Loyola Chicago is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985. When the Ramblers hired Porter Moser seven years ago, a coach with a sub .500 coaching record at Illinois State, they were a below-average Horizon League team.
It didn’t get better. At least, not immediately. Under Moser, the Ramblers went 22-39 in their last two years in the Horizon, and then 10-22 in their first season in the Missouri Valley.
But a foundation and a culture was being laid.
Moser says that first season in the Valley was the turning point when he signed Milton Doyle out of Chicago. Doyle went on to an outstanding college career, finishing in the top-10 in scoring, assists, three-pointers and steals on the Ramblers’ all-time lists, and has earned a two-way contract with the New Jersey and Long Island Nets.
As if to signal the change on the North Side of Chicago, it was Doyle’s game-winning jumper in Loyola’s first appearance at Arch Madness that gave Moser just his second MVC Tournament game win in six attempts.
Doyle’s signing led to current Rambler stars and Chicago-area products Donte Ingram, Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson following Doyle’s footsteps, staying at home and playing for Loyola.
This current Rambler squad repeats the mantras of culture, teamwork, and no finish line.
Loyola led the Missouri Valley in scoring offense and scoring defense, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, assists and turnover margin. The Ramblers have five players averaging double figures in scoring and every player in their primary rotation shoots better than 44 percent from the field.
Team leader and Valley Player of the Year Clayton Custer wasn’t particularly effective in the MVC Tournament, but leads the Ramblers in scoring (13.4 points per game) and assists (4.3 per game). The 6’1 guard connects on 52 percent of his shots.
Custer’s high school teammate Ben Richardson is the team’s heart and soul. Richardson was the Valley’s Defensive Player of the Year. At 6’3 he is a defensive pest and can defend multiple positions. Moser loves to create matchup problems for other teams and he recruits players who know how to win. Custer and Richardson won two state titles at Blue Valley Northwest in Overland Park, Kansas.
Ingram, a senior from prestigious Simeon, won a state title and is one of those matchup problems Moser loves. At 6’6, he often plays power forward, where he is too quick and explosive for bigger players, and too strong for smaller opponents. The lefty averages 11.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and leads the Ramblers with 65 three-pointers.
Loyola watchers know about super sub Aundre Jackson. He was the Valley’s 2017 Sixth Man of the Year. After starting 14 early games (thus disqualifying him for that award this year), the 6’5 senior returned to his customary, spark-off-the-bench role and is the team’s fourth-leading scorer (10.9 points per game). He primarily plays in the post in Moser’s small lineup.
The largest (figuratively and literally) difference in this year’s squad is the 6’9, 260-pound freshman Krutwig. He gave Moser his first true center since he’s come to Loyola. While not overpowering, Krutwig is relatively nimble, a capable scorer (10.5 points per game), is adept at passing out of the post, and grabs his share of rebounds (6.3 per game). Krutwig was named to the Valley’s all-freshmen and all-newcomer teams.
The fifth player averaging double figures is Fairleigh-Dickinson transfer Marques Townes. He has a downhill game and relentlessly drives to the basket. He was named to the Valley’s all Tournament team.
This is one of the best shooting teams in the nation. They have adequate size and play spectacular (if not flashy) defense, holding the opposition to 62.2 points per game, the fifth fewest in the nation. And they don’t foul — Loyola committed the sixth-fewest fouls in the country.
Since Krutwig is Loyola’s only true big man, a team will have to beat them in the paint or somehow overcome a Rambler team that does not beat itself.