Finding joy in college basketball has been tough in a season fraught with sexual misconduct allegations and the specter of looming federal indictments hanging over many of the nation’s top programs.
Yet, at least for one month, the Loyola Ramblers’ remarkable run to this weekend’s Final Four in San Antonio has reminded us why we fill out our brackets and tune in to the dozens of games that make up the NCAA tournament.
Sure, the little bit of money we have riding on the office pool is a nice incentive. But it’s stories such as Loyola and Jacobs High School graduate Cameron Krutwig that we find ourselves rooting for.
The Ramblers, along with new national sensation Sister Jean, truly are a remarkable story.
Loyola, which is only the fourth No. 11 seed to ever reach the Final Four, barely survived its first two games in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament before torching Illinois State in the MVC Championship to clinch its NCAA tournament bid.
Once in the tournament, the Ramblers shocked nationally respected programs in Miami, Florida, and Tennessee with last-second wins in their first two games. They followed those up with another heart stopper against Nevada in the Sweet Sixteen before routing Kansas State last weekend in Atlanta to reach the Final Four.
No one saw this coming. Not even Krutwig’s former coach at Jacobs, Jimmy Roberts, who was in the stands to watch Krutwig become the first player in McHenry County history to reach the Final Four.
“We saw Cam and spent time with him,” Roberts said. “People and kids were coming up to take pictures (in their hotel). It’s like they’re the ’96 Bulls. It’s just neat stuff.”
Roberts wasn’t alone in Atlanta, with more than a dozen of Krutwig’s family and friends, including Jacobs assistant coach Jack Denny, on hand to watch Loyola’s incredible win.
Krutwig and the Ramblers face a huge challenge Saturday to reach Monday’s national championship. They will have to pull off their biggest upset yet against third-seeded Michigan.
At this point, however, is there any reason to believe this team can’t shock the basketball world again?
And does it really matter after spending the last month watching the Ramblers play inspired basketball?
Maybe Denny summed up last weekend – and possibly this entire run – perfectly.
“It was an incredible, surreal, pinch-yourself type of moment,” he said. “It’s been phenomenal.”
We couldn’t agree more.