Ramblers livin on a prayer
March 27, 2018 3:07 AM
by Ramon Scott
To say the storyline has changed since Loyola University won the NCAA’s national championship in 1963 would simply be unfair and inappropriate.
Despite our many current uncomfortable social divides, the Ramblers’ opponent at the Final Four in San Antonio on Saturday – the Michigan Wolverines – will not have to have a plan to defy a state governor’s order and sneak onto a private plane in order to meet one of the best Cinderella upstarts ever to grace modern-day March Madness.
And although the similarities between today’s Loyola Chicago squad and the barrier-breaking club that won the University Division championship 55 years ago aren’t necessarily comparable on the court, both Rambler finalists play the game with a certain beauty that out-classes the rest of the mostly standard-bred field.
While Sister Jean has hogged the international headlines, many of the remaining champion Ramblers – including team legends Jerry Harkness and Les (Big Game) Hunter – have watched quietly in satisfaction as the little commuter school from the North Side has waltzed its way into the middle of the ballroom.
The 1963 Ramblers, which are the only team in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, weren’t necessarily aware of the huge impact their presence in the championship game – which they won in overtime against two-time defending champ Cincinnati – and the “The Game of Change” regional semifinal win against an all-white Mississippi State team played in a tense East Lansing, Mich.
That incredible Loyola team was one of the top-ranked teams in the country behind two-time All-American Harkness. Few teams could match up physically with the Ramblers, who were dominant rebounders. You can see the skill level of LIC and the Bearcats in that title game compared to other videos from games of that same era.
This current group of Ramblers are not of that ilk but may not realize the impact they might have in the future of mid-major basketball with fewer and fewer professional prospects playing more than a year at the typical power schools.
Veteran teams that move the basketball and work for the most efficient shot can always have a chance in a college basketball game, but now in today’s climate, that style can result in a series of tournament wins.
Hard to argue Loyola wasn’t easily the most entertaining team in the field. In fact, bettors seem finally convinced entering Saturday’s game (3:09, TBS) against UM.
The Wolverines opened as high as -6.5, but a strong stream of Rambler support had moved the line down to -5, with a total of 129 by as early as late Sunday evening.
Loyola (32-5) has won 21 of its last 22 games and has a 23-9-1 spread record that has made them one of the favorite teams of many a trend handicapper this season.
However, Michigan, which comes in with a 13-game winning streak, certainly matches up very interestingly, and indeed favorably, with Loyola, with a 24-12-1 ATS mark. The teams are two of the top three in spread victories this season.
Only the Ramblers have shown a season-long totals trend, going 22-13 to the UNDER, though the matchup features two of the top 20 defenses in the country, with UM a sure top-five outfit.
Finding a way to get Clayton Custer, Marques Townes, Donte Ingram, Ben Richardson and the rest of the Ramblers past Michigan is certainly difficult, but this team’s drive and determination should be admired enough to keep this number within reach.
Loyola Chicago has been priced as high as 12-1 around town to win the national championship, but is certainly worth consideration at any higher price. Michigan’s crew of finally-rewarded regional star Charles Matthews, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, and inside-outside threat Moe Wagner, meanwhile, come in at +300 or lower to take the next two games, which is below our expectations.
One could only expect a thriller from this intriguing matchup with the caveat of the concern that Michigan has been elite in not turning the ball over. UM, 65-64
Kansas (+5, 155) vs. Villanova (Sat. 5:49, TBS): Yes, the Wildcats are about an even-money choice to win the national title, but playing Duke and Kansas back-to-back in any year is going to make it difficult.
Still, Villanova is super-elite when it comes to combined efficiency, averaging 87 points per game, which makes them the sure eye-test favorite to capture both games. Any plus-price on the Wildcats to take the title is a certain buy on the experienced former champs.
The Wildcats have two of the best players in the country in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, but Kansas’ arrival behind veteran star Devonte’ Graham and now sudden-star Malik Newman has been something to behold, as well.
The odds on KU to finally get back to the top of college basketball is generally around a fair 3-to-1.
Kansas comes in with the least amount of success against the number this season, though the Jayhawks are 20-16-1 ATS. Meanwhile, Villanova joins Michigan and Loyola as the top three ranking teams in the country at making bettors money with a 25-12-1 mark.
Early respected action appeared to come in on the UNDER, as the opener of 156 moved down a tick despite market indicators showing an early run on tickets and money to the OVER. The Wildcats are also 21-10 to the OVER this season.
The Jayhawks haven’t won the national title in 10 years, but they’ve missed out on some chances similar to this over that decade, so expect a sure focus here in another rock-chalk-sided venue. VU, 75-73
National Championship: Take Michigan moneyline over Villanova or take Villanova minus the points over Loyola-Chicago. Take Michigan moneyline over Kansas or take Loyola-Chicago moneyline over Kansas.