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Introducing Cinderella: Loyola-Chicago earns first bid since 1985


Dilip Vishwanat

Conference: Missouri Valley

Coach: Porter Moser

Record: 28-5 (15-3 MVC)

Ratings and Rankings:

Kenpom: 45
RPI: 23
AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding: With the defections of Creighton and Wichita State, the Missouri Valley is a one-bid league for the foreseeable future, but it’s mostly well-regarded, despite the losses of the powerhouses, and the Ramblers cleared the field by four games. Their December win over Florida in Gainesville goes a ways, too. Right now, it looks like Loyola is headed to a 12, which will likely make them a trendy upset pick in plenty of brackets.

Names you need to know: Clayton Custer started his career under Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State, but the Kansas City native transferred out after a freshman season in which he rarely saw the floor. Since then, he blossomed into the MVC player of the year during a senior season in which he averaged 13.7 points, 4.2 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 53.4 percent from the field and 45 percent from 3-point range. Donte Ingram (11.4), Marques Townes (11.4), Aundre Jackson (11.0 and Cameron Krutwig (10.4) give the Ramblers five players averaging in double figures.

Stats you need to know: If you don’t count CCNY, which dropped to Division III in 1963, Loyola has the fewest-ever NCAA tournament appearances for a program that owns a national championship. The Ramblers won the 1963 NCAA tournament, defeating Duke in the semifinals and Cincinnati in the title game, and made the field in three of the next five years before a 17-year hiatus and their return to the Big Dance in 1985, which was their last appearance.

Big wins, bad losses: The win on the Gators’ home floor is unquestionably Loyola’s best, and it’s also the only KenPom top-100 win on their resume. Their only top-125 wins were their three against Northern Iowa, which tied for the second-worst record in the MVC. Their worst loss came just 10 days after beating Florida when they lost at Milwaukee, which ranks outside the top-200.

How’d they get here?: Since a loss on the last day of January at Bradley, the Ramblers have reeled off 10-straight, including wins over UNI (54-50), Bradley (62-54) and Illinois State (XXXXX).

Outlook: With a veteran team (four of their top five players are upperclassmen) who shoots the lights out (40.1 percent outside the arc and 56.9 percent inside), Loyola has the profile of a team capable of winning a game - or two - should they get the right matchup and catch fire or at least shoot their average. If their opponent allows them to control the tempo, Loyola has a great shot at shortening the game and shooting their way into an upset.

How do I know you?: Porter Moser is in his third stint as a head coach and second go-round in the MVC. He started at Arkansas-Little Rock before a four-year run at Illinois State from 2003-07. He then spent four years on the bench alongside Rick Majerus at St. Louis before getting another crack at the MVC with the Ramblers. He’s in his seventh season in Chicago and will be making his first-ever NCAA tournament appearance as a head coach.