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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 4 Loyola Ramblers

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Porter Moser’s team is “still chasing”

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Tennessee vs Loyola Chicago Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

2017-18 Record: 32-6 (15-3 MVC); Lost to Michigan in the Final Four
Key Returning Players: Clayton Custer (Sr., G), Cameron Krutwig (So., C), Marques Townes (Sr., G)
Key Losses: Donte Ingram, Ben Richardson, Aundre Jackson
Key Newcomers: Aher Uguak (So., F), Franklin Agunanne (Fr., F), Cooper Kaifes (Fr., G)

Loyola’s magical run made the Ramblers hungry for even more success. Porter Moser’s team won the Valley by four games and then won Arch Madness and four NCAA Tournament games, but will face challenges from Illinois State and Southern Illinois in 2018-19. Reigning MVC Player of the Year Clayton Custer will have to break in some different backcourt mates, but the development of center Cameron Krutwig will give LUC a unique inside presence.

Custer told Mid-Major Madness that his team isn’t satisfied and that it is “still chasing” sustained success.

Key non-conference games

Loyola’s success didn’t open enough doors for an elite schedule, but there are some significant non-conference challenges. A Sweet 16 rematch with Nevada highlights the Ramblers’ schedule.

Nov. 19-21: Fort Myers Tip-Off
Nov. 27 vs. Nevada
Dec. 1 at UIC
Dec. 8 vs. Maryland
Dec. 22 at Saint Joseph’s

Three Things to Watch

Cameron Krutwig’s development

The 6’9 sophomore is fundamentally sound, an adept passer and has good footwork. He has trimmed over 20 pounds and added muscle to his young frame. After a freshman season where he averaged 10.5 points and 6.1 rebounds and reached double figures 19 times, he is poised to be an even greater post presence in 2018-19.

Sharing the rock

Loyola led the Valley in assists (15.6 per game), shooting percentage (.507) and was second in three-point shooting (.396). The Ramblers relentlessly look for the open man. On their way to the Final Four, Donte Ingram, Marques Townes, Custer and Ben Richardson each made a game-winner. They do not care who takes the big shot. In their four postseason wins, the Ramblers averaged 17 assists per game and had four different leading scorers.

Integrating new players

Uguak, a 6’7 transfer from New Mexico, and the 6’9 Agunanne (3.5 star recruit per VerbalCommits.com) give Moser more front court options and will push Krutwig at practice. They give Loyola the kind of matchup advantages Moser employed with Ingram and Jackson. Freshman guards Isaiah Bujdoso and Cooper Kaifes will join sophomore Lucas Williamson in replacing the defensive stopper Richardson in the Loyola backcourt. Williamson appeared in all 38 Rambler games and the 6’4 sophomore was named to the Valley’s all-freshmen and all-bench teams after averaging 4.7 points per game.

X Factor

Are the Ramblers done congratulating themselves? Custer’s “still chasing” comment gives Loyola fans hope that the team isn’t satisfied with being one-hit-wonders. Moser says his team is still hungry and they are still hoping to improve. Indiana State coach Greg Lansing jokingly said that he hopes Moser stays on the banquet circuit a little while longer.

Some teams find it easier to climb the mountain than to stay there. The biggest challenge for the Ramblers is staying hungry and continuing to strive for excellence. Their talent level is equal to their stiffest MVC foes, but they will have to continue to dig deep on the defensive end and ignore last season’s press clippings.