Men's Basketball

Men’s Basketball Set Sights on NIT

Nick Schultz | The PhoenixLoyola first-year center Franklin Agunanne looks for an open teammate in the Arch Madness semifinal March 9.

After Bradley University upset Loyola in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) Tournament semifinals, the Ramblers’ hope for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance disappeared. However, Loyola finished first in the regular season conference standings, earning the Ramblers an automatic bid for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and keeping their quest for postseason success alive.

The NIT is widely considered to be the second-most prestigious postseason college basketball tournament after the NCAA Tournament. There is a field of 32 teams in the NIT, seeded 1-8. The NCAA Tournament has 68 teams seeded 1-16.

While the winner of every conference tournament is guaranteed an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the regular season conference champions are guaranteed an automatic bid to the NIT if they were to lose in the conference tournament. Loyola finished as co-Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) champion with Drake University, but the Ramblers won the tiebreaker between the two schools, earning them the No. 1 seed in the MVC Tournament and the automatic bid to the NIT.

Despite a guaranteed appearance to a postseason tournament, the Loyola players were disappointed to not get a chance to repeat their Cinderella story from last season. Redshirt senior guard Clayton Custer said the Ramblers’ goal all season had been to get to March Madness once again.

However, head coach Porter Moser said he isn’t worried about preparing his team for the NIT. He said he knows the team will come ready to play, regardless of the circumstance.

“That’s going to be an easy job for me,” Moser said. “To get them recalibrated to get them ready for the NIT so I’m just going to go through the natural process of letting them [prepare].”

Nick Schultz | The Phoenix Loyola first-year guard Cooper Kaifes picks up a steal in the Arch Madness semifinal March 9.

Loyola will have plenty of time to regroup before the tournament, the Ramblers’ opponent won’t be announced until after the NCAA Tournament field is announced March 17. Once the teams are selected and seeded, first games will start March 19-20. 

While the NCAA Tournament plays all of its games on neutral sites throughout the country, the NIT allows the higher seeded teams to host the games at their home arenas until the NIT Final Four, which is played at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

This will be Loyola’s fifth appearance in the NIT and its first since 1980. However, the Ramblers haven’t won a game in the NIT since 1962. As for the MVC as a whole, the conference rarely gets more than one team into the tournament, and an MVC team hasn’t won the title since Bradley took home the trophy in 1982.

While MVC teams have historically not fared well in the NIT, this Loyola team has postseason tournament experience after making the NCAA Tournament Final Four last season. This is part of the reason Custer said he isn’t worried about his team’s ability to regroup for the NIT.

“We got a lot of winners on our team,” Custer said. “We’ve got a lot of people who have a lot of pride, and we’re not going to go out there and not play hard or whatever at NIT. We’re going to go at it to win it. That’s how we always have been, and that’s what we’re going to do at NIT.”

Custer and the rest of the Ramblers will find out what seed they earned as well as their first round matchup March 17 shortly after the NCAA Tournament field is announced. 

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