For Loyola, a mission for respect could bring a shot at No. 1 seed Illinois and set the Ramblers up for a run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
First, the respect part.
Granted, the NCAA’s NET rankings are not a be-all, end-all when it comes to seeding teams for its tournament. Colgate was No. 9 in the NET and a 14th seed in its region, a ranking which comes closer to reality than a top 10 in the NET.
On the other hand, the consensus is that 17th-ranked Loyola Chicago’s No. 10 NET ranking wasn’t properly rewarded with a higher seed. The Ramblers’ No. 8 seed in the Midwest seems criminally low when paired with the fact that they have the best scoring defense in Division I at 55.5 points per game and metrics that attest to their all-around efficiency.
“If we’re a 10 … I don’t know. If we’re an 8 seed, it looks like we’re in the 32 range,” Loyola Chicago coach Porter Moser said to the Chicago Tribune. “We can just control what we can control.”
And what the Ramblers (24-4) can control is how they play in the NCAA Tournament, starting Friday when they take on ninth-seeded Georgia Tech in Indianapolis.
How Loyola plays will land under most microscopes, and one might not need high power to see the first few minutes could be ugly. The Ramblers haven’t played since March 7, when they stopped Drake 75-65 in St. Louis to win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
After averaging only 57.3 points in its last four regular season games, Loyola looked more like itself in St. Louis. It scored 71 points per game at Arch Madness, more in line with its per game average of 71.5, and shot more like the outfit that made 50.5 percent of its shots for the season.
But the Ramblers, who advanced to the Final Four in 2018, will probably have to work harder to get good shots against the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champs, who dumped Florida State 80-75 on Saturday night in Greensboro. The Yellow Jackets (17-8) won on the strength of a defense that forced a whopping 25 turnovers that led to 31 points.
“They were terrific,” Moser said of Georgia Tech. “You’ve got to be really, really good to win the ACC tournament.”
It was the eighth straight win for the Yellow Jackets, a streak that took them from another year of irrelevance to a journey to Indianapolis. They were 9-8 with nonconference losses to Georgia State and Mercer prior to finding their groove.
Georgia Tech lives and dies with its starting lineup.
ACC Player of the Year Moses Wright (17.4 ppg, 8.0 rebounds, 41 blocked shots) leads four players in double figures. Point guard Jose Alvarado (15.3 ppg, 4.1 assists, 3.0 steals) is the team’s heart and soul, and Michael Devoe chips in 15.1 ppg along with 40.1 percent 3-point shooting.
That nucleus, along with Jordan Usher (11.5), carried the squad. Coach Josh Pastner normally uses just two players off the bench, a sharp contrast to Moser, who can run four or five players off the pine without much dropoff.
“I like our chances,” Pastner said. “I love our team.”
Those chances could ultimately depend on whether the Yellow Jackets can limit 6-9 Ramblers senior Cameron Krutwig (15 ppg, 6.7 rebounds), the MVC Player of the Year.
It may be Georgia Tech’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 but Pastner anticipates a long stay.
“We want to go win six games,” Pastner said. “But I can’t tell you the importance of having that name pulled up on that screen.”
–Field Level Media