March Madness betting: Loyola-Chicago is back in the bracket and can do some damage

Loyola Chicago isn't exactly Duke or Kentucky, but the Ramblers are now a familiar name in the NCAA tournament bracket.

Loyola Chicago has only been to the NCAA tournament twice since 1985, but it has made both trips count. The first time the Ramblers had one of the most shocking Final Four runs ever, in 2018. Last season they upset No. 1 seed Illinois in the second round to go to the Sweet 16. Along the way, they've won bettors at BetMGM some money with big upsets.

Loyola Chicago is back in the bracket. The Ramblers beat Drake 64-58 on Sunday to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and get the auto bid to the NCAA tournament.

Loyola will probably be a double-digit seed in the NCAA tournament, and not one anyone wants to see in the first round.

Ramblers punch another NCAA ticket

This Loyola Chicago team isn't as good as the previous two NCAA entrants, but it's still a quality team capable of winning a game or maybe even two.

The Ramblers were at their best in the semifinals of the MVC tourney. Against top-seeded Northern Iowa, a team that beat Loyola Chicago 102-96 un overtime of the regular-season finale, the Ramblers crushed UNI in a 66-43 win. The Ramblers are an efficient team on both ends of the floor, and their defense was phenomenal against Northern Iowa.

In Sunday's MVC final, Drake came out shooting it well and took an early 18-8 lead. Loyola answered with a 19-0 run. It was the type of stretch that validates all the sleeper love Loyola will get after the bracket is revealed. They played great defense, getting turnovers and turning that into points. For about seven minutes they completely overwhelmed a solid Drake team that came in with a 24-9 record. Drake battled in the second half and it wasn't an easy win for Loyola, as the Bulldogs cut Loyola's lead to as little as two points in the final 30 seconds, but the Ramblers held on to win.

Loyola does a bit of everything well. They shoot it well from inside and outside the arc. They are an active defensive team. Early in the season the Ramblers lost by just 2 points to Michigan State and 9 to Auburn, and also had 10 wins against teams that were in the top 100 of KenPom going into Sunday's games.

In other words, there are a lot of single-digit seeds that are hoping to avoid Loyola Chicago in the first round.

Marquise Kennedy and Loyola Chicago are going to their third NCAA tournament in the past five seasons. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Marquise Kennedy and Loyola Chicago are going to their third NCAA tournament in the past five seasons. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Loyola Chicago has experience

While Loyola has lost a lot of good players from both of its previous tournament appearances, it is still an experienced team. Plenty of the players who were part of the upset of Illinois last season are back. Four seniors took advantage of the NCAA offering an another year of eligibility to 2021 seniors due to COVID-19 and returned to Loyola for an extra season. Loyola's coach Porter Moser left for Oklahoma in the offseason, but new coach Drew Valentine did a great job to keep Loyola on track. This version of the Ramblers won't be overwhelmed by March Madness.

Just like last season, those who rely on analytics will note that Loyola is under-seeded and a good upset pick. The betting line for the Ramblers' first-round game could be lower than similar seed matchups, because Loyola had a No. 24 ranking in KenPom, which influences point spreads. By the numbers Loyola should be closer to a No. 6 seed, but it would be surprising if they're higher than a 10.

You'll hear a lot about Loyola Chicago as the bracket gets analyzed and people pick upset favorites. By now, hearing about the Ramblers won't be so unusual. We already know what success for Loyola Chicago in the NCAA tournament looks like.