Loyola's Cinderella run to San Antonio has been fun to watch for local and casual fans the past few weeks.
The Ramblers are only the third double-digit seed to play in the Final Four the last 12 years, but Loyola has proven themselves to be legitimate over the past two weeks. Taking down teams from the ACC, Big 12, SEC and Mountain West to make it to college basketball's biggest stage, Loyola has knocked off some quality competition.
Although many of Loyola's NCAA tournament wins came down to heroic late shots and close finishes, Loyola's numbers and roster makeup are that of a team that was built for postseason success. Head coach Porter Moser and his staff have helped Loyola recruit a unique roster filled with different personalities that has helped the Ramblers develop a strong team on both sides of the ball.
Here's a look at five of the ways Loyola became a Final Four team this season.
Loyola is very unselfish on offense
As a mid-major team in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Ramblers don't have a roster filled with NBA prospects and big-time athletes. Loyola is able to make up for the lack of high-major athleticism and size with a high degree of skill on the offensive end.
It starts with the team's unselfishness.
Loyola is one of the best passing teams in the country. The Ramblers earned assists on 60 percent of their made field goals this season -- which is 24th in the country out of 351 teams. Making the extra pass and generating "hockey assists" (a Moser favorite which technically isn't counted in basketball), you will often see Loyola's offense pass up a good shot for a better shot.
The Ramblers are also loaded with perimeter shooters
It doesn't hurt that Loyola has a roster filled with talented perimeter shooters. At 40.2 percent from three-point range as a team this season, the Ramblers are ninth in the country from long range -- which is a deadly weapon to have for a slow-paced team.
Seven of Loyola's top eight rotation players shoot at least 36 percent from three-point range, meaning a number of different weapons can step up on any given night.
The team's small-ball lineup is also effective as a change-of-pace as 6-foot-5 Aundre Jackson and 6-foot-6 Donte Ingram can operate as the Ramblers' biggest players on the floor. That small lineup spaces the floor at all five spots on the offensive end and it can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses with lumbering big men.
Loyola does a great job controlling the tempo
Speaking of Loyola's slow pace, the Ramblers do a great job of dictating the tempo. You won't often see Loyola games break out in a track meet and this is by design. The Ramblers play the No. 324 adjusted tempo in the country. That's why Loyola is often under 70 points with such an effective and efficient offense.
When Loyola's slow and methodical offense happens to rolling and knocking down shots -- as they were in the Elite Eight against Kansas State -- the team's tempo helps them maintain leads with long and quality possessions.
Really finding the perfect tempo over the last few months, Loyola hasn't allowed an opponent to score in the 70s over its last 10 games -- all wins.
The Ramblers have a tight and cohesive defensive unit
Newcomers to the Loyola bandwagon have spent the NCAA tournament glowing about the team's balanced and unselfish offense. But it's the Ramblers' defense that has been the backbone to success all season. With the No. 18 overall adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom, Loyola has been very effective at limiting open shots all season.
Loyola doesn't really have any rim protectors or turnover-creating guards, but the Ramblers make up for it with discipline and an ability to switch at multiple spots on the perimeter. Incredibly, Loyola hasn't had a single player foul out so far this season.
The aforementioned small-ball lineup can also serve as a quick defense that can switch at nearly every spot. Mostly a man-to-man team on defense, Loyola is also very good at limiting transition baskets since they don't crash the offensive glass very often.
Loyola put together a unique roster from all over the recruiting landscape
Many programs around college basketball typically adhere to one recruiting strategy. The Ramblers coaching staff searched high and low for the right players to fill out this roster.
Loyola has high school recruits who are local to Chicago and regional players from other parts of the Midwest. The Ramblers also have an international recruit (Bruno Skokna) to go along with a junior college transfer (Aundre Jackson). And on the four-year transfer market, the Ramblers have taken players from bigger leagues (Clayton Custer from Iowa State) and smaller conferences (Marques Townes from Fairleigh Dickinson).
Even the local Loyola recruits have a unique balance. Donte Ingram and Lucas Williamson come from Chicago Public League powerhouse Simeon and Whitney Young, respectively. Freshmen Cameron Krutwig and Christian Negron are from successful suburban programs in Jacobs and Larkin.
And seven of Loyola's players won state championships at the high school level -- a trait the coaching staff seeks out in potential recruits.
Moser and his staff didn't need to recruit top-100 national talents. They evaluated winning players with a high skill level from all levels of basketball to help them reach the Final Four.