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Ramblers 2.0: How Porter Moser assembled yet another March force

The stars are familiar, but a new supporting cast is writing Loyola’s latest thriller.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Loyola-Chicago at Illinois Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Krutwig is still around. So is Lucas Williamson. Clayton Custer is still on the bench, but isn’t in a position to actually check into a game and score a basket. Other than that, it’s a new batch of Ramblers that has surged through the first weekend of another NCAA Tournament.

And while the two most important players are holdovers from the breakthrough 2018 Final Four team, this isn’t the case of a program riding one sparkling wave of players to multiple years of success. The formula is generally the same: a deliberate, elite defensive team that works through its star big, passes the ball around and picks its spots from three.

That Porter Moser was able to restock the cupboard and get the Ramblers at a level that’s arguably better than 2018 should be exciting not only for Sister Jean, but also the Missouri Valley. Here’s how the Valley champs filled in the gaps for another team barreling into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament:

Braden Norris (Rs. Soph., Guard)
Transfer — Oakland
Stats: 30.7 MPG, 8.4 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 TOV, 41.1 3P%

It was a recruiting coup for the Ramblers when they beat Notre Dame, Richmond and Toledo to land Norris, a Horizon league freshman standout who had starting experience and three years of eligibility when he left Oakland in 2019. He’s a tad more of a facilitator then Custer was as a lead guard on the 2018 team, but he’s been a perfect addition as a reliable ballhandler, playmaker and defender.

No Rambler played more than Norris this year, and that has continued into the NCAA Tournament. He was on the court for all but one minute of the Ramblers wins over Georgia Tech and Illinois, and his three-point shooting was crucial against the Yellowjackets.

Moser said the following about his savvy point guard when he signed him:

“We are thrilled to add Braden to our Loyola family,” Moser said. “The son of a coach, he is an ultra-competitor, with an extremely high basketball IQ, and was one of the top offensive efficiency players in the country last year. Braden has deep range and a quick release but also has a knack of getting the ball to guys when and where they need it. Despite all of that, what really excites me is his tenacity on defense. He reminds me of Ben Richardson watching him defend. He’s all about winning and fits in great with our culture.”

Aher Uguak (Rs. Sr., F)
Transfer — New Mexico
Stats: 24.6 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.3 APG

Moser has talked about his love for versatile big men, and he had a good one sitting out his redshirt transfer year the 2018 run. The Canadian initially signed with New Mexico before having a courtside view of the Ramblers’ original run, and has been a constant in the rotation the past three years. He’s added a high-level, mobile defensive presence alongside Krutwig and had big offensive games in the Ramblers’ two best regular season wins against North Texas (26 points) and Drake (20 points).

Keith Clemons (Sr., Guard)
Junior College (Vincennes)
Stats: 23.7 MPG, 7.5 PPG, 46.4 3P%,

The Ramblers were in need of immediate scoring on the perimeter with Custer and Marques Townes leaving after an NIT year in 2019. In stepped Clemons, a JuCo guard from Vincennes University in Indiana, a program that has produced Mychal Mulder, Carl Landry, Shawn Marion and, if you back far enough, Bob McAdoo. The 6’1 guard told the Loyola Phoenix what the team would get from him after he committed.

“They can expect to see good playmaking … I can find other players and get other players open,” Clemons said. “I can knock down the three-[pointer]. And also I can play defense, too, they’ll see me getting after it on [defense].”

He was spot on. Clemons may not have reached the heights of Custer or Townes offensively, but the off guard has been an integral part of two good Loyola teams. He’s been a frequent starter, dead-eye three-point shooter (career 46.1 3P%) and, as is the case with virtually every Rambler, a tough defender.

Tate Hall (Rs. Sr., Guard/Forward)
Transfer — Indianapolis (Div. II)
Stats: 20.9 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 APG

In terms of talent pool, Hall came from the most non-traditional route for an upper-level mid-major: Division II. He had a tremendous debut season a year ago, leading the Ramblers in minutes (32.9 MPG) and earning the all-MVC newcomer award, as well as an all-league third team nod. He’s had a reduced role this season, as the versatile guard/forward has seen some of the minutes he was playing on the wing last year go to younger players like Cooper Kaifes and Baylor Hebb.

Nonetheles, Hall has remained an important player for Moser, averaging 18 minutes per game over the tournament’s first weekend even as the rotation tightened. Like seemingly every Rambler, he’s a quality defender that is capable from the outside, even if he’s struggled from deep this season. His high school coach, Michael Lewis, talked to the Greenfield Reporter about the Indianapolis area native as he returned home last week.

“Tate is just all about winning, so you knew knew his skills were going to be transferable to that next level,” Lewis said. “Tate was going to be a late bloomer, but sometimes what you don’t see in the AAU circuit is how he plays the game the right way. He knows how to make guys better. He’s a gifted passer. He’s always going to be in the right spot defensively.”

Marquise Kennedy (Soph., Guard)
Prep — Brother Rice High School (Chicago)
Stats: 18.0 MPG, 7.3 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.4 APG

Kennedy was one of the first real byproducts of the 2018 run. The local star committed to Loyola over Wichita State and Illinois State and, reportedly, with a Florida State offer there for the taking as well. Chicago prep recruits have been instrumental to this wave of success — Williamson included — and Kennedy fits that bill.

Whereas he spent swaths of 2019-20 as the Ramblers point guard, he’s been shifted off the ball with the addition of Norris. He’s shown the ability to be a fearless, electric scorer, and scored 14 points against the Illini’s athletic defense on Sunday. He remains an important rotational player for now, but would seem to hold a bigger, more ball-dominant role in the next iteration of the Ramblers.

Jacob Hutson (Fr., Center)
Prep — Edina High (Edina, Minn.)
Stats: 6.6 MPG, 3.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 61.1 FG%

There are other young players that deserve mention here, like guards Kaifes (a redshirt sophomore) and Baylor Hebb (a freshman), and sophomore forward Tom Welch, all of whom got a steady diet of playing time throughout year. Each is a prep product that figures to be a key part of Loyola’s post-Krutwig/Williamson future.

Nonetheless, Hutson seems to be the main young role player to not fall victim to Moser tightening the rotation as the games get bigger. And the reason why is clear: he provides bulk in the post to give Krutwig much needed breaks. He also impressed in seven important minutes against the Illini, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds, production which must have been the sweetest of gravy to Moser and his staff.