Jesuit presence in the Big Dance

Jesuit teams continue to catch eyes each year at the Big Dance, formally known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. A mark is made on the tournament by Jesuit teams because of Gonzaga’s recent dominance, the star Jesuit players rooted in the tournament’s history, and the occasional Cinderella run from an underdog Jesuit team.

Gonzaga’s stars Drew Timme (left) and Chet Holmgren (right).

“Gonzaga has the best chance to win,” Rico Picket, ’22, said. “They probably have the future number one overall pick in Chet Holmgren. They also have a very well run offense.”

Gonzaga, a perennial favorite according to ESPN, boasts the NCAA’s highest field goal percentage and averages the most points per game, making them a dangerous opponent offensively. This star-studded Jesuit powerhouse, however, struggled to get the job done and fell to Arkansas in the Sweet Sixteen because of their uncharacteristic offensive struggles.

Another Jesuit school in this year’s tournament was the Marquette Golden Eagles. Marquette finished the season with a record of 19-13, landing a matchup with 8-seed North Carolina. Marquette fell to the Tarheels, who went on a run to the National Championship Game. Despite their first-round exit, this tough Marquette team remains hungry for tournament success.

“I’m good friends with Shaka Smart, the head coach at Marquette,” former Walsh Jesuit basketball coach and current history teacher Mr. John Norris said. “He gets his players to play hard, and they have some talent.” Marquette remains poised to return to the Big Dance next year, with a talented team led by an experienced coach.

Loyola Chicago’s early exit against the number 10-seed Ohio State in the first round was heartbreaking, but it does not take away from the tournament glory Loyola Chicago accomplished four years ago.

Loyola Chicago team Chaplain Sister Jean is a courtside mainstay and beloved member of the community.

In 2018, the 11-seeded Loyola Chicago Ramblers showed the nation the skill they possessed in breathtaking fashion, marching all the way to the Final Four. The motivation behind the run came from team Chaplain Sister Jean, who has had that position on the team since 1994.

“Sister Jean is a special woman,” WJ alum Robbie Cramer, ’21, said. “Before every game she comes out onto the court and says a pregame prayer…She has three words she always says, ‘worship, work, win,’ and I really feel that’s at the heart, not only of the basketball team, but of Loyola and the Jesuits as a whole.” Rooted in the Ramblers’ success is a devout Jesuit faith and identity, which brings the team together.

The Jesuit school claiming this year’s Cinderella spotlight was Saint Peter’s, a small Jesuit school in Jersey City, New Jersey. Saint Peter’s shocked the hearts of Kentucky, Murray State, and Purdue fans along their route to becoming the first 15-seed to make the Elite Eight, where they fell short against North Carolina.

“Students on the campus couldn’t be prouder of their team,” ABC7ny reporter Chantee Lans said. “They exploded with excitement inside the school gym after their historic win against Purdue.”

Marquette Head Coach Shaka Smart.

Recent Jesuit success in the annual March Madness tournament is nothing new, with past stars representing Jesuit schools. Some include Santa Clara’s Steve Nash, who went on to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and San Francisco’s Bill Russell, who was an 11-time NBA champion and was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame.

“I have had the chance to visit San Francisco and see the impact of Bill Russell in their history,” Mr. Norris said. Bill Russell’s impact and legacy lives on today, as the San Francisco Dons finished the season with a record of 24-9, which landed them the 10-seed. The Dons’ season ended with a narrow 92-87 first-round tournament loss to 7-seed Murray State in overtime.

Overall, the deep history and culture that Jesuit basketball has on the Big Dance gives students and teachers at Walsh Jesuit a way to connect with the teams they watch on TV.

“Jesuit teams in March Madness make it more exciting to watch because they are somewhat representing us as big brothers,” senior Rico Pickett said.