Nick Knacks

Column: College Basketball Fans, Rejoice. The ‘Red Line Rivalry’ Between Loyola and DePaul is Finally Back.

Steve Woltmann | Loyola AthleticsFormer Loyola guard Christian Thomas dribbles upcourt during the Ramblers' last game against DePaul at Allstate Arena in December 2012.

After years of hearing Loyola fans openly wonder why DePaul University doesn’t play the Ramblers in men’s basketball, it’s finally happening.

Loyola and DePaul are set to open a home-and-home series in December, it was announced in a press release. It would mark the first time they’ll face off since 2012 and just the sixth time since 1996.

Finally.

DePaul sits just 11 stops away from the Red Line. That’s about a 20-minute train ride on a good day. That’s not too far. It’s a wonder why the series didn’t restart sooner, especially since Loyola head coach Porter Moser has publicly expressed interest in resuming it.

Steve Woltmann | Loyola Athletics Former Loyola guard Walt Gibler drives for a layup during the Ramblers’ 2011 matchup with DePaul at Gentile Arena.

Down the Red Line, though, DePaul head coach Dave Leitao — who managed to get a contract extension this offseason after his 12-1 Blue Demons fell off to finish 16-16 last year — said in a statement he tries to schedule Chicago college teams each year. 

“As part of our scheduling philosophy, we annually try to play multiple local teams and we’re glad to add Loyola to our schedule,” Leitao stated. “Chicago basketball fans enjoy games between the local programs and we’re looking forward to our game at Wintrust Arena next season and then at Loyola the following season.”

That’s true. DePaul scheduled the duo of Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) each of the last five years.

Loyola, meanwhile, has only played UIC since its last game against DePaul, facing off with the Flames eight times in the last seven seasons — including two conference matchups when they were in the Horizon League. That seems weird considering Moser has said many times he grew up watching DePaul in the 1970s and ‘80s when the Blue Demons appeared in 13 NCAA Tournaments in 15 years, including the 1979 Final Four.

“I’m really excited to get this series started up again,” Moser said in a statement. “Having grown up in Chicago, I know how much this rivalry means, especially to the passionate college basketball fans in this great city. Loyola and DePaul have had an historic rivalry, especially in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, so to be able to rekindle that is great for college basketball.”

Let’s also not forget that Loyola is geographically closer to Northwestern than DePaul, yet the Wildcats don’t play the Ramblers. But that’s another conversation for another time.

Steve Woltmann | Loyola Athletics Former Loyola guard Ben Averkamp fends off a DePaul defender during the Ramblers’ last matchup with the Blue Demons at Allstate Arena in December 2012.

It’s also true that fans would eat up a Loyola vs. DePaul matchup, especially since Loyola put itself on the map with that 2018 Cinderella run. Since Wintrust Arena opened in 2017, DePaul’s highest attendance draw was 7,387 that first season. Could you imagine the crowd at the game in December?

The Blue Demons also still have some name recognition in town from those 1970s and ‘80s teams. That’s why when they went on that 12-1 run to start the 2019-20 season, people were talking about DePaul basketball being back — including a certain columnist at The Phoenix. But the Ramblers have the more recent name recognition after becoming the nation’s sweetheart two years ago.

These games had better be on national TV. Actually, how about WGN for old time’s sake?

It’s worth noting DePaul has played Loyola in every other sport possible the last few years. The Blue Demons and Ramblers played each other in men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and women’s basketball this year. This was the first year since 2005 that DePaul wasn’t on the Loyola softball team’s schedule. That’s another big reason why there was such a high appetite for a men’s basketball battle. 

Hopefully the city can show out for it and convince the other Chicago schools to join in the fun sometime. Could you imagine how much it’d energize the college basketball fan base in town if the Chicago schools played each other? It’d be great. For now, though, fans of both schools can enjoy having a major rival on the schedule once again.

Baby steps.

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