The Loyola-Chicago Ramblers beat the Illinois State Redbirds on March 4 to improve their overall record to 28-5, win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 33 years. They did it with a balanced attack offensively, as well as a solid defensive effort, which Rambler fans have become accustomed to seeing this season.
With the NCAA Tournament about to begin, I thought it would be interesting to look at how Loyola stacks up in the tournament regardless of who they match up against in the first round. It is very easy to look at the conference they play in, the Missouri Valley, and downplay their 28-5 record because the competition is not as good as many of the premier conferences in the country such as the ACC and the Big East. However, going 28-5 in any conference is not easy to do and deserves recognition.
After watching the Ramblers play, it may not always be the prettiest sight to see, but they get the job done more often than not because of many key factors which I believe are extremely valuable to have in the NCAA Tournament.
They have a collection of players that play very well together, and also have experience in big games. Head coach Porter Moser’s group has played in many important games to close out the year in search of an MVC regular season and tournament title, and have succeeded in accomplishing both goals. Whether it was winning hard-fought contests in hostile road environments at Evansville and Southern Illinois, closing out the regular season with a victory over a well-coached Illinois State team at home on senior day, or going into the MVC Tournament well prepared and grinding out games, the Ramblers have shown on countless occasions that they are a team that will be a tough out for anyone in the Big Dance because of their preparedness for games.
They have solid guard play with Clayton Custer running the offense as the point guard. His ability to drive into the lane and find open teammates such as guards Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram and Marques Townes puts constant pressure on defenses and makes it difficult for them to focus their attention on one player.
On offense, Loyola is a team that likes to spread defenses out and then penetrate into the lane and take whatever the defense gives them. All of the guards for the Ramblers can finish at the rim as well as shoot the three ball. Having a bevy of players who can drive as well as shoot the ball from distance is a huge luxury and is one reason why they are very efficient on the offensive end of the floor and shooting 50.7 percent from the field as a team.
Aside from having the ball in the hands of their guards, feeding the ball inside to freshman big man Cameron Krutwig is a priority for the Ramblers when he is on the floor. Even though he is not a three-point shooter, he still has a major impact on the game when he is in. With defenses spread out, he can sometimes be found alone under the basket for an easy two. Also, when shots go up he is under the rim carving out space down low to get offensive rebounds for his team. He is a perfect option for Clayton Custer and the other guards to look for to score the basketball if the offense becomes stagnant during the course of a game.
All in all, the Ramblers offense is one that is run by an upperclassman and team leader in Clayton Custer, is extremely efficient when it comes to getting good looks when attempting shots, has many weapons who look to score the ball, and does not get rattled when the game is close and time is winding down.
This season, the Ramblers have been very good on the defensive side of the ball, only giving up an average of 62.2 points per game. In the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, however, their defense stepped it up another notch. In three games they gave up 50, 54, and 49 points and really made it hard on their opponents to put the ball in the basket. If they lock in on defense like they did in the three games they played in their conference tournament, then they will be a scary team to face come March Madness.
Not only were the opposing teams field goal percentages low, as they were 39.2 percent, 40.9 percent, and 31.8 percent, they forced two out of the three teams into double-digit turnovers. Northern Iowa had 10 turnovers, Bradley had 15 turnovers, and Illinois State had six turnovers in their games versus the Ramblers.
Porter Moser has his team fully engaged and locked in on both ends of the floor at the right time, and I believe that makes them a team that no team wants to see come Selection Sunday.
In the NCAA Tournament, it is all about matchups and I believe that if the Ramblers get a favorable match-up then they do have a realistic chance of advancing past the first round and beyond.
Although I believe they can play at any pace if need be, I believe that they prefer a much more slow pace offensively, as they like to set up their half-court offense. In my opinion, if they face a team in the opening round that plays at a relatively slow offensive pace and does not like to get up and down the court super fast, it is a huge benefit to Loyola because it gives them a chance to set up their defense.
If they play good defense, then that could translate to the offensive end of the floor if they were to get run out opportunities in transition, and they could have their offense run at a slower pace if they wanted to.
After their victory against the Illinois State Redbirds in the MVC Conference title game, head coach Porter Moser stated in the post game press conference about his team, “It’s a special group of how much they invested and they did it the right way the character off the floor with this group the student the true essence of student-athletes in the classroom I feel so proud that we did it the right way… they have put an impact on a university that will be the last the rest of their lives.”
Additionally, senior guard Ben Richardson, referring to the team’s defensive turnaround from last year to this year, said, “Everyone have [sic] a buy-in and and improving that in that aspect it’s it’s crazy it’s it’s so special and we have such a special group of guys were [sic] so close and I wouldn’t want to share this with anybody else.”
From their comments, it is evident that they think this team can do damage in the tournament and I believe that the player’s belief in Porter Moser, as well as their belief in his system, translates to the basketball court. The confidence that the team has entering the tournament appears to be sky-high, as they have won 10 games in a row including 17 out of their last 18.
Loyola is solid on both ends of the floor, have a coach and team that believes in themselves and one another, and are extremely hot right now. That is a perfect combination for a Cinderella run in the tournament.