Loyola Ramblers Always Seem to Give Butler Bulldogs FITS!

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In the modern era of college basketball, only one school in the state of Illinois boasts a national title. Guess which one.

The Illinois Fighting Illini? Sadly no, but they probably are the strongest program in the nation never to have cut down the nets. DePaul was great in the ’80s, how about the Blue Demons?

Nope, it’s actually the Loyola Ramblers, vintage 1963.

The Ramblers also went to the sweet sixteen in 1985. Unfortunately, they haven’t been back to the dance since then. But there is one team with which every game has a March type atmosphere. That would be last year’s national runner-up, the Ramblers’ Horizon League rival Butler Bulldogs.

In Wednesday night’s conference opener for both teams, the Butler-Loyola rivalry saw another nail-biter, as the Bulldogs handed LUC their first loss of the season 65-63 at the Gentile Center. Last year, when BU made their historical Final Four run, Loyola lost 48-47. I guess you could call both these games “moral victories.”

By Paul M. Banks

“We know when we play Butler you have to play great. Our effort was great, but we’d love to have a few possessions back, but that’s basketball, it’s the way it goes,” Loyola Coach Jim Whitesell said.

“Give them credit, we have a lot of respect for them. It’s Horizon League, it’s going to be a throw down. I appreciate the fans and the energy. Don’t give up on these guys yet, it’s only one loss. Everyone’s going to lose this year, I don’t think anyone’s going undefeated,” Whitesell said.

Overall, the loss was encouraging for the Ramblers who stand at 7-1, and are off to their best start since the national title year when they began 21-0. As of Monday, Loyola was one of just four teams in college basketball with at least 7 wins (Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Cleveland State).

“I don’t think you can ever come into a conference game thinking you’re going to blow somebody out, especially Loyola. They’ve played us well, every single game that I’ve been here,” said Butler forward Matt Howard.

The Ramblers will get another opportunity to prove themselves on Saturday, December 11th when the #5 team in the nation, the Kansas State Wildcats visit the lakeside campus.

The meeting with Wooden Award Candidate Jacob Pullen and company tips off at 3.

Getting back to the Butler rivalry, the series is very even and symmetrical. Five of the last nine meetings have been decided by four points or less, and the Bulldogs hold a 18-16 advantage over the Ramblers in Rogers Park. Overall, the series is 48-30, advantage Butler.

The Bulldogs have won 21 consecutive conference games, but have already dropped two in the pre-conference season (by 15 at Louisville, and at home to Evansville). These losses dropped the Bulldogs from the national rankings.

Missing their point guard Ronald Nored, they struggled with their offense Wednesday night. Nored’s another key cog missing from a team that lost Avery Jukes, Willie Veasley and their major star, Gordon Hayward from last year’s much bally-hooed squad. So a step down was inevitable and expected. But Ronald will be back soon, and the conference season has only just begun. Plenty of time to get ready to make another March Madness run.

“We had some guys out there playing late that weren’t in games late last year. And I thought they were really reliable late when it mattered most,” Butler Coach Brad Stevens said.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.com

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