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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 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 www.ramblermania.net/forum

The 25 Best Loyola Men’s Basketball Teams of All Time: Part 2 (#16-#20)

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

No. 20

The 1981-82 Loyola Ramblers:  Four NBA Draft Picks, Lost in Conference Final

17-12, 8-4 Midwest City (3rd Place)

Sullivan won 149 games as head coach from 1980-1989

Gene Sullivan’s second season at Loyola resulted in his first of four winning seasons in a row, and the second among seven winning conference seasons in a row.  The 1981-82 team featured two future NBA players and third round and fourth round NBA picks.

The Ramblers lost to #10 Minnesota by one point, and Illinois by four points.  They beat Northwestern, SIU, Creighton, and Northern Illinois; the Ramblers beat both Xavier and Butler x3 (home, road, and neutral in the conference tournament).  It was a great season, but the Ramblers couldn’t get past Evansville, who beat Loyola at home, on the road, and in the final of the conference tournament by the score of 81-72. 

Wayne Sappleton averaged 22.0 points and 13.0 rebounds per game (second in the nation in rebounding for the second year in a row), and earned a 2nd round NBA pick by the New Jersey Nets.  Point guard Darius Clemons, who set a Loyola career assists record of 703 assists and scored 1610 points in four years, was drafted in the fourth round of the NBA Draft by the San Diego Clippers. Alfredrick Hughes (1st round in 1985) and Andre Battle (3rd round 1985) were freshmen on that team averaging 17.0 ppg and 7.7 ppg respectively.

No. 19

The 1977-78 Loyola Ramblers:  Big Game Performers with Road Woes

16-11 Overall

How could a 16-11 team be picked as one of the Top 20 teams at Loyola?  Well, when you beat Minnesota (with future NBA star Kevin McHale), Indiana State (with future NBA legend Larry Bird), #2 Marquette (the defending national champion), and #14 Georgetown, you get known as a pretty strong team.

NBA 1st Round Pick Larry Knight

The ’78 Ramblers had future NBA player Andre Wakefield, NBA first round draft pick Larry Knight, 6’8 center Houston Lloyd, and 6’8’ forward Rod Callihan.  All of them averaged in double figure points, and for the time they were an very tall team that shared the ball better than most teams with big men.

Unfortunately, the ’78 Ramblers didn’t travel well. Loyola was 5-8 on the road, dropping contests at Wisconsin (second to last in the Big 10), Valpo, and Ohio University.  The ’78 Ramblers also lost two home games to opponents they should have beaten for a shot at postseason, Toledo and Bradley.

No. 18

The 2018-19 Loyola Ramblers:  Conference Champs, NIT First Round

20-14, 12-6 Missouri Valley Conference (tied for 1st Place)

Clayton Custer, Cam Krutwig, Coach Moser, and
Marques Townes led the 2019 Ramblers. Photo: Chicago Magazine

Coming off their Final Four season, the Ramblers were adjusting to the loss of Aundre Jackson, Donte Ingram, and Ben Richardson while trying to integrate Tate Hall, Cooper Kaifes, and Aher Uguak into the rotation.  Loyola tied with Drake atop the MVC with a 12-6 record, and therefore earned an automatic bid to the NIT.

The MVC was having a down year—Loyola’s 131 KenPom ranking was tops in the league.  The Ramblers only had four games against Top 100 Ken Pom teams all year—a last-second home loss to Furman (KenPom 59) and blowout losses to Nevada, Maryland, and Creighton (in the postseason NIT).  A better schedule might have helped the Ramblers overcome the weakness of the MVC that season, but an injury to Lucas Williamson (LUC was 10-8 in the 18 games he missed) and some blowout losses to not-so-great teams (a 67-48 loss at last place Evansville and a 70-35 thrashing at Missouri State) sank the KenPom.

Bradley upset the Ramblers 53-51 in the Semifinals at Arch Madness, and Loyola was assigned to visit Creighton in the NIT– where their 70-61 loss was not as close as the score.  Marques Townes won the Larry Bird MVC Player of the Year award, giving the top individual player award in the conference to a Rambler for the second straight year.

No. 17

The 2006-07 Loyola Ramblers: High Expectations Not Quite Met

21-11, 10-6 Horizon League (3rd Place)

This was the Loyola team we thought was going to go to the tournament. They were preseason favorites in the Horizon League, and senior Blake Schilb was named preseason Player of the Year.  Everybody was back from the 19-win team the year before, including J.R. Blount and Leon Young who had been so impressive as freshmen. But something else showed up—the injury bug and the sophomore slump.

(L-R) Blake Schilb, Kye Pattrick, Majak Kou, Tom Levin, and Brandon Woods surround team chaplain Sr. Jean Dolores Schmidt

Team leader Blake Schilb got banged up and missed a game after only playing 15 minutes in a loss to Youngstown State. Young missed six games and was plagued by injuries the rest of his career. Blount was one of only four Ramblers who played in every game, but his field goal percentage fell from .459 to .408.  Majak Kou’s points edged up with more minutes as a full time starter, but his rebounds, steals, assists, and made threes declined.

Toward the end of the season, things started to fall into place, however. Loyola won eight of nine games going into their Horizon League tournament semifinal against #18 Butler. The Ramblers had defeated #15 Butler a week and a half earlier at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler and Loyola split two OT games during the regular season, and the third OT game was neck and neck again when Loyola had a chance to win, inbounding the ball with a tick or two left, and Blount wasn’t able to get a shot to go. The final was 67-66.

Loyola finished the year with a KenPom of 84, higher than several NIT at large teams. If the Ramblers had defeated Saint Louis at home (a game they gave away in the final minute with a turnover), or beat Butler in either of their two OT losses, an NIT invite or better would have been likely.  The 2006-07 Ramblers were the only Loyola team to win 20 games OR win 10 conference games for a 30-year span between 1985 and 2015, so they were an important team for the die-hard fans who suffered through a long, excruciating postseason drought.

No. 16

The 1979-80 Loyola Ramblers:  Jerry Lyne’s Magnum Opus

19-10, 5-0 Midwest City (1st Place)

Coach Jerry Lyne’s final season and the Ramblers’ first season in the newly-formed Midwest City Conference resulted in a postseason bid, as Loyola was tabbed for the NIT after losing the conference tournament final to Oral Roberts. 

Coach Jerry Lyne was the assistant who took over as head coach in 1975.

Senior shooting guard Leroy Stampley led Loyola with 20.2 points per game, while junior center Kevin Sprewer added 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds.  Stampley was drafted in the fourth round of the 1980 NBA Draft, and Sprewer went in the sixth round of the ’81 Draft.  Sophomore point guard Darius Clemons scored 15.6 ppg while averaging 4.0 assists per game.   

Loyola beat MVC Champ Bradley twice (at home and at a neutral site) and beat MVC runner-up Creighton at home. Add wins over A-10 Champ Rutgers, and top MAC teams: Bowling Green, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois. But when it came to the future Great Midwest teams, Loyola had trouble—two fairly close losses to Top 10 ranked DePaul, a loss to Marquette, and a loss to Cincinnati.

These days, a regular season conference championship locks up an NIT bid, even if the team falters in the conference tournament.  My estimated KenPom ranking for this team was 110, based on the offensive and defensive team ranking and schedule strength.  It was the first year of the fledgling Midwestern City Conference (Loyola, Butler, Evansville, Xavier, Oklahoma City, Oral Roberts); the NCAA had a 32-team field that year.

Coach Lyne took over the team in 1975 and retired at the end of the 1979-80 season; this team marked his high water mark as head coach.

The countdown of the top 25 Loyola men’s basketball teams of all time continues in a few days with the teams ranked from 11 to 15. Comment on the Ramblermania Message Board.