Mad Thoughts: Biggest Game of the Year Should Bring in More Students

Loyola University Chicago | FlickrLoyola students try to distract Loyola men's basketball opponents by waving their arms.

Loyola men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser wants you, the student body, to go to every game and to support his team.

Moser pleads with the students at Rambler Madness, a preseason basketball pep rally, to continue to support his team throughout the season. He walks over and personally thanks the student body for coming to the home games. You don’t see Coach K at Duke or Mark Few at Gonzaga showing that same amount of gratitude toward the students for their support.

Moser’s enthusiasm for the Ramblers is almost as contagious as the cold that circulates campus around this time of year. And yet, less than 200 students show up to men’s basketball home games. Why?

It’s no secret that men’s basketball is the biggest sport at Loyola. Obviously, the No. 10 men’s volleyball team has been a more successful program, but basketball is the biggest draw in Rogers Park.

The Feb. 12 afternoon matchup between Loyola and Wichita State University is the biggest game to come to Gentile Arena this season. Wichita State, which is unofficially ranked No. 26 in the AP poll after receiving 38 votes, is a renowned basketball powerhouse, which draws a crowd. And when the Shockers stroll into Gentile Arena, they always draw in the largest crowd of the season.

As of Feb. 7, there are only about 50 lower bowl tickets still available for the Wichita State game. Brian Day, Loyola’s director of ticket operation, said he expects to sell out before the weekend.

The History

Loyola and Wichita State are not strangers. The two Midwestern schools have battled on the basketball court since 1963. In 35 matchups, the Ramblers have yet to beat the Shockers in Chicago.

On March 3, 1963, No. 3 Loyola hosted No. 10 Wichita State at Chicago Stadium for the Ramblers’ last game of the regular season. In a game where Loyola was pegged to be the obvious winner, the Shockers pulled a 73-72 upset and handed the Ramblers their second loss of the season.

The loss didn’t make or break Loyola, which went on to win its first and only NCAA National Championship title that postseason.

The two teams continued to battle for the next decade, until the rivalry came to an end after the 1975-76 season. Before Loyola joined the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) in fall 2013, the Ramblers and Shockers only played each other once since 1976.

Since Loyola joined the MVC in 2013, Wichita is 8-0 against the Ramblers. Historically, Loyola is 9-26 against the Shockers.

The Shockers’ worst loss to the Ramblers was by 18 points in 1966, while Loyola’s worst loss to Wichita State was Jan. 27, 2016 by 26 points. Despite both teams’ large margins of victory, the matchup has remained competitive. Out of the Shockers’ 26 wins against the Ramblers, more than half of them have been by single digits.

This Season

Wichita State (21-4, 11-1) has continued to be an MVC powerhouse, making the big dance the last six postseasons. Despite one loss to Illinois State University at the beginning of conference play, the Shockers, who are first in the conference, have made a statement against the rest of their competition. This season, Wichita State is averaging a plus-19.1 scoring margin and shooting 47 percent from the field, while pulling down roughly 40 rebounds per game.

Loyola (16-9, 6-6) should have 20 wins this season. The Ramblers’ season is full of “shoulda, woulda, coulda’s.”

On the surface, Loyola’s stats tell a different story than its results. The Ramblers, who are averaging 76 points per game, lead the conference, shooting 50 percent from the field. Loyola shouldn’t have lost to North Carolina State University or University of Toledo, nor should the Ramblers have lost their halftime leads over the University of Northern Iowa and Missouri State University. The biggest issue this season has been Loyola giving up late rallies.

But I’m not here to critique the Ramblers’ season, nor Moser’s coaching style — that’s a column for another week.

When Loyola faced Wichita State in Kansas Jan. 11, the Ramblers remained competitive. Although Loyola trailed at the half, the Ramblers outscored the Shockers in the second half. With two minutes left in regulation, Loyola trailed by four points, but wasn’t able to produce a win.

After the game, Moser said he was proud of his team’s effort.

“I’m proud of how tough we played and how we believed that we could win, but we want to be the program that wins those games,” Moser said in a statement released by the athletic department. “We have to get better and develop some depth, especially defensively.”

And developing the team’s depth is definitely something Moser has continued to stress in practice. You can see the team has improved since the Wichita State game. Now, Loyola has had its fair share of slip ups since the loss to the Shockers, but we’ve seen more consistency on the perimeter and through the lane.

Why You Should Care

If free T-shirts, a chance to win a Residence Life priority housing spot and good basketball aren’t convincing enough to come to the biggest basketball game at Gentile Arena this year, here’s my pitch to you.

Athletics are a huge part of the “college experience,” although it’s not stressed on Loyola’s campus.

I’ve watched the Loyola men’s basketball team for the past three and a half years, both from the sidelines as a cheerleader and as a reporter and sports editor for The Phoenix. I’ve witnessed the evolution of the program since Loyola joined the MVC in 2013. The Ramblers have crawled up the conference totem pole from the bottom feeders they once were to the top four (should be top three) teams in the Valley.

Loyola has a chance to beat Wichita State, and it has homecourt advantage, truly a leg-up on the visiting opponent in a competitive MVC. Statistically, the Ramblers can keep up with theShockers — it’s just a matter of the team finding the right matchups.

Loyola will look for that elusive win against the Shockers on Feb. 12 at 3 p.m.