Loyola Ramblers begin march to NCAA tournament

ROGERS PARK - Any way you slice it, Loyola belongs in the NCAA tournament.

They clinched the Missouri Valley Conference crown just five years after joining the league.

They finished the year with 25 wins - the most since the 1984-1985 season, when the Ramblers made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

They beat a power-5 conference team in Florida, on the road no less.

But, many so-called bracketologists believe it will be all for naught if the Ramblers don't win the MVC tournament title at Arch Madness this weekend.

"It is a reality," explained head coach Porter Moser. "I'm not naive, saying I don't read the things that come out from the people that look at it. But, I will say this: Not many teams in the country, and I think it's seven or eight, have nine true road wins."

The counter argument would be Loyola's non-conference strength of schedule, 258th in the country.

They might have more quality wins if more top tier teams would consider playing them. Moser is trying to schedule games against the cream of the crop, but they're not biting.

Or in some cases, even keeping their promise.

"I had a high major team this year in the ACC buy out of a contract to decide not to play and they're supposedly in the field."

It may not seem fair, but teams with an established pedigree feel they have too much to lose and not enough to gain when they face a team of Loyola's caliber.

The common refrain? 'We don't have to.'

"I try not to think about it too much because if I do, it makes me mad," noted Clayton Custer, the MVC Player of the Year. "I think we are an NCAA tournament team no matter what. I think we pass the eye test, probably, if you watch us - the way we move the ball, the way we score it. The way we defend too, we're pretty good at that."

The numbers back Custer's stand.

The Ramblers are second in the nation in field goal percentage and seventh in scoring defense.

With Custer, the league MVP, in the lineup the Ramblers have only lost twice. Only three more wins and there won't be any debate. The Ramblers will be back in the big dance.

"It would be a dream come true," Custer smiled. "I can't wait to try to get there. I'll be so happy, I'll probably cry."

The top-seeded Ramblers' march to the madness starts Friday, when they play the winner of Northern Iowa and Evansville at noon.