It’s hard to blame Loyola coach Porter Moser for taking a pass this week on discussing the Ramblers’ NCAA Tournament hopes. It’s totally understandable that he would tell the Sun-Times thanks, but no thanks on the subject of their utter omission from the AP Top 25 poll, too.
What’s the guy supposed to do, grovel?
If there’s a general lack of regard out there for Loyola — 21-5 overall and 11-3, with a two-game lead, in the MVC heading into tonight’s game against Valparaiso at Gentile Arena — Moser isn’t of a mind to fight it, at least not with words. He has a really good team, seemingly the school’s best in over three decades, to keep coaching up.
It’s probably a given at this point that a Valley postseason title a little over two weeks from now in St. Louis is the Ramblers’ only path to the NCAAs.
“The big problem for them is a non-conference [strength-of-schedule ranking] of 280,” CBS bracket expert Jerry Palm said. “It’s hard to see a case for Loyola without winning the league.”
In two of the last three Marches, the Valley put a postseason champ and a second, at-large team into the Big Dance — but both times the at-large team was Wichita State, which now is a first-year member of the American Athletic. Last season’s Illinois State squad was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite having won 27 games and reached the Valley final, where it lost to the powerhouse Shockers.
Loyola’s last NCAA appearance was in 1985. The only postseason national tournament the Ramblers have seen since then: the 2015 CBI, which they won. Admittedly, there isn’t much hoops cachet at a school that has had only eight above-.500 teams in the 33 years since Alfredrick Hughes, Carl “Go-Go” Golston and company were racing to the Sweet 16.
So let’s set aside the NCAAs (for this week, anyway). How is it that the Ramblers are getting no Top 25 love? And we mean no love at all. Sixty-five voters cast ballots in this week’s poll. Zero of them had Moser’s team anywhere to be found.
It’s almost as if the Ramblers’ 65-59 victory at Florida in December never happened. Did we mention the Gators were a No. 4 seed in ESPN expert Joe Lunardi’s projected bracket this week?
“I looked closely at Loyola after the Ramblers beat Florida, and I’ve kept an eye on them all season,” said Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch, a Top 25 voter, in a direct-message exchange. “Short of a 16-2-ish record in the Valley, it’s hard to justify them in the Top 25. … [But] I wouldn’t want to play them in a 5-12 or 4-13 matchup in the first round.”
Scott Richey, who covers Illinois for the News-Gazette in Champaign, is taking Loyola’s success with a grain — no, a spoonful — of salt.
“Other than the win against Florida and the fact Loyola is a team in the state of Illinois that I’ll see on TV occasionally, the Ramblers have not been on my radar as an AP voter,” he said. “I like to reward winning, but I try to take a big-picture view.”
Voter B.J. Rains of the Idaho Press-Tribune was courtside for the Ramblers’ worst performance of the season.
“They might not be as high on my radar as some because the only game I saw them play live was a 34-point loss to Boise State back in November,” he said. “That has probably unfairly turned me away from them a little bit.”
Unfair? It’s debatable. Unfortunate? Given the state of college basketball around the city and this state, definitely.
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