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When I was in my 20s, my buddies and I would head to the old Hi-Tops almost kitty-corner to the southeast entrance at Wrigley (Addison and Sheffield) for the first round of the NCAA tournament. This was in the early '90s.
The games would begin around noon and we would hang in for about five hours of basketball before we would come stumbling out into the early evening setting sun with a decent idea of whether we had a shot at winning our pool that year.
Those were some seriously good times, when I still cared intensely about March Madness - when the team that I loved when I was a middle-school fanatic walking to DePaul games in Lincoln Park during the glory years of 1978 to 1984, was still in the mix. In the latter year, I went to college but the love affair continued (my school, suburban Philadelphia Haverford, is a Division III distance-running powerhouse; basketball? not so much). I was still all about the Blue D-Men (that's what the nickname should be, not the Blue Demons. I'll be happy to explain why if we ever run into each other at a bar).
For a couple years in a row during my college tenure, our spring break lined up with the Dance. I would head down to my grandparents' house in Falls Church, Va., and when the tournament began on the Thursday of that week, I would settle in to watch live games on the still young ESPN from noon 'til midnight.
And then that glorious sports network would show taped games from midnight back around until noon the next day. I don't think I ever stayed up past 4 a.m. but it was a ridiculous feast of college basketball. My grandparents must have thought I was a little nuts but as long as I was good for lunch at lunchtime, they didn't worry too much - that I know of.
I'm bringing all of this up because after a long run of not caring at all about the tournament - my general feeling about college basketball continues to be that it is great except for the fact that it is fundamentally corrupt - I am excited to see Loyola take the floor on Thursday.
The Ramblers, who broke a 33-year streak of futility by qualifying for the tournament last weekend with a Missouri Valley conference tournament championship, take on Miami at 2:10 p.m. on Thursday in Dallas, as part of the Southern Regional. Hi-Tops on Sheffield is long gone but there must be somewhere a bunch of us can meet to take in the game. Oh wait, my daughter has her high school soccer season opener at 4:45 at Loyola (she plays for Lane) that day. So I don't think I can meet you all at a bar.
I'll still be watching the Ramblers as long as I can, though, and they will have an awesome opportunity to shock the Hurricanes and advance to a Saturday second-round match-up against fourth-seeded Tennessee or a fellow Cinderella. A win in that game will mean a spot in the Sweet 16.
We will read plenty about the Ramblers in the coming days. They are a delightful group of local players and outsiders. There was plenty of conversation about the various members of this awesome team at the start of the weekend although there was one significant absence from our Friday podcast due to a memory lapse on my part. In the aftermath of that stumble, let me just say to junior guard Marques Townes, I will never forget your name again.
Townes is the transfer from Fairleigh Dickinson in New Jersey who hit the biggest shot of Arch Madness (the Missouri Valley Conference tournament) for the Ramblers. In the waning minutes of their semifinal against Bradley the Saturday before last, Loyola failed once, twice, three times to extend a tenuous two-point lead. Finally, after Bradley also missed its third straight chance to tie it or take the lead, Townes lined up a three-pointer, fired, and drained it, giving the Ramblers a five-point lead that would hold up until the end. They went on to pull away from Illinois State in the final.
And now they have been living the dream for a week, capped off by yesterday's NCAA Tournament selection party at the Gentile Center in the middle of Loyola's lakeside campus.
They will have as good a chance as anyone to extend that dream into next week.
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