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Loyola Chicago got just what it needed in historic season

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A star emerged for the Ramblers, and it wasn’t their MVC Player of the Year.

Loyola Chicago Athletics

For Porter Moser, one of the keys to 2017-18 was easy. His Ramblers would need to develop depth if they were going to fill the vacuum left by Wichita State’s departure from the Missouri Valley.

He made that priority clear in a November interview.

“We’ve got to develop depth,” Moser said. “We’ve got to get deeper because depth in this league is going to be a key and that’s why Missouri State is the preseason number one. Because they’ve got depth.”

The Bears may have been the favorite before the season, but they looked anything but as the year unfolded. Instead, it was Loyola that ran through the Valley with a 15-3 record, claiming their first regular season title since joining the league in 2012. On top of that, their 25 wins were the most for the program since 1984-85.

Part of this success was fueled by Clayton Custer. The senior guard returned from an injury suffered during the Ramblers’ stunning upset at Florida to average 15.4 points and 4.9 assists in league play to take home MVC Player of the Year honors.

But it had just as much to do with what Moser identified as task number one early in the year. Depth did in fact develop, in a big way.

With the benefit of hindsight, there were plenty of significant Valley storylines this year.

Niko Medved made Drake competitive immediately, while undermanned Valparaiso made an underwhelming first impression. Another Evansville guard scored a ton of points, while Northern Iowa never got quite right. Southern Illinois gained some traction under Barry Hinson, while Illinois State bounced back after significant roster turnover.

The biggest storyline, however, may have been one of the league’s biggest players.

Loyola was the first school to throw an offer at freshman center Cameron Krutwig before his junior year of high school. As more schools got interested, he never forgot who was there first when he committed to the Ramblers in 2016.

“I’ve visited three times, and every time it was a good time,” he said. “[Moser] is going to put me in situations where I can succeed, and I can do well at the next level. He knows my game, and he’s not going to try to make me do things that aren’t in my game.”

Krutwig had the right idea as he became an immediate star in an MVC Freshman of the Year season. He started his career with a bang, putting up 17 points and seven rebounds in a season-opening win over Wright State that ended up being more impressive than it may have seemed at the time.

He had solid non-conference outings against Kent State and UNC Wilmington, before playing a key role in the Ramblers’ attention-grabbing win in Gainesville. With Custer sidelined shortly before halftime, Krutwig helped fuel the upset with 14 points eight rebounds against the Gators’ high major size.

It would be a sign of things to come, as he had tremendous league season (12.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 61.5 FG%). He emerged as a quality defender and one of the most efficient scorers in the Valley, acting as a physical, low post counterpoint to undersized, more stretch-oriented forwards Aundre Jackson and Donte Ingram.

Like his musical taste and affinity for basketball history, Krutwig’s style of play is similarly old school.

“There’s not many guys like me in college basketball anymore, traditional back-to-the-basket post players,” said the 6-foot-9 Krutwig, who played at Jacobs in Algonquin. “A lot of big men want to start shooting 3s now and midrange jumpers and facing up. I’m kind of a throwback for sure.”

And in averaging under 25 minutes per game, Moser did in fact pick the right spots for a freshman big man that wasn’t plagued by turnovers or foul trouble.

The Krutwig boost was gigantic for a team that had little proven production outside its starting lineup coming into this season. His reliability also came in handy as Custer and Ben Richardson missed time due to injury, and JuCo transfer Adarius Avery didn’t provide the immediate production some may have expected.

With Krutwig, the Ramblers are the only team in the league to have five players in double figure scoring. He’s given them the depth that Moser hoped they would develop, and helped make Loyola the favorite as Arch Madness kicks off.