Rambling to the Final Four: Finding normal on the most unique stage in College Basketball
SAN ANTONIO – Good luck with trying to make this normal. Seriously, credit to anyone that tries to do it.
No matter what team or year, it’s just really, really hard to do. Not when the attention goes up a few times fold, not when the attendance at the arena, at the very least, triples. Everybody says they are going to keep things normal in a Final Four, and many do their best to try, but it’s as tough of a test as a team will face in the National Semifinal or the National Championship game.
Loyola kinda knows that – and this is farther from normal for them than any other team in this year’s festivities in San Antonio.
They’re in this environment for the first time in 55 years. That’s easily the longest of the three finalists for the Division I men’s basketball championship. Villanova won the title in 2016, Kansas was there in 2012, and the Ramblers’ Saturday opponent, Michigan, was in the championship game back in 2013.
Normal’s going to be really hard for this year’s “Cinderella” as they continued to fight off Midnight in this tournament.
“We’re trying as hard as we can to make it seem normal with our preparation, when we watch film, we want it to be as normal as possible,” said guard Clayton Custer. “We know all the stuff on the outside is way, completely different than normal, but the basketball part we’re trying as hard as we can to keep it as normal.”
Everyone has their own strategy to do so, including senior Ben Richardson, who will join Custer in the starting backcourt against the Wolverines on Saturday.
“You’ve got to compartmentalized,” said Richardson of his strategy to try and make things normal. “You’ve got to take all the people reaching out and all the media, the social media, everything and you’ve got to put it in one area and then when you step on the court, and you’re in the film room, you’ve got to make that completely separate and you’ve got to really lock in those moments.”
Even on the court, however, it’s going to be a challenge. Don’t forget that the Ramblers are taking the floor in a dome for the first time this season, and will do so in front of 70,000 fans during their game with Michigan. Often discussed during the tournaments played in traditional football stadiums like the Alamodome, getting a feel for a much different environment can be a bit unnerving at first.
“You get anxious,” admitted Richardson of stepping on the floor for the first time for a closed practice on Thursday. “I was glad to get out there today and get a feel for the Alamodome and the court, just how it’s a little bit different, the arena is real big. It felt better do get out there and I’m feeling good.”
Donte Ingram won’t let the unusual shooting backdrop or anything else concern himself as the team heads toward a historic moment this weekend for at least one and maybe two games.
“We’re focused on the rim and putting the ball in the orange hole,” said Loyola guard. “Obviously the backdrop is a big difference and everything, but at the end of the day, its’ gonna be the same game, just different location.”
Just like normal, but doing so on this stage is as hard as winning a pair of games to earn a title.