports and much of society.

The COVID-19 pandemic that eliminated the 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was still raging at the start of the 2020-21 season. Just before the 2020 season was set to begin, 11 Ramblers were diagnosed with the virus.  That shut down the opening of the season, cancelled the MTE (Loyola’s best chance at establishing a non-con resume), and upset the practice schedule.  Loyola (and many other teams) were suddenly scrambling for opportunities to replace some resume-building opportunities.

Loyola lost to Wisconsin, 77-63. There were few opportunities for Q1 wins.

Loyola wasn’t able to get their season started until Dec. 5, and was only able to schedule seven non-conference games, only five of them against Division I teams. On Dec. 15, the Ramblers got a hastily-scheduled game against Wisconsin in Madison because the Badgers had an opponent get a positive COVID case.  Loyola performed well in most of the first half, then came out flat in the second half, losing 77-63.  In another short-notice game against A10 favorite Richmond at a neutral site, the Spiders were up by 15 at halftime before Loyola closed the gap late. The final was Richmond 75, Loyola 73.  When there was a gap in play because of an early cancellation of conference games, the Ramblers made the best of it by scheduling a non-con against CUSA contender North Texas.  Loyola won that game at Gentile, 57-49, against an eventual tournament team.

To avoid unnecessary and excessive person to person contact and travel during the pandemic, the MVC scheduled back-to-back games in random home or away pairs. The exception was games with the nearby travel partner, which would remain home and road. In a conference as competitive as the Valley, where road wins are at a premium even for the very good teams, it seemed like a particularly daunting challenge.

And boom, sure enough, the Ramblers lost the front end game of their first conference road trip to Indiana State.  That put Loyola at 7-3 overall, 2-1 in conference, with a KenPom of 45.  Not so good for the Ramblers with no more space to fit in a non-con resume-builder.  But the next night Loyola avenged their loss to Indiana State and reeled off 11 wins in a row.  The most impressive stretch featured five away games in a row against Valpo, two at Bradley, and two at Missouri State in which Loyola won all five by an average of 20.4 points.

Without any Q1 non-con games to boost the resume, Loyola relied on building their KenPom efficiency numbers, and the Pomeroy numbers shot up during the 11-game streak in which 10 of the 11 wins were by double digits.  The 45 KenPom after the loss at Indiana State shot up to 10 after Loyola won its 11th in a row at Drake.  The Drake Bulldogs were the other unexpected story of 2020-21.  Coach Darian DeVries’ tea started off the year 18-0 before their first loss at Valpo.  By the time Loyola beat them 81-54 in Des Moines to open their two game series, Drake was at 57 in KenPom.

So now Loyola had a 10-point win over CUSA leader North Texas and a 27-point road win over a KenPom 57… there’s your Q1 win!  Seems the 27-point smack down was a little too much for Drake to abide, so the next day they fought, scratched, and willed their way to a 51-50 overtime win after they seemed done in regulation.  That win over the Ramblers and the rest of their body of work (25-4 on Selection Sunday) was enough to get them an at large NCAA bid to the First Four, where they beat Wichita State. 

Loyola won the MVC regular season with a 16-2 record.  Taking no chances at Arch Madness, they won their three games in the conference tournament by an average of 16.7 points.  It was the third regular season conference championship and second conference tournament championship in four years.  It happened at a moment when college basketball prognosticators realized the value of efficiency metrics, and Loyola went into Selection Sunday ranked #9 in KenPom. But there were no wins against P5 teams, so where to put them?  The NCAA decided on an 8 seed.

In the NCAA Tournament, Loyola faced a banged-up Georgia Tech team that shocked the ACC with a run to the title.  The Ramblers beat the Yellow Jackets somewhat easily, winning 71-60.  That put Loyola on a collision course with the Illini, who won the Big Ten conference tournament and ranked #2 in all of college basketball in KenPom. 

Loyola vs. Illinois in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. USAToday

Famously, the Ramblers embarrassed the Illini with a 71-58 humiliation in which they were out-played in every phase of the game.  That win, knocking out the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to advance to the Sweet 16 just four years after a Final Four, was the game that cemented Loyola as a program that had arrived, and not just Cinderella or a one-hit wonder.

The Ramblers lost their Sweet 16 game against Oregon State (coached by former Alumni Gym gym rat Wayne Tinkle).  And the inevitable happened– Coach Moser took a big money job at a P5 school, Oklahoma. Cameron Krutwig decided to move on as well, to a pro career.  Drew Valentine was promoted to Head Coach, the youngest in Division I.  And less than eight months later, Loyola accepted an invitation to join the A10.

No. 4

The 1948-49 Loyola Ramblers:  From No Program at All to a National Title Game in 4 Years

25-6, NIT Runner Up

Loyola’s Hall of Fame Coach Lenny Sachs died suddenly at the age of 45 in the first year of World War II, when young men of college age were opting for the military out of high school or putting their college studies on hold.  Coach Sachs died a few weeks before the men’s basketball season, and assistant John Connelly took over to lead Loyola to a 12-10 record.  But without a permanent head coach and a war raging, Loyola put the program in sleep mode for the rest of the war.

Bluitt scores against Kentucky. Rupp and UK wouldn’t have an African-American player on their team for 21 more years.

After two full years with no team at all, Loyola tabbed former DePaul Coach, military veteran, and seated DePaul Athletic Director Thomas Haggerty to re-start the Loyola basketball program. Building slowly and surely, Haggerty recruited some great talent:  6’6″ power forward Jack Kerris out of Chicago De La Salle was a star– holding the Loyola career scoring record of 1556 until Harkness broke it in 1963.  Gerry Nagel was the point guard, Don Hanrahan a guard/forward, and Ed Earle more of a muscular forward who could handle the ball; all three had at least a year in the nascent NBA. Air Force veteran Ben Bluitt was the first African-American Loyola men’s basketball player in 1946; he played sixth man, and added length and leap to the skill set.  Bluitt coached high school in Chicago, was an assistant to Dick Viatle at Detroit, and became the second Black head coach in the Ivy League at Cornell.

NIT second round against #1 Kentucky.

Loyola’s 1949 regular season featured wins over Big Ten teams Wisconsin and Purdue on the road, a home/road sweep over Marquette, a road win over NIT entrant St. John’s, a 14-point win at St. Bonaventure, and a 32-point home win over Villanova.     

The 1948-49 team suffered three regular season one-point road losses:  A 45-44 road loss at Toledo, a 59-58 loss at #14 Holy Cross (featuring Bob Cousy), and a 52-51 overtime loss at Duquesne.  Loyola also split home and road games with DePaul and Bowling Green.

It’s important to remember that in 1949, the NIT had more participants (12) than the NCAA Tournament (8).  And that’s even with some schools (Kentucky in 1949, CCNY in 1950) sometimes entering BOTH tournaments.  So the NIT still had a lot of relevance, and many people thought it was more prestigious. 

Loyola’s first opponent was CCNY, who would win BOTH the NIT and NCAA Tournaments in 1950, the only time any team would do so.  The Ramblers won 62-47 in that NIT play-in round at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 1949.  Next up was #1 Kentucky– Loyola beat the #1 Wildcats 61-56 on March 14, 1949– and Kentucky went on to play in the NCAA Tournament where they won the National Championship.

On March 17, 1949, Loyola beat #7 Bradley to advance to the NIT Final. This set up the final game, on Saturday, March 19, 1949, with Loyola (an unexpected underdog who was supposed to lose to Kentucky) facing off against San Francisco (an unexpected underdog who was supposed to lose to Saint Louis or Utah).

In the final, USF got out to a lead, but Loyola fought back and tied the game at 47-all in the closing 90 seconds. This is where USF Coach Pete Newell was pretty clever, and his team was able to execute.  When USF got a free throw, the 48-47 lead, and the ball, they held it. In the the late 40s, the rule was when you got fouled, you had a choice between free throws OR keeping possession and inbounding. USF chose to inbound after every foul, and Loyola never got possession back.

Newell’s NIT Championship strategy got him hired away by Michigan State in 1950, and in the late 50s he returned to Northern California to coach Cal to the 1959 NCAA Championship. (That’s right, CAL has a Natty!)

Still, the Ramblers beat #1 Kentucky in the NIT, just two weeks before Kentucky won the NCAA Tournament and the National Championship. Here is the radio broadcast from Madison Square Garden in 1949, if you don’t believe it…

No. 3

The 1928-29 Loyola Ramblers: An Undefeated Season in the Middle of a 31-Game Winning Streak


The 1928-29 Loyola Ramblers

In 1929, there was no KenPom, SRS, RPI, or any other accurate metrics to compare one team against another.  There were few statistics beyond final game scores. And postseason championship tournaments were still nine years away.  So I’m working off of my estimates and knowledge of the era and conditions to fill in some of the hard numbers that supported the rankings of the other teams.

The Helms Foundation was created in the 1930s as an organization to promote amateur athletics, and in 1943 they began naming college basketball national champions (considering both the NCAA and NIT tournaments and the body of work in the regular season). In the 1950s, they released a retroactive list of their declared champions from the years before postseason tournaments.  Their selection for the men’s basketball championship of 1928-29 was Montana State, a team that went 36-2 against anyone and everyone they could schedule, in an era when 22 games was on the high average end of total games played.  

The 1928-29 team was the squad that launched Loyola from a smaller, regional program to a national power in college basketball.  Coach Lenny Sachs—inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961—had only three seasons under .500 from 1925 to 1942. In that span, he won 212 games against 107 losses, and had two undefeated regular seasons. 

Charlie “Feed” Murphy out of De La Salle High School was a two time All-American

The thing that propelled Sachs and Loyola into the upper echelon of college basketball was the fact that the National Catholic Interscholastic Basketball Tournament was held at Loyola’s Alumni Gym from 1924 through 1941.  Loyola had the best Catholic school basketball players coming to campus each and every year, with Coach Sachs there to recruit them.  When the 1928 and 1929 teams took off, Coach Sachs showed that he could do a lot with raw talent he saw at the high school tournament.

The 1928-29 Loyola Ramblers began the season with a four-game winning streak held over from the 1927-28 team, and went on to an undefeated season at 16-0.  Two of Loyola’s close wins were against Saint Louis, which was 14-4 that season and twice beat the MVC champion.

Loyola was the only undefeated team in 1928-29, and beat their opponents by an average of 23% per game (27.38 to 17.06).  The Ramblers played a solid schedule at the time, maybe not the most challenging schedule, but still undefeated. North Carolina’s 34-game winning streak from 1923-25 featured several non-college amateur teams, such as the Durham Elks Club, Charlotte YMCA, etc. That was a fairly common practice back then. But Loyola played all college teams in their 1928-29 season.

The key thing about Loyola dominance in 1928-29 was that it came in the middle of a 31-game winning streak that began on Feb. 18, 1928 with a 27-18 win over Lombard College (Carl Sandburg’s alma mater), and ended with a 25-20 overtime loss at Purdue (featuring a sophomore star named John Wooden) on Jan 30, 1930.  As part of that streak, the Ramblers defeated Xavier five times; Detroit three times; Saint Louis, Dayton, Bradley, Western Michigan, and North Dakota twice; and Butler, Vanderbilt, Duquesne, Arkansas State, South Dakota State, and Montana State (the defending Helms Champion from 1928-29) once.

A couple weeks after the 31-game streak ended at Purdue in the 1929-30 season, Loyola went on to defeat North Carolina, the team that held the record for the longest winning streak (34 games, from 1923-1925).  That North Carolina team from 1923-25 counted victories against the Durham Elks (twice), Charlotte YMCA, and other assorted opponents as wins.  Yes, Loyola played some weaklings also, but at least they were other colleges.    

The top player on that 1928-29 team was Charlie “Feed” Murphy, a 6’4″ forward who earned All-American honors in 1929 and 1930.  Murphy started playing pro out of college for a variety of teams, including the Chicago Bruins, Oshkosh All Stars, and Chicago Duffy Florals. 

No. 2

The 1938-39 Loyola Ramblers:  Undefeated Regular Season, The Pinnacle of Coach Sachs’ Career

22-1, NIT Runner Up

Ten years after his first undefeated season, Loyola Coach Lenny Sachs put together one of the great teams in college basketball for another undefeated schedule. In 1929, there was no such thing as a postseason tournament, so he did everything possible to build Loyola’s reputation though better scheduling, and made innovations in defensive schemes. In 1935, after earning a Master’s degree at Loyola, he was elevated to Athletic Director.

The 1938-39 Ramblers,

Coach Sachs’ 1929 team and the 31-game winning streak from 1928 to 1930 was overlooked by a lot of college basketball fans.  Beginning in 1929-30, Coach Sachs really stepped up his scheduling, getting games with Purdue, North Carolina, and others. 

Knowing he had a fantastic team in 1938-39, Coach Sachs got the big enrollment, football dominant schools on the schedule and picked out some good Independent college hoops squads.  Columbia (Ivy League), Chicago (Big Ten), Michigan State, Santa Clara, Villanova (an NCAA  Final Four team that Loyola defeated 51-32), Drake (MVC Champion that Loyola beat twice by a combined 25 points), Toledo x2 (with a 17-10 record), and George Washington (13-8 record).

Wibs Kautz in Alumni Gym

Led by 6’0″ senior guard Wibs Kautz (16 points per game) and 6’9″ senior center Mike Novak (consensus All-American), the Ramblers plowed through the schedule, defeating their opponents by an average of 15.7 points per game during the regular season.  The Ramblers started four seniors and a sophomore, so they played well together as a unit. Kautz and Novak both played together at Tilden High School before coming to Loyola, and they both played professionally on the nascent teams that eventually became the NBA.

Loyola was 20-0 at the end of the regular season, and accepted an invite to the 1939 NIT, the second year of the tournament.  In response to the NIT, the NCAA was starting their own tournament in 1939.  There were 6 teams in the NIT:  Bradley, Loyola, Roanoke, Long Island, New Mexico A&M, and St. John’s. LIU and Loyola were both undefeated.   There were 8 teams in the NCAA Tournament:  Brown, Ohio State, Villanova, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah State.  In the NIT, both Loyola and Long Island were undefeated.  In the NCAA, Loyola had defeated Villanova by 19, and three NCAA teams had six or more losses.

The Ramblers defeated St. John’s 51-46 in overtime in the semifinal game, which was really more like a road game at Madison Square Garden.  That set up the NIT final between two undefeated teams:  Loyola at 21-0 and Long Island University at 20-0.  LIU beat New Mexico State and Bradley to reach the final, winning a play-in to reach the final game.  The NIT had full houses of more than 18,000 at MSG, while the first year of the NCAA Tournament attracted  a near-capacity crowd of 4000 to 5000 at Patten Gym in Evanston. 

In the Final, the Ramblers were abysmal, wilting under the pressure of an 18,000-voice hostile crowd.  Loyola scored only 32 points, their lowest output of the season, while the hosts put up 44.  The Helms Foundation, in their retroactive declaration of national championships declared that the NIT Champs Long Island University were the real national champions, not the NCAA Tournament winner Oregon.

No. 1

The 1962-63 Loyola Ramblers:  The Greatest, Most Impactful College Basketball Season Ever

29-2 Overall, National Champions

There could only be this team as the best ever in Loyola history.  Looking at the best teams ever from a Loyola perspective is enlightening, because when we get to this team it makes one wonder:  Has any other team in the history of college basketball ever had a more successful year, against such odds, creating so much opportunity for others, making the game more exciting, and having such lasting impact?

The 1962-63 team with the National Championship trophy.

I suppose you could make a case for the 1966 Texas Western Miners.  Maybe a UCLA team?  There’s a case for the undefeated 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, I suppose.  CCNY won both the NIT and NCAA in 1950…   but they had a point-shaving scandal and dropped out of the University division of college hoops in 1953, so….

No.  There is no other team in the history of college basketball that had a better, more thrilling, more important, or more impactful season– ever.  Period.

*  Winning the National Championship in their first ever NCAA appearance.

*  Setting an NCAA Tournament record for biggest margin of victory, 111-42 (a record that still stands today, 59 years later), in their first ever NCAA Tournament game.

*  The first ever known occurrence when a major college team played five African American players at the same time on the court (Dec. 28, 1962).

* Defeating the two-time defending champions and #1 ranked team in the country after…

* Trailing the two-time defending champions and #1 ranked team in the country by 15 points in the second half, staging a comeback to win at the buzzer in overtime– the record for biggest comeback in the NCAA Final for 59 years (until 2022).

Vic Rouse gets a rebound.

* Overcoming the adversity of racist threats, harassment, taunting, unequal treatment, higher scrutiny, and allegations of academic fraud.

* The starting five playing every minute of the overtime title game.

* Despite racist suggestions that Loyola’s team was composed of paid ringers, every starting player graduated from Loyola; one starter earned a postgraduate law degree; one starter earned a postgraduate MBA; and one starter earned a BA, three Master’s degrees and a Ph.D.

* Helped change the style of the game for decades.  In 1959, the highest scoring team in college basketball averaged 87.6 points per game. Loyola averaged 91.8 in 1963, and by 1966 the highest scoring team (Syracuse) was averaging 99 points a game and eight others higher than Loyola’s 1963 scoring average.

* Playing SEC Champ Mississippi State in a clean, competitive game that almost didn’t happen after the state of Mississippi prohibited MSU from playing a team with African-Americans.

* Integration of college basketball took a huge leap forward after Loyola’s championship. Hundreds of scholarships opened up for qualified African American students, which were subject to quotas or segregation before.  A top example:  In 1963, one of the most demonstrably racist receptions Loyola encountered was at the University of Houston, where they were pelted with coins, spit on, rude signs in the audience, cat calls, etc.  The following year Houston recruited their first Black football player, and two years later African American basketball players Don Cheney and Elvin Hayes propelled Houston into a national basketball power.

Loyola vs. Mississippi State in East Lansing, Mich.

The list of feats and firsts goes on and on, now thankfully chronicled and showcased in full documentaries, several books, official government honors, a meeting with the President in the White House, and enshrinement in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

President Obama with the 1963 Ramblers in the Oval Office.

Yeah, that’s a pretty solid season.

The 25 Best Loyola Men’s Basketball Teams of All Time: Part 4 (#6-#10)

No. 10

The 1984-85 Loyola Ramblers: A Sweet 16 After a 17-Year Wait

27-6, 13-1 Midwestern City (1st Place)

1985 Ramblers

For 50 years—from 1968 to 2018—the 1984-85 Ramblers were the only Loyola team to make it to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and they did it with a flourish. A regular season conference title, a conference tournament title, a non-con win over #4 Illinois at Rosemont Horizon (followed by a convincing win over #20 Louisville at Freedom Hall), a 19-game winning streak, a #14 AP ranking, and a Sweet 16 appearance against the #1 team in the country and defending National Champion.

The individual talent on that team was stellar.  Alfredrick Hughes averaged 26.3 ppg and finished his career that season with 2914 career points, at the time the 5th highest scoring player ever in Division I. Even today– 37 years later– Hughes still ranks 13th all time. Hughes was selected 14th overall in the first round of the 1985 NBA Draft.  Guard Andre Battle averaged 20.3 points and was a third round NBA Pick by the Celtics. Sophomore center/forward Andre Moore went on to set the Loyola record for career blocks, and earned a 2nd round pick by Denver in the 1987 NBA Draft.

Loyola beat 13 seed Iona in the first round of the tournament 59-58 in a squeaker; Hughes led Loyola with 24 points and the Gaels’ senior forward Tony Hargraves had 19 points (but missed six of his seven free throw attempts).  Next up, Loyola defeated SMU 70-57, forcing 7’ center Jon Koncak (the 5th pick in the NBA Draft that year) and the rest of the Mustangs into 19 turnovers.

Alfredrick Hughes scored 2914 points and had 982 rebounds.

In the Sweet 16 against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown, the Ramblers were great in the first half, taking a 28-26 lead into the locker room at halftime.  In the second half the Hoyas shut down the Ramblers’ top three players, holding Carl Golston, Battle, and Hughes to a combined 24 points on 38 field goal attempts for the game. 

It was a great showing by the Ramblers.  With Golston and Moore coming back, Wichita State transfer Bernard Jackson set to join the team in 1985-86, and some good recruits (Gerald Heyward, Keith Carter) coming in the future looked bright.  But it would be 30 years until the next postseason tournament for Loyola, and 33 years until their next trip to the NCAA.

Out of the four times Loyola won the Midwestern City/Midwest Collegiate/Horizon League regular season title, this was the only time the Ramblers won the conference tournament for the automatic bid.  Loyola would reach the conference tournament final only one more time during their 28 subsequent years in the conference that became the Horizon League, in 2001-02.

For my generation of Loyola fans, this was the team we looked to as a model of what was possible. And if we had kept doing *this* every five to seven years or so, people might have been fine with it. But recruiting changed, scouting changed, conferences changed, players changed, the economics of college sports changed, but Loyola athletics and administration didn’t change much, at least not until the 21st Century was well underway. When it stops happening every five to seven years and gets into multiple decades without success or satisfaction, it will tend to cull a fanbase.

No. 9

The 1961-62 Loyola Ramblers:  NIT 3rd Place, Much Bigger Things in Store

23-4 Overall

1961-62 Loyola Ramblers

It was no secret that Loyola’s 1962 team was going to be fantastic. The 1960-61 freshman team (featuring Les Hunter, Vic Rouse, John Egan and Ron Miller) absolutely tore apart their opponents without mercy.  That freshman team was 12-1 (the loss by three points to a top AAU squad), averaged 96 points a game, and beat opponents like Roosevelt, Valparaiso’s frosh squad, Lake Forest, and local juco squads by as much as 50-80 points.

The only question was, how will Coach Ireland integrate five star-level African American players from the freshman team (Hunter, Rouse, Miller, Floyd Bosley, Rich Rochelle) onto a returning squad with one star African American player (Jerry Harkness) and a senior African-American bench contributor (Alan Ray).  Ireland chose to start two white players– senior shooting guard Mike Gavin and sophomore point guard Egan– with Miller as the first man off the bench. In order to mostly hew to the “gentleman’s agreement” of only playing a maximum of three Black players at a time, 6’8” sophomore center Floyd Bosley, 6’10” sophomore center Rich Rochelle, and 6’1” senior guard Alan Ray all had their playing time seriously constrained.  That talented trio only saw time in 10 or 11 of the 27 games played that season.

The 1961-62 team was much deeper than the 1963 National Championship team, but not as experienced.  The scheduling for that season didn’t present the Ramblers with a lot of opportunities, either.  The team’s first loss was a drubbing by #1 Ohio State, the two-time defending champions.  The Ramblers lost their 2nd game on the road on Jan. 9 at Marquette, dropping them to 9-2 on the season, but their best win at that point was against unranked Indiana (middle of the pack in the Big Ten) at Chicago Stadium.  After a win over Memphis State and a harrowing trip to Loyola New Orleans in which the team experienced a lot of racial hostility, the team really got into a groove.  The Ramblers won 12 in a row (including wins over St. John’s, Marquette, and #7 Bowling Green State) before a loss in the regular-season finale at Xavier.

Harkness led the ’62 team with 21.0 ppg and Rouse (13.8), Egan (13.7), Hunter (12.8), Gavin (11.9), and Miller (10.2) also averaging in double digits. Rouse was the top rebounder with 11.3 per game, and Hunter and Harkness averaged 8.7 boards apiece.

The NCAA tournament eclipsed the NIT in prestige sometime in the early 1950s.  Although the ’62 Ramblers got invites to both the NCAA and NIT, Ireland chose to take the NIT bid—he said—to give Harness and Miller a chance to play in front of their parents and friends.  Sporting an #10 ranking in the AP Poll, Loyola got a bye into the Quarterfinals where they beat Temple, and set to face off against Dayton.  The Flyers got to the Quarterfinals by beating Wichita State and Houston to notch their ninth win in a row, at 21-6 overall.  Dayton defeated the Ramblers 98-82, and went on to beat St. John’s (a team Loyola beat earlier that season) to win the NIT Championship.  Loyola defeated Duquesne in the third-place game, 95-84, the beginning of a 22-game winning streak.

No. 8

The 2017-18 Ramblers:  Buzzer-Beaters and Sister Jean on the Big Stage

32-6, 15-3 Missouri Valley (1st place)

Such joy… So marvelous!

I know it’s going to hit a lot of people wrong that such a beloved, important and memorable team– with an all-time program high of 32 wins!– ranks eighth on this list.  But remember, this amazing team probably wouldn’t have made the tournament had they lost in the Arch Madness final. 

Loyola’s KenPom rating sat at 45 going into the 2018 MVC Tournament Final, which is high for a bubble team, but would have dropped with a loss to Illinois State. Battling some injuries in December, the team lost by 34 points at Boise State and lost by 17 points at Milwaukee, two bad losses that would have caused the committee to balk. The 2017-18 team also started conference play 1-2 with a low-energy home loss to Indiana State, before winning 21 of their next 22 games en route to the Final Four.

Two newcomers to the roster made an immediate difference and helped make up for the loss of Loyola’s greatest player of the 2010s, Milton Doyle, to graduation.  Six-foot-nine center Cameron Krutwig (the 2018 MVC Freshman of the Year) and Fairleigh Dickenson transfer Marques Townes (11.1 ppg on 51.4% field goal shooting) were both in the starting lineup a few games into the regular season. Second-year players Clayton Custer (MVC Player of the Year) and Aundre Jackson helped propel Loyola to the third highest team field goal percentage in all of Division I.  MVC Defensive Player of the Year Ben Richardson was a mentor for freshman Lucas Williamson, who emerged as a reliable contributor on both ends of the ball.  And Donte Ingram (11.0 ppg and a team-leading 6.4 rebounds per game) stepped up big when needed, earning the Arch Madness MVP award and hitting the game-winning shot in Loyola’s first NCAA Tournament game in 33 years.

Still amazing.

But it didn’t stop there. Custer hit the game-winning shot to beat Tennessee with seconds left. Townes hit the game-clinching shot against Nevada.  And Richardson stepped up with a career high 23 points against Kansas State to put the Ramblers in the Final Four for the first time in 55 years.  Crazy.  Still unbelievable.  And with 14 minutes left to play in the game that would send the Ramblers to the National Championship game, Loyola had a 10-point lead.  Insane.  Ludicrous.  Magnificent.

The 2017-18 team was a something akin to a moon launch event for Loyola athletics. Happily, the teams that followed over the next several years helped to reinforce that Loyola has a strong commitment to winning athletics.

No. 7

The 1965-66 Loyola Ramblers:  The Best Ramblers Team You Probably Haven’t Heard About

22-3 Overall

The 1965-66 Ramblers were the full fruiting of the next generation of players after the 1963 National Championship, built in a lot of ways similarly to the ’63 team.  The ’66 Ramblers were by Billy Smith, who actually started the 1962-63 season with the Ramblers before flunking out, missing a year to rebuild his grades at a New York area juco, and returning to play for Coach Ireland. Joining Smith were seniors Jim Coleman, and Frank Perez. Two sophomores joined the three seniors in the lineup– another New York area recruit– phenom Corky Bell–and Doug Wardlaw, a 5’11 guard.

Like the ’63 team, the ’66 Ramblers wanted to outscore their opponents and use their quickness and athleticism to play defense.  This team was deeper than the ’63 squad, with several significant contributors off the bench: sophomores Alan Miller, Jim Tillman, Bob Calihan, and Mike Hogan. Senior Ed Manzke also saw some playing time. The only thing that wasn’t like the ’63 team was the size.  Billy Smith and Jim Tillman were 6’5”; Corky Bell and Frank Perez were 6’4”, and those were the only players over 6’2”.

Corky Bell posts up against Kareem in 1967.

The ’63 team led the nation in with 91.8 points per game. To illustrate how much the game changed after that Loyola championship three years before, the 1965-66 team scored 97.5 points per game and finished fourth in the nation in scoring, after Syracuse, Houston, and Oklahoma City.  Loyola led the nation in margin of victory, defeating their opponents by an average of 20.92 points.

After beating two non-University Division (D-1) teams by a combined 111 points to start the season, the Ramblers dropped a home game to Oklahoma City, a team that would make the tournament and was coming off a Sweet 16 in the 1965 NCAA Tournament.  The 106-89 home loss to an Independent Oklahoma City team must have lit a fire under the Ramblers. After the loss to OKC, the Ramblers began a 14-game winning streak, winning road games at Missouri, Saint Louis, Indiana, and Marquette; in between, they beat Tulsa, #9 Minnesota, and Marshall at home.  In the last three games of that impressive streak, the Ramblers defeated three teams in succession coached by Hall of Fame coaches John Wooden (#10 UCLA), Tex Winter (Kansas State), and Al McGuire (Marquette). As a result, the Ramblers shot up to #3 in the AP Poll.

At 16-1 and ranked #3, the Ramblers stumbled again, losing at Wichita State 92-84. Loyola won out in the last six games of the regular season—including avenging the Wichita State loss with a 94-76 win at Chicago Stadium and beating Sweet 16 team Dayton on the road—to finish the regular season at 22-2.  Loyola drew the #10 ranked Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the first round; WKU was a top 10 defensive team that ended up turning the tables on the Ramblers with a 105-86 upset in the first round.

Texas Western won the National Championship in 1966 by facing off against Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA Tournament Final, a matchup of an all white team versus five African-American starters depicted in the film “Glory Road.”  It’s worth noting for Loyola fans and all college basketball fans that Texas Western’s championship happened the same year that Loyola’s next generation of players (after their historic 1963 championship) came of age.

No. 6

The 1963-64 Loyola Ramblers:  Preseason #1, Sweet 16, Regional Third Place, and Still… Disappointed?

22-6 Overall

There are only 23 college basketball programs that have ever had one of their teams ranked #1 in the AP Preseason men’s basketball poll in its 74-year history. In the preseason, the usual suspects—top P5 teams– are typically on top.

But in 1963-64, the AP Preseason poll (and the next three weeks of early polls) had Loyola as the #1 team in the nation. Loyola is the only school in Illinois to achieve a #1 pre-season AP men’s basketball ranking—not Illinois, not DePaul, not Bradley. Not even Marquette, Purdue, or Notre Dame.

The particular team in question was the reigning National Champions, the 1963-64 Loyola Ramblers, who were returning four of their five starting players, and had added some quality newcomers and returnees. The newcomers were starter Jim Coleman, a 5’11” sophomore guard; Ed Manzke, another 5’11” sophomore guard; Frank Perez, a sophomore forward at 6’4”; and Tom Markey, a 6’5” sophomore forward. Chuck Wood, a 6’3” senior forward who was a starter on the ’61 freshman team, finally got some limited playing time late in most games.

On the ’64 Ramblers, Ron Miller was the one to step up to try and replace the leadership and clutch scoring of Jerry Harkness. John Egan stepped up his scoring as well, switching to more of a shooting guard offensive stance, and newcomer Coleman did more ball distribution than scoring. Miller went from scoring 13.3 points per game on the ’63 team to leading all scorers in ’64 with 21.9 per game.

The ’64 Ramblers started out 6-0, with wins over Kent State, Detroit, and Western Michigan. But unlike past years, the margin of victory on those games against good/average Midwestern teams wasn’t as impressive. Loyola needed overtime to beat Detroit at Chicago Stadium, and the #1 team in the country beat Western Michigan on the road by three points (105-102). After a loss to Georgetown in a defensive battle (58-69) at the Quaker City Tourney in Philadelphia, the Ramblers struggled to defeat Northwestern (88-82) and Temple (74-65).

On New Year’s Eve, Loyola beat Indiana at Chicago Stadium, 105-92, to seemingly get back on track. But that was just it—Loyola was a top three team at home (or at least in Chicago venues), but only a pretty good team on the road. Loyola was 14-1 in home games (the only loss to Wichita State 80-76 at Chicago Stadium), but only 6-4 away from Chicago in the regular season.

At 20-5 and ranked #9 by the AP, Loyola knocked off Ohio Valley champions Murray State 101-91 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Welch-Ryan Arena in Evanston. Super sophomore Jim Coleman led the Ramblers in scoring with 27 points in that game. But in the next game against Michigan, the Rambler newcomer got called for a controversial travel.

During Loyola’s 2018 Final Four run, when Loyola was poised to play against Michigan again, a story was pitched on the Ramblermania message board about the controversy, and USA Today responded with an article.

The rough, somewhat controversial 84-80 loss to Michigan was balanced out by a regional third-place win over Adolph Rupp and his Kentucky squad, 100-91. In 1958, Loyola beat Kentucky at Chicago Stadium a few weeks before they won the National Championship. So the 2-game winning streak over Kentucky still stands.

There might not be another college basketball fan base that has experienced such extreme highs and lows as Loyola. Few teams have done anything close to what this 1964 Loyola team did, and yet it feels like a disappointment. No top program in the country has seen anything like the worst years of the program from the late 1980s to the early 2000s. But Loyola fans seem to sense in their bones that the DNA of the program is more like the top programs mentioned in National discussions than the ones left out.

The next five teams show the program’s rich history, coming in five different decades and spanning 92 years.

The 25 Best Loyola Men’s Basketball Teams of All Time: Part 3 (#11-#15)

The countdown of the top 25 Loyola men’s basketball teams of all time continues. The previous teams in the countdown are here.

No. 15

The 2019-20 Loyola Ramblers:  Moments of Greatness, But a Meltdown is Entirely Possible

21-11, 13-5 Missouri Valley (2nd Place)

Three games into the 2019-20 men’s basketball season, Loyola lost to Coppin State at home.  The Ramblers were a team that went to the Final Four less than two years before, and they were coming off a conference championship and NIT bid.  And now they’re losing a buy game at home to a MEAC team.

These same Ramblers led South Florida by 6 points at the half and had a 12-point lead over Colorado State with less than 10 minutes to play before losing both games at their MTE in the Cayman Islands.

But Loyola took care of business in the MVC, registering a 13-5 record, losing to KenPom 49 UNI on the road in overtime and beating them in overtime at home.  Loyola also beat a top MAC team, Ball State, on the road and knocked off Vanderbilt at a neutral site in Phoenix. It was the Ramblers’ third consecutive 20-win season after having only two 20-win seasons in the previous 32 years.

As Arch Madness– the MVC conference tournament– approached, talk circulated about an airborne virus that could be deadly. Amid the beginning of this chaos, conference champion and #1 seed UNI lost by more than 20 points to Drake. It was a huge, crazy upset.  When Loyola played a few hours later, they built a 14-point halftime lead.  The Ramblers had an 18-point lead with 15:44 left, and a six-point lead with 28 seconds left.  But Valparaiso got their only win against Loyola in the MVC in a play-in, come from behind shocker, 73-72 in OT.

Meanwhile, the pandemic news kept getting worse, so in the days between the start of the conference tournament on Thurs. March 5, and the Tuesday after, March 10, the whole college basketball world shut down.  For the first time since 1937, there was no NCAA Tournament, and no NIT.

No. 14

The 1951-52 Loyola Ramblers:  Legendary Old School Ballers in Coach Ireland’s First Season


George Ireland’s tenure at Loyola started with three wins over cupcakes, and three losses in his first games against top teams. After beginning 3-3 with losses at #3 Illinois, at #20 Notre Dame and at home against unranked Western Michigan, the Ramblers had a really excellent season.

Led by Loyola legend Nick Kladis in his senior year, on January 10, 1952 the Ramblers knocked off #12 St. John’s at their big game home court, Madison Square Garden.  St. John’s went on to play in that year’s NCAA Tournament Final.  Later in the season at Chicago Stadium, the Ramblers beat #18 DePaul and #14 Seton Hall.  Loyola also staged a home/road sweep over Marquette, beat Xavier in Chicago, and went on the road to successfully avenge their early season loss to Western Michigan.

Along with Kladis, the ’52 Ramblers featured three other double-digit scorers:  6’7” center Don Hanrahan (16.7 ppg), guard Ed Maracich (12.4 ppg), and 6’0” forward Bill Sullivan (10.0 ppg). By the end of the year, Kladis finished his career with 1046 points, becoming the third Rambler to top the 1000 point mark– joining Jack Kerris (1556) and Ed Earle (1018). Kladis was selected in the 1952 NBA Draft, created the hugely successful One Stop Foods (remember the late-night commercials on WGN?), had his number 3 jersey retired by the Ramblers, and became a minority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals before passing away in 2009.

In 1952, the NCAA Tournament was one year from bumping up to  16 participants while the NIT had 12.  Some teams still competed in both tournaments (Dayton and St. John’s, for example, in 1952).  The NIT Final Four in 1952 were all future A-10 teams:  Dayton, Duquesne, St. Bonaventure, and eventual champion LaSalle.  With only 26 teams playing postseason college basketball, (Dayton and St. John’s counted twice), the ’52 Ramblers were a bubble team that year whose bubble burst in both tournaments.

No. 13

The 1949-50 Loyola Ramblers:  Tough Schedule, Last Hurrah for Many Seniors


The Ramblers under Coach Tom Haggarty (1945-50) started off playing against some ad hoc amateur teams in the aftermath of WWII as returning veterans went back to college or sought other avenues for sports competition. Military training bases, YMCAs, and athletic clubs fielded basketball squads that often faced off against even Division I teams as society got back into shape.

Loyola had some great records (sometimes against teams with makeshift lineups) in the early years, and advanced to the point where Loyola was one of the top programs in college hoops once again.  Haggarty was a former DePaul Head Coach and Athletic Director who bailed to coach Loyola and rebuild the program after the War.

You see, Haggarty left DePaul in 1942 to join the Army.  Ray Meyer got his coaching spot and went to the NCAA Final Four in 1943, reached the NIT Final in 1944, and won the NIT in 1945.  Loyola had shut down their program during those years.  When Haggerty got out of the Army in 1944, DePaul gave him the position of Athletic Director and kept Meyer as Coach.  The next year, Haggerty jumped across the North Side and accepted the challenge of re-instituting the Loyola program as a coach and recruiter.

Haggerty got a real star—forward Jack Kerris, who was far and away the all time leading scorer at Loyola until the game changed in the 1960s. The 1950 team was Haggerty’s last in Chicago– he had health problems and went South to Loyola New Orleans.  He died in New Orleans at the age of 51 in 1956. 

Ben Bluitt became a University of Detroit assistant and Head Coach at Cornell University.

The 1950 Ramblers had five high-scoring seniors (Ralph Klaerich, Ed Earle, Ed Dawson, Ben Bluitt, and Frank O’Grady), plus sophomore star Nick Kladis.  Even though the team finished a middling 17-13, they beat #19 Oklahoma State at home, and Marquette, Syracuse, and Bowling Green on the road.  They took #1 Holy Cross down to the wire on the road, losing 53-48.  The team won 8 of its last 9 games down the stretch, including completion of a neutral sweep over DePaul and a home-road sweep over Dayton.

Yes, there were a lot of losses, but they were “quality losses,”  65 years before the term was invented: they lost at #1 Holy Cross, at #14 CCNY (who won both the NIT and NCAA Tournaments that year), at St. Bonaventure in Buffalo, at Notre Dame, and at home against #8 Duquesne.    

After losing the NIT Title game by 1 point the year before, this team– the first team put together after the total dissolution of the program in 1943– took a glorious victory lap against the country’s most challenging foes.  But if you think this ranking is just sentimentality, the good record against the strong opponents earned the 1950 team the 10th highest SRS in program history.

No. 12

The 1967-68 Loyola Ramblers: Undersized Overachievers

16-9 Overall       

The 1967-68 Ramblers had some great talent.  The two top scorers were 6’5” senior center Jim Tillman and 6’4” forward Corky Bell.  Six-foot-four sophomore Wade Fuller was also a double-digit scorer, but those were the three tallest players on the entire roster—no one over 6’5”. 

Sophomore guard Walter Robinson– a star player who would score 1297 points in his career at Loyola, and younger brother of Harlem Globetrotter and former Rambler Pablo Robinson—scored 13.7 per game in his debut season. Two 5’11” senior guards, Doug Wardlaw and Art Oates got significant playing time along with 6’4” backup center Coak Cannon.

Loyola’s Corky Bell posting up against Kareem in 1967.

Despite their diminutive stature, the overachieving ’68 Ramblers beat the likes of Kansas, Georgia Tech, Marquette, San Francisco, and BYU.  They went 3-2 against tournament teams, and at 16-8 on selection day, were probably were the last team in.  

As a reward for a just-barely-good-enough-to-make-the-tournament season, Loyola was matched up with undefeated #1 ranked Houston in the play-in round, a team with arguably the nation’s best player that year, 6’8” senior Elvin Hayes (1968’s NBA #1 Draft Pick).  The Ramblers lost 94-76, and would not return to the NCAA Tournament for 17 long years.

No. 11

The 2021-22 Loyola Ramblers: Super Seniors in MVC Swan Song

25-8, 13-5 Missouri Valley (Tied 2nd Place)

Four super seniors coming back for their last go-around and two Ivy League grad transfers led an experienced squad under first-year head coach Drew Valentine. But a curve ball put the whole season a little off balance right from the beginning.  On Nov. 16, just before the third game of the year against Chicago State, it was announced that Loyola would move to the A10 in the 2022-23 season.

At first, the news was just a bit shocking. Loyola had prospered excessively in the MVC, and in many eyes, the A10 was not a significant enough jump in prestige or competition to warrant jeopardizing a solid footing. But the MVC had recently announced that Belmont would be joining the league in 2022-23, and there were likely more additions to come.

By the time the conference season rolled around, the rest of the MVC– through podcasts, message boards, Twitter, and other means– started to coalesce around a fervent “Beat Loyola” theme.  The Ramblers were never really accepted by many stalwart MVC fans.  Wichita State fans cited Loyola joining the conference as one of the biggest factors in their exit from the conference in 2017.  Their constant complaining and degradation of Loyola on the message boards was sometimes shared by others.

Whether it was Big City hatred by a largely rural Midwestern conference, the anti-Loyola drumbeat by Wichita State fans for four years, or resentment that Loyola might want to leave a conference where there were many fans of other teams who were hostile– the MVC came together as one to pack their arenas and fire up their fans to send Loyola out with a loss.  By the time it came down to the conference regular season championship game, everyone in the MVC (including the refs) were rooting for Loyola’s demise.  The game that decided the regular season championship was an OT affair at UNI with a jam-packed arena, where UNI got 42 trips to the foul line against the team known to be careful about fouling.

Loyola won the MVC Tournament three times in their last five years in the conference.

The four super seniors (Lucas Williamson, Tate Hall, Keith Clemons, and Aher Uguak) and transfers (Chris Knight and Ryan Schweiger) on the ’22 Ramblers might have earned an at large bid with a KenPom ranking in the high 30s, an AP ranking of #22 in mid-January, and non-con wins over P6 teams like Arizona State, DePaul, and Vanderbilt.  But the emphatic Arch Madness statement wins (including a 23-point beat down of putative MVC regular season champion UNI, holding them to 9 points below their previous season low in scoring) earned Loyola a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Unfortunately for the Ramblers, an under-seeded Ohio State team returned key injured players to their roster just in time for the tournament and too many Loyola shots caught the rim the wrong way, resulting in a very ugly 54-41 first-round loss.  It was the last college game for all the super seniors.

Watch for the top 10 teams in Loyola men’s basketball history coming next week. Comment on the message board at