Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola excited for upcoming season, trip to Spain

Loyola didn't have the season they were hoping for in 2015-16 but they're optimistic that things can turn around for the upcoming season. Even though the Loyola roster is filled with newcomers, the Ramblers are hopeful that a summer trip to Spain can help give them a head start.

As part of the trip, Loyola will get 10 extra practices and four games against Spanish competition that will give the team some much-needed experience before practice officially begins in October.

Head coach Porter Moser is already happy about working with this group, which features some productive returnees and a lot of talented newcomers.

"We play four games over there. They get that feel of being coached in a game at this level with their teammates," Moser said. "So then when we start back up in October they have a sense of some of the things we're trying to teach, some of the things of what to expect. And I think that's such a big element."

On a team full of new players, it will be important for senior guard Milton Doyle to have a bounce-back year for Loyola after a disappointing junior campaign. A former star at Marshall, Doyle saw his shooting percentages dip last season as the Loyola coaching staff challenged him to improve for his final season of college basketball. 

Moser is happy with the strides that Doyle has made this summer as he's added over 10 pounds of muscle to now play at 192 pounds. Also committed on the defensive end of the floor and being a team leader, Doyle is the Ramblers' only senior this season, so he'll be counted on to be a productive presence.

"It's a lot this year just because we had four seniors leave last year and I'm the last senior," Doyle said. "So it's my job to make sure everyone stays on track and everyone is uplifted, even when coaches get on them. That's my job right now."

Junior wing Donte Ingram — a former Simeon product — and junior guard Ben Richardson also return as key contributors from last year's team while Iowa State transfer guard Clayton Custer is expected to come in and be a major factor in the team's backcourt rotation.

As for the newcomers, Moser compared juco transfer forward Aundre Jackson favorably to former Loyola forward Christian Thomas while Vlatko Granic gives the team a stretch option at forward that they didn't have in the past. The team's freshmen are also very talented as guard Matt Chastain has shown solid athleticism and a good basketball IQ through some early practices. 

Another freshman guard, Cameron Satterwhite, is coming off of a torn ACL that cost him his senior season, but the Loyola staff is optimistic about his recovery for this season. Croatian freshman guard Bruno Skokna is also recovering from injury as he has played against professionals in Europe the last few seasons on an amateur contract. He is expected to be cleared soon so that he can return to action this season.

"I love this group because it's a group full of gym rats. This is a really enthusiastic group," Moser said. "They've come together, we've got a lot of newcomers. That's the benefit, that's why we did the Spain trip this summer."

Loyola takes its trip to Spain from Aug. 12-22 as they'll hit cities like Barcelona and Madrid during the trip.

Sister Jean was wrong: Loyola is rambling on to the Elite Eight

Sister Jean was wrong: Loyola is rambling on to the Elite Eight

Sister Jean was wrong: Loyola is rambling on to the Elite Eight.

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 98-year-old Loyola nun and arguably the team's biggest fan, predicted Loyola to lose in this year's Sweet Sixteen in her March Madness bracket. Instead, the Ramblers are moving on.

Loyola used a huge start to the second half to get past Nevada 69-68, advancing to their first Elite Eight since their championship-winning 1963 season.

Nevada was in control early on, leading Loyola 20-8 with 13:36 remaining in the first half. Loyola tightened things up shortly after, going on a 20-4 run to close out the half. Over the final 7:55 of the half, the Wolf Pack shot 0-for-8 from the field (0-for-3 from three), turning the ball over six times.

After the break, Loyola converted on their first 13 field goal attempts, leading by as many as 10 points before Nevada clawed back into the game. The Wolf Pack used a 9-2 run to tie the game at 59 apiece with 3:18 remaining in the game, with Loyola converting just two-of-seven field goal attempts.

Aundre Jackson nailed a three and a layup to put Loyola ahead 64-60 before Nevada's Caleb Martin brought the Wolf Pack within one with a three.

Cody Martin, Caleb's twin, closed the gap to 66-65 before Marques Townes buried a three with under ten seconds remaining to put Loyola ahead for good. Caleb Martin made things interesting with a late three, but it was all for naught, as Loyola held on for the victory.

Immediately following the game, the first Rambler to head to the podium and chat with the media was none other than the Queen of the Dance, Sister Jean:

48 of Loyola's 69 points were scored by just three players, including 18 from Marques Townes and 15 apiece from Jackson and Clayton Custer. The Ramblers converted 55.8 percent of their field goal attempts (38.5 percent from three) compared to Nevada's 41.4 percent (25.9 percent from three). 

Like their wins over Miami and Tennessee, Loyola's victory over Nevada came by a slim margin, setting an NCAA record in the process:

With the win, Loyola becomes the first school in Illinois to advance to the Elite Eight since Deron Williams and Illinois in 2005. Of course, Illinois lost the championship game to North Carolina that season.

The Ramblers' next game is Saturday, when they will take on No. 9-seeded Kansas State in the Elite Eight.

"I don't care that you broke my bracket," Sister Jean said. "I'm ready for the next one."

One factor could determine Loyola's chances at a Final Four run

One factor could determine Loyola's chances at a Final Four run

Loyola has already made plenty of national headlines during a thrilling run to the Sweet 16.

The Ramblers are fun underdogs thanks to a balanced team, two memorable game-winning shots and the off-court presence of international superstar Sister Jean.

Chicago has been starving for a college basketball team to be successful in the NCAA tournament. The No. 11 seed Ramblers' run into the second weekend comes at a great time. An area college hasn't been this deep in the men's NCAA tournament since DePaul advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1987. Loyola's winning streak comes at an absolutely perfect time to potentially capture the city's attention with Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup with Nevada looming.

Loyola's Sweet 16 run has been a lot of fun so far. But can Loyola make an unlikely push to the Final Four with two more wins? The key will be Loyola's ability to dictate tempo to keep things slow like the Ramblers did the first two rounds.

Loyola was able to advance to this point because Miami and Tennessee played at the slower pace ideally suited for the Ramblers' preferred style of play. Finding themselves down by an identical 62-61 score before knocking down game-winning shots in both wins, Loyola has been able to keep more talented and athletic teams like Miami and Tennessee playing at their tempo.

In fact, it's been a month since Loyola even scored in the 70s — a span of six games. With the No. 319 adjusted tempo rating (out of 351 teams) on KenPom, Loyola plays one of the slowest paces in the country. The Hurricanes (No. 233) and Volunteers (No. 281) also prefer to play on the slower side, according to KenPom numbers. That draw hugely benefited Loyola when it came out on Selection Sunday.

Playing at a slow tempo will be seriously challenged by a No. 7 seed Nevada team that can really put up points. Loyola struggles to score in the 70s. Nevada has only been held below 70 points twice all season.

Armed with five major weapons who can score all over the floor, the Wolf Pack have the No. 6 offense in KenPom in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency. In terms of pace, they're in the upper third of the NCAA at a No. 107 rating. Even after starting point guard Lindsey Drew was lost for the season with injury, this Nevada offense kept rolling.

With two double-digit, second-half comeback wins over Texas and Cincinnati, Nevada put up a serious amount of points in a hurry against two defenses that were even better than Loyola this season. The win over Cincinnati, in particular, was astonishing for Nevada. The 22-point second-half comeback was the second biggest comeback win in NCAA tournament history. And it came against the No. 2 defense in the county.

It means Loyola either has to put up more points than usual to stick with such an offensively-talented team. Or they have to do the best they can to keep the game in the 50s or 60s where they feel more comfortable.

Keep in mind that Nevada has also gotten off to slow starts in both of its tournament games — something that could come into play once again facing Loyola. A slow start for Nevada could give the Ramblers enough of a window to build a cushion for a potential second-half flurry. Even with Nevada's firepower, this is a winnable game for Loyola if they can knock down enough perimeter looks while slowing down Nevada's offense.

If the Ramblers can get past Nevada, then beating Kentucky and Kansas State also wouldn't be out of the question.

The No. 5 seed Wildcats and head coach John Calipari are the heavy favorites in the region after a strong stretch that includes an SEC tournament title. They're also one of the youngest teams in the country. There have been games where Kentucky has been extremely inconsistent this season. Loyola also won't be afraid of facing the SEC powerhouse. The Ramblers' two marquee wins of this season are against Florida and Tennessee — two teams that went a combined 4-1 against Kentucky this season.

Although Kentucky has offensive firepower and a lot of weapons, they're also one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country this season. The Wildcats became the first team since 2014 to win an NCAA tournament game without making a three-pointer during the first-round win over Davidson. So Kentucky's lack of perimeter shooting could easily rear its ugly head against Loyola and give the Ramblers a chance in a slower-tempo game.

No. 9 seed Kansas State would be ideally-suited to face Loyola because they are a limited offensive team who also plays an extremely slow tempo. Bruce Weber's team had a cringeworthy second-round win over No. 16 seed UMBC as both teams really struggled to generate offense.

And with the No. 303 adjusted tempo in the country, Kansas State will certainly oblige to the slower tempo Loyola desires to play. Kansas State still has one of the best defenses in the country. A potential matchup with Loyola would be a slugfest. It would also be a winnable game for Loyola if it came to that point.

Loyola still has a lot of work to do if they want to be the third double-digit seed to advance to the Final Four in the last 12 years. But the bracket has also given the Ramblers an opportunity at more winnable games during the weekend.

If Loyola can keep things to its slower pace, then they could be the next surprise team to make college basketball's biggest stage.