Rambling to the Tourney: Porter Moser gets his tournament moment – as a coach

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Loyola head coach Porter Moser celebrates with his team after being selected to the 2018 NCAA Tournament on March 11th.

CHICAGO – Over the last few weeks, he’s been the one with the knowledge of what could be ahead for the team setting the pace in the Missouri Valley Conference.

You’d expect that out of a head coach regardless, but Porter Moser had something that the rest of his Loyola team didn’t: Experience in the NCAA Tournament.

He got that while as a player with Creighton in 1989, when the Blue Jays won the MVC Tournament Title and earned a spot in the “Big Dance.” Their stay was short after a first round elimination at the hands of Missouri, but that memory stuck with Moser as he’s transitioned to a coach.

“I literally have taped the selection show and showed it to my players over the years as the motivation,” said Moser. “Like ‘This has got to be us. Get this feeling.’ I’ve had this feeling as a player. So we tape it every year and show ’em.”

No need for a recording device this year – unless they want to keep it to show future generations of Rambler basketball players.

Moser was front and center at Gentile Arena to watch Loyola earn their first selection to the NCAA Tournament since 1985. It comes after a 28-win season which the Ramblers won the Missouri Valley regular season and conference tournaments, and now they head to Dallas as an 11th seed to face sixth-seeded Miami on Tuesday.

“To sit there actually and do it, we were like pinching ourselves,” said Moser of the team’s announcement. “It was like ‘No more motivation, this is real, there’s our name.'”

While it gives those players and the school a unique feeling, it does the same for Moser even if he has been to the “Big Dance” before.

Don’t forget this tournament appearance is the first for him as a head coach since he began leading programs back in 2000 at Arkansas-Little Rock. Three successful seasons there – 54-37 record – wasn’t enough to get him in the tournament but did get him the job at fellow MVC school Illinois State.

There early promise didn’t pan out as Moser was fired after four seasons, compiling a 51-67 record without a tournament appearance of any kind.

Four years as an assistant coach followed at St. Louis before Moser got the call to lead the program at Loyola in 2011 – and it wasn’t exactly easy the first few years. From 2011-2014, the Ramblers were 32-61 with a 10-22 campaign in the last of those years.

But Moser broke through with a 24-13 season with a CBI Title in 2015 – the first postseason appearance for the program of any kind since 1985. A sub-.500 year followed that but an 18-14 record last year set up a breakthrough campaign in 2017-2018.

Starting with the win over then No. 5 Florida and ending with the MVC Tournament title game win over Illinois State, the magical year has brought Moser’s coaching career full circle. Yet it wasn’t himself he was thinking of when the name popped out the Selection Show broadcast on Sunday, but rather the guys experiencing it for the first time ever.

“You get to the point at my age and done it this long, I’m so happy for the guys I was sitting next to. To see the genuine excitement of Clayton and Ben and Donte and Aundre – they were genuinely excited beyond themselves. That was just so cool.

“You go through so much as player and coaches to try and turn a program. You put so much blood, sweat, and tears into this. To sit there and to enjoy your hard work, it’s awesome.”

One that will live in memory instead of on tape for years to come.

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