Loyola Ramblers Lose But Establish Themselves As Best Mid-Major In The Country

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The 8-seed Loyola Ramblers basketball team lost to the 12-seed Oregon State 65-58 on Saturday in its second Sweet 16 in three NCAA Tournaments. Despite the unceremonious loss plagued by minutes-long scoring droughts, Loyola-Chicago has proven that they are currently the best mid-major program in the country.

The one caveat of course being that I’m not counting Gonzaga as a mid-major. The undefeated number one overall seed with several NBA lottery picks on the roster hasn’t been a mid-major for some time.

Loyola Ramblers Have Been the Best Mid-Major For Four Years

Seniors Cameron Krutwig and Lucas Williamson were taken out of the game when it was painfully clear that it was out of reach. This was the second Sweet 16 of their college careers, the first of which was just a step towards Loyola Chicago’s Final Four run in 2018 when they were freshmen.

Loyola Ramblers 2018 Final Four

Their Cinderella run to the Final Four is well documented as they were just the fourth 11-seed to make it that far. That run was filled with close games and game-winning buzzer beaters. They won their first three games by a combined four points. The ways in which they won made it one of the most memorable Cinderella runs of all time.

What’s often forgotten though is just how talented the teams they beat were. While Loyola didn’t have any eventual NBA players on their roster, every team they played did. Miami had Lonnie Walker. Tennessee had Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and Jordan Bone. Nevada had Caleb and Cody Martin. Kansas State had Dean Wade (although he was injured for the tournament). They were knocked out by a Michigan team that was loaded with NBA players and upperclassmen.

MVC Success

Head Coach Porter Moser took over the Ramblers in 2011 and in his first season they went 7-23. Now they’ve won three of the last four Missouri Valley Conference regular season championships. 

In 2018, they were 17th in the country in adjusted defense according to Kenpom. This year, they might have been an even better team even if they didn’t go as far in the tournament. They reached 17th in the AP poll before the start of the tournament. They also had the top scoring defense in the entire country, giving up just 53.9 points per game.

This is to say that before the tournament even started, they were one of the best teams in the country. Loyola Chicago has become the dominant force in the league. The one time in the last four years that they weren’t regular season champions, they finished second. Despite four of their starters being seniors, they should be at or near the top of the league for the foreseeable future. According to 247 Sports, Loyola-Chicago has been top two in the conference in recruiting every year since 2017, and have two incoming transfers for 2021.

2021 Sweet 16

In their first game of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, they were actually higher seeded than their opponent, something that never happened in 2018. Their first round opponent was the ACC Tournament Champions, Georgia Tech. Loyola won the turnover battle against a team in Georgia Tech that was known for forcing turnovers en route to a 71-60 victory.

In the round of 32 they faced in-state rival and 1-seeded Illinois. On paper, this team might be the best that Loyola has faced in either of their tournament appearances. Illinois had 1st team all-American Ayo Dosunmu and 2nd team all-American Kofi Cockburn. Loyola never trailed in the 71-58 victory. Dosunmu scored just 9 points and had 6 turnovers. Loyola’s offense ran through Krutwig, the team’s center, who had 19 points and 5 assists.

In the Sweet 16 Loyola played 12-seed Oregon State, the PAC-12 Tournament Champions. Both teams struggled to score in the early going. Oregon State switched between zone and man-to-man defense and Loyola was not able to make shots from the perimeter. They had two separate scoring droughts of over six minutes. Loyola was able to make it a game late, but it’s hard to win games while shooting 21.7% from three, and missing seven free throws. One Cinderella was defeated by another as Oregon State won 65-58.

Despite the loss, Loyola-Chicago has amassed a track record over the last four years that few high-major programs could contend with. They’re easily the best mid-major in the country. Going forward, it won’t be a surprise if they go on runs like this, but rather the expectation.

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